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  • Writer's pictureLaura McBride

Stir-Up Sunday: It has nothing to do with football


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Several years before Simon and I moved to England, we used to fly over for Christmas. About the second time we did that, my ex-husband, who had lived in England for 20 years, invited us to his house for Christmas. Paul and his wife, Pippa, host a big family feast, usually close to 20 people at a long table, each person or couple having brought a component of the feast. It's precisely the sort of Christmas most Americans dream about, but it is very, very English. Buck's Fizz to drink, turkey and roast potatoes and three vegetables and bread sauce and, to end, both Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. And then grab-bag gifts around the tree.

That first year, since we had only a few days in England and Paul didn't know how big the kitchen in our flat might be, our assignment was Christmas crackers. For US readers, they are not food. They are tubes filled with little gifts and jokes, wrapped in festive paper, and meant to be pulled apart from either end. When the paper separates from the ribbon, etc., a tiny sort of cap-gun charge goes off, making a very satisfying pop. It is customary to help the person next to you at table while he or she helps you, so all the crackers pop at once for extra noise.

The year after we moved here, though, my assignment was quite different: Make the Christmas pudding.

Holy cow. I had heard of them, but had never made one. Not only that, but we were living in a rented house with an awful stove while the one we had bought to replace the flat, which was too small for permanent living, was still being built.

I did a little research. The worst part of it was having to convert all the metric measurements into something I could understand—you know, cups and teaspoons instead of ounces and grams.

Then I had to buy the candied fruit, a lot of muscovado sugar, and a pudding basin. Then I got to it, one early morning about three weeks before Christmas. That was a little late, really, as “puds” are supposed to cure for at least a month, and preferably a year. When Simon was growing up, his mother made a pudding each year, but it was for the next year. It was stored behind the one ready for THIS YEAR in a huge old chest that came with Simon an his flat, and that we still have. We use it as a bar, though, so it's too full of bottles and glassware to hide a Christmas pudding.

I don't know if I'll get my usual assignment this year. Apparently, for a Yank, I did all right with that first-ever Christmas pudding, because I've been asked to make the pudding every year since. I admit I usually make two. I was so unsure of the first one that first time that I found a second recipe for a Lincolnshire carrot pudding, and made that as well. I figured one of them would be edible. They both were.

I do hope I get the puds assignment; I have finally located the chocolate Christmas pudding recipe I've found and lost a few times, and I want to make it, plus the traditional one. I hope Pippa emails my assignment soon. Stir-Up Sunday is November 23, and I'd like to be ready to make the puds that day. And I'm utterly certain I'll lose that one recipe again, but this year I'll hunt it no matter what it takes. So I need a little extra time.

BTW, England is nothing if not a land of tradition. The term Stir-Up Sunday isn't just because of making puddings. It comes from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer service for the last Sunday before Advent. The service includes the following lines: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I quite like the idea of being plenteously rewarded. I sincerely hope EVERYONE can be plenteously rewarded this year. For so many, any reward has been a long time coming; plenteous reward would be grand, and I sincerely hope for it for those in distress.

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