Stir-up Sunday

I blush to admit I learned about Stir-up Sunday by listening to the Archers… But it’s here: the last Sunday before Advent is the day to make your Christmas pudding, cake etc, and I am making fruit cake today, despite popular wisdom that few people actually like them. I’ll make a plum pudding as well, since I have plums a-plenty in my freezer.

For years, my school friend Michelle’s mother used to send me a fruit cake each Christmas, and I use her recipe now. Mine will go to people I know will want them as I do, and they keep superbly with all that brandy for preservative.

It’s a labour of love, a heavy batter. My recipe calls for 6 pounds of dried fruit, a quart of brandy, 10 eggs.. even with that recipe cut in half, considerable effort goes into the soaking, the grating, the juicing and the mixing..

its heaviness a wish
upon a wooden spoon, child’s hand
beneath a mother’s,
turning a hard tide once,
twice, thrice, invoking luck…
(Fruit Cake, from Larder)

The ingredients represent considerable luxury even today. Currants, sultanas, raisins, mixed peel, candied cherries and pineapple – all ways to preserve fruits in season I suppose, if you have sufficient means (sugar, time, heat) but they are and always have been exotic imports for northern kitchens. Oranges (juice and peel required) are not yet in season closer to home (California in this case). Almonds have questionable sustainability creds – as do most things really when produced in the excessive quantities needed to meet every Western whim.

My ingredients include a few home-made versions. I made (for the experience, and probably not to be repeated) candied BC cherries this year; and I load my dehydrator each autumn with a neighbour’s green seedless grapes – each laboriously hand-pricked to dry more evenly – and make the best raisins I’ve ever tasted. I’ve added some candied lemon peel I made when making natural pectin for jam this summer. These are tokens but they put a bit of myself into the gifts the cakes will be.

The cakes are made, the pans lined and filled, and are sitting quietly overnight as the recipe instructs. Tomorrow my house will be fragrant and once they come out of the oven, warm and delectable, the question will be how many loaves will remain by Christmas?

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