How Not To Flambe’ Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding plate

It all began when I discovered a plate I’d tucked away several years ago. As I recall, I got it at a thrift shop and only paid a quarter for it. With visions of Plum Pudding dancing in my head, I rescued it from the recesses of the cupboard, gave it a gentle washing, and set off to learn everything there is to know about making the classic Christmas dessert.

Plum pudding plate maker(By the way, if anyone knows about the plate or its maker, please give me a shout; I’d love to know more about them.)

Plum Pudding has a long and fascinating history (feel free to Google it) and requires a lot of advance preparation. Suffice it to say, I assembled the thirteen ingredients (representing Christ and His disciples) on “Stir Up Sunday” five Sundays before Christmas, steamed it for six hours, and sprinkled it with rum (my choice of liquor out of many possible candidates) regularly until Christmas. When it comes to cooking, there’s no detail too daunting and no ritual that goes unremembered.

Except holly.

First, there was the matter of finding a sprig of holly (to represent Christ’s crown of thorns) to garnish dessert in progress, and secondly, I guess I should have waited until closer to “flambé day” to pluck the aforementioned garnish from its native bush. But, I was anxious to have everything at the ready and I happened to be driving by a friend’s house early in December with said bush in their front yard…

Fresh sprig in hand, I drove home and plopped it into a ramekin, making a mental note to keep it watered until Christmas.

(Insert a very busy couple of musical weeks here.)

Flambé Day had arrived.

After re-steaming the Plum Pudding a final two hours, I nestled it on its plate and adorned it with the not-quite-as-fresh-as-it-once-was holly. Then, I set up my tripod and enlisted The Man Of Few Words’ help to fill the ladle/hold the ladle/light the ladle/pour the ladle while I took pictures (quick aside: the ladle contained warmed rum) and prepared to delight him with this new-to-us traditional dessert.

Here’s what happened.

How Not To Flambé Plum Pudding:

1. Plum 1

2. Plum 2

3. Plum 3

4. Plum 4

This is why folks don’t ask me to water their houseplants.

Not to worry though…

After the flames died down, the Plum Pudding was just as delicious as I imagined. (Shown here topped with Zabaione.)

Plum Pudding serving

Happy Boxing Day!

And… do not try this at home.

Enjoying heartwarming traditions (literally),

~ Kim

Boxing Day Memories

Memories or Memorabilia

When I look at the mementos I’ve tucked away through the years — gifts from family and friends, or reminders of special occasions — I realize they aren’t the memories themselves. The process of remembering is aided by them, but memories are intangible — and some are clearer than others.

Boxing Day some thirty-odd years ago was one of those occasions that left an imprint on my heart more than my mind — an overall “feeling” rather than total recall. What I do remember is warmth… hospitality… generosity.

After my whirlwind tour of England and Scotland, I was ready to settle down for a long winter’s nap and assimilate everything I’d seen, heard, or done. The guest room was quiet, cozy, and adorned with knickknacks and objects d’art twice as old as America (a fact that still boggles my mind) and it didn’t take long to drift off to dreamland under a layer of quilts with a heater at the foot of the bed.

The next morning, I awoke to the sounds and smells of a bustling kitchen. (Don’t you just love that?) The aroma of potatoes and onions mingling with sausage and bacon prompted me to dress quickly and join the muted conversations below. Coffee, tea, scones, eggs — a veritable repast — awaited.

Boxing Day brunch was a tradition the host family relished. As guests arrived at the front door, they were greeted with a heartfelt “Merry Christmas!” and directed to the dining room to indulge and imbibe at will. Champagne corks began popping and lively conversational banter continued throughout the day. The conviviality of it has stayed with me for life.

I learned that Boxing Day is so named because gifts are “boxed” and dispatched to household staff members on their day off (December 26th), having worked Christmas Day. The very thought of it brings to mind the over-sized turkey Mr. Scrooge took great delight in delivering to Bob Cratchit’s home — a sincere thank you for services well-rendered. Boxing Day is also designated as a day to donate to the needy, a tradition that hearkens back centuries.

Meanwhile back at the brunch… one dish that stood out in my mind (funny how I can always remember food) was a cheese soufflé the hostess described as: “not your classical soufflé, but reliable.” I describe it as: “cheese-flavored air.” Sigh…

In between sips and bites, I fielded queries from guests wondering about “the young American woman in England at Christmastime.” Their candor and humor was refreshing and I had to smile when someone asked: “Are you one of those liberated women?” Traveling alone wasn’t as commonplace then as it is now and I guess my adventurous streak was showing.

Another appetizer I enjoyed tremendously (recipe graciously shared by the hostess and later adapted by me) were Cheese Straws. Perfect with champagne — and Christmas. Sometimes simplicity is the ideal backdrop for festivity.

Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws

1 1/3 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
3 oz. cold butter*
4 oz. grated cheese**
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 c. cold water, divided

*Grate the butter first, followed by the cheese. Easy clean up!

**Per original recipe: “Use a highly flavoured cheese such as aged sharp Cheddar.”

Preheat oven to 450° F. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Rub in butter and cheese with your fingers until evenly distributed.

In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk with two tablespoons cold water. Work the liquid into the flour, then add enough remaining water (as needed) to make a stiff, yet pliable dough. (Best to do this with your hands so you can “feel” the consistency.)

Roll out dough thinly on a lightly floured surface; trim and cut into “straws.”

Bake on ungreased baking sheets until golden brown, about 7 minutes.

Note: I bake the trimmings as a “trial batch” to judge the amount of time. (They make a delicious snack with a glass of wine while you’re baking the rest.)

