Cooking is a family affair for me: we talk food; we talk recipes; we cook together when we can. My parents introduced me to good food very early in life and my son started cooking at such a young age he had to stand on a stool to reach the worktop. Now he’s one of the best home cooks I know, as is my daughter. My son’s eldest son Freddie is a budding cook at 4¾. If he sees me cooking in the kitchen he’ll dash to get ‘his’ stool, bring it through, stand on it and ask what he can do.
When I picked Freddie up from school in the week, I told him I was planning to make the Christmas pudding at the weekend. He said he wanted to help. So I picked him up from his home this afternoon and brought him back to my house. ‘Where’s my stool?’ was his first query before rushing off to get it.
I think cooking with children has many benefits. I believe that if they become involved they’re more likely to want to eat the finished dish. They also learn to recognise different foods and ingredients; start to understand how a meal comes together. Today, as Freddie has recently started school, a certain amount of number recognition came into play as we weighed out ingredients: I pointed to the window displaying the amount on the scales and said things like, ‘We need to keep putting more in until we see the number four.’ When we moved from 4oz of sultanas, followed by 4oz of raisins to 10oz of currants, Freddie exclaimed, ‘That’s a lot!’ As our large mixing bowl filled with ingredients and Freddie noted that we were making a very big pudding, we counted off who was going to be eating Christmas dinner on our fingers. Cooking + numbers = fun!
I also got Freddie to smell some of the ingredients as we went, like the spices. He wasn’t impressed by the nutmeg but liked the cinnamon. He wanted to taste each of the dried fruit and noted the difference between sultanas, raisins and currants. Then he tasted the candied peel (and liked it) and the lemon zest. Putting the pudding together was like an exciting journey of discovery.
Freddie is still very young, of course, and needs supervision and a lot of help. Thus I always like to cook something with him that I’ve made before; I like to do it at a time when I won’t feel rushed so we can go slowly and I can let him do as much as he’s able. Of course, there are bits like chopping ingredients with sharp knives that I have to say I must do; safety is particularly important with a young one but just explain gently why you have to do this bit. As long as you think things through first and take your time, then it’s all quite easy really. And there’s so much joy to be gained from sharing a time like this with a precious child. A couple of years ago Freddie and I made gingerbread men together for Christmas for the first time and repeated it last year, so it’s about building family traditions too. And I can attest to the fact that cooking with my own children when they were young has paid off dividends – I now enjoy great meals they cook for me!
I chose to make Delia Smith’s Christmas pudding recipe this year. I’ve been making it for years but tried a different one last year and wasn’t so happy, so it’s back to Delia this year. Maybe it’s because it’s so traditional; but then Christmas is all about tradition. I used the recipe as it appears in Delia Smith’s Christmas, first published in 1990 and stuck to Imperial measurements rather than metric, but most scales have an Imperial option to switch to. I changed a couple of things, like rum to brandy but it’s pretty much as Delia makes it.
Christmas Pudding – Serves 8 – 10
- 4oz shredded suet
- 2oz self-raising flour
- 4oz white breadcrumbs
- 1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8oz soft dark brown sugar
- 4oz sultanas
- 4oz raisins
- 10oz currants
- 1oz mixed candied peel
- 1oz almonds, skinned and chopped
- 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
- zest of ½ large orange
- zest of ½ large lemon
- 150ml stout (dark ale)
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 2 eggs
You’ll need a 2-pint pudding basin.
I gathered all the ingredients together with a large mixing bowl before we began. Then we started weighing things out as they appeared in the recipe. [Add all the ingredients to the bowl except the eggs, stout and brandy.]
First we weighed the suet (I used a vegetable suet as one of my daughters-in-law is vegetarian) and I let Freddie tip it into the mixing bowl.
‘Can I stir?’ he asked, picking up the wooden spoon I’d got out. ‘Well, shall we put something else in first so you can mix them together?’ And we weighed the flour next.
When we got to the nutmeg we did it almost together, but then I was a bit worried about grated little fingers and persuaded Freddie to let me finish that bit. I let Freddie spoon the sugar from the packet into the bowl on the scales.
As we went on and the mixing bowl got fuller and fuller and the ingredients heavier and heavier to stir. Freddie told me you had to be strong to make Christmas pudding. So I told him it was a good job I had him to help me! Praise is important but I was truly thankful to be doing it with him – it made it all the more fun for me.
Once everything was in except the wet ingredients, I found a measuring jug to measure out the stout. We added the brandy and eggs. Then with a small whisk, we mixed it together well. Although a little help was needed, Freddie managed most of this on his own. I then got him to pour the liquid in while I started mixing with the wooden spoon. The mixture was heavy by this time and I changed to a strong spatula to more easily mix it well and gather bits from the side of the bowl. Freddie wanted to go on mixing for some time! At this point I told him about how I used to make Christmas puddings with my own grandmother and that one had to make a wish – for something you wanted or wanted to happen – while you stirred. I explained it was a secret so he mustn’t tell me. Freddie’s eyes closed shut tightly and I could see his little face change into deep-thinking mode. He suddenly opened his eyes and told me he’d made his wish – but he wasn’t going to tell me what it was!
The bowl then had to be covered with some clingfilm (or a tea towel) and the mixture left to mature overnight before being transferred into a pudding basin.
The next morning (Freddie now back at his home), I transferred the mixture to a lightly greased 2-pint pudding basin.
Cover it in a double layer of greaseproof paper, then some foil. Tie it securely with string. Put the basin in a steamer with simmering water and steam for 6-8 hours. You’ll need to check the water regularly and top it up with boiling water from time to time.
When the steaming is finished, remove from the steamer and let the pudding get completely cold. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper and replace with fresh ones. Keep in a cool place until Christmas Day. Then steam again for 2¼ hours before serving. We traditionally serve our Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.