These can also be made in advance. Bake until just golden, about 5 minutes. Cool completely, then freeze. Reheat 2 to 3 minutes at 450° (watch closely) until browned.

Serve warm. Makes 4 dozen.

Boxing Day continues to be one of my favorite memories, and the lessons I learned about hospitality are ones I’m pleased to share in my own home.

 

Wishing you many delightful memories and a very Merry Christmas!

Enjoying reminiscing,

~ Kim

The Trip of A Lifetime (Memories of Christmas in England)

Boxing Day Memories

It was Christmastime and I was twenty-one. It was also the first time I’d traveled anywhere by myself, let alone internationally. A childhood chum had extended an invitation for me to visit while she was on break from university in London and when you’re twenty-one anything is possible.

With visions of A Christmas Carol dancing in my head, I stepped onto a plane with a passport, hiking boots, and a backpack — my suitcase got lost in Iceland en route, but that’s another story — and set off on the trip of a lifetime.

Once my plane landed at Heathrow, I tried to contact my friend but the number she’d given me was busy, or so I thought. I hung up and tried again. After repeating this process myriad times she finally answered, breathless from dashing down three flights of stairs every time the communal phone in her dorm lobby rang. Apparently ‘busy signals’ in the U.S. and British phone-rings at that time sounded remarkably similar. We laughed at my naivety and chalked it up to live and learn. The adventure had begun.

During the following week I did everything I’d ever dreamed or read about… toured the Tower of London, ogled the Crown Jewels, rode red double-decker buses, sipped High Tea at Harrods, whisked about on The Tube, traveled on trains, dined at a pub in Exeter where I had my first taste of Devonshire clotted cream (sigh…), hiked to Stonehenge, marveled at the Minster and made a side trip to Edinburgh, including an accidental foray over the Firth of Forth and back with bagpipes in the background.

Basking in history centuries older than the country I’d left days before obviously made a lasting impression on me.

Souvenirs

We were scheduled to arrive at our host family’s home the afternoon of Christmas Eve, but our train went missing (never did find out an explanation for that) and after waiting what seemed hours, a replacement provided by BritRail chugged into the station — an antique collection of cars attached to an engine reminiscent of “The Wild, Wild West.” Settling onto the leather-covered bench seats opposite three distinguished-looking gentlemen, my friend and I chattered excitedly while our compartment mates did their utmost to ignore us by immersing themselves in their newspapers.

Ten minutes from our destination, I reached into my coat pocket and discovered a sprig of mistletoe I’d tucked away during an entertaining evening at a club in Exeter a few nights prior. Nudging my friend, I nodded at the sprig covertly hidden in my hand; she followed suit and palmed her mistletoe. Grinning at the prospect of a surprise attack, we waited for the train to come to a stop.

When the compartment doors opened, we sprang from our seats, held our respective mistletoe over the gentlemen’s heads, and planted a good-natured kiss on their cheeks. The previous disdain they had displayed toward “giggly tourists” quickly dissolved into surprised smiles, and as I stepped onto the platform I was tickled to hear one of them exclaim: “By jove, my luck has changed!”

Following a harrowing car ride to our host’s home (apparently there was no speed limit and our young escort seemed to relish that fact), we drove under a brick-walled arch toward a quaint two-story cottage. I can only describe it as transplanted out of a fairy tale. Gables. Ivy-covered walls. A formal garden around back. Leaded-glass windows. Wisps of smoke curling upward from tall chimneys perched above a slate roof.

Inside we were welcomed warmly — like family — followed by an invitation to gather in the the study for cocktails. For some reason, sherry came to mind. Alhough I’d never tasted a drop in my life, it seemed like the befitting beverage for such an historic occasion and our host was happy to oblige. Strolling to a closet adjacent to the hearth, he swung open the heavy door to reveal Waterford crystal goblets and decanters lining the shelves, with rows of wine bottles in the recesses. Then he invited us to be seated in the wingback chairs surrounding the fireplace to get acquainted.

I don’t know which thrills me more — experiencing it or remembering it.

Our Christmas Day celebration included champagne and wine (before, during, and after dinner) followed by additional fireside glasses of sherry. Merriment was a high priority and imbibing was part of the deal. Who was I to question English hospitality? When you’re twenty-one…

Dinner was a formal affair (thank heavens I packed one “dressy” outfit in my backpack) and the antique crystal, china, and silver gleaming in the glow of candles on the linen-covered table was absolutely lovely. Each dish was carried in from the kitchen with great fanfare, one at a time, with hearty appreciation expressed to the cook amidst oohs and ahhs. Roast turkey. Chestnut stuffing. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Chutney. Plum pudding. I felt like I was a guest at the Cratchit’s and I can still “taste” every dish.

Gifts

Our hosts were mindful that my friend and I were having our first Christmas away from home, and following dinner, they thoughtfully surprised us with gifts to open as their family opened theirs. Although my paperweight and trinket box are a lil’ worse for wear (three decades later), they’ve found a permanent place in my home — and heart.

But, the event that stands out in my mind is Boxing Day December 26th — the British extension of Christmas replete with brunch, hors d’oeuvres, tasty leftovers — and yes, more cocktails. That aside, Boxing Day is best known for its benevolence — a time to bless the less fortunate — and y’all know how I feel about giving.

In the next week or so, I’ll be sharing appetizer recipes from my English hosts, along with my first-ever attempt at “flaming” a plum pudding. It’s been steeping for weeks — have your fire extinguishers at the ready!

Merry Christmas, sweet friends. And God bless us every one.

Enjoying the joy of memories,

~ Kimby

Have you been away from home during the holidays? What do you remember most?