Christmas puddings as we now serve them are another 'tradition' invented by the Victorians. In medieval England puddings were popular and eaten all year round and not just at Christmas time. Made with suet, dried fruit and sugar, a traditional Christmas pudding keeps extremely well and can be made several weeks or even months in advance of Christmas.
The recipes I use are from Michael Barry's Cookery Year, one of my best-loved cookery books and one of the first ones I've ever bought in England. Sadly, it's now out of print. But if you happen to find a copy, grab it! Michael Barry's traditional Christmas pudding recipe is apparently the one that's been used by the Royal Family since the beginning of the 18th century. It's very rich, but keeps very well.
The other recipe I like is the one for a no-fat Christmas pudding. With all the festive foods around during December, something that doesn't add inches to my waistline while I look at it is very welcome. It's much lighter and also Vegetarian, but - because of that lightness - doesn't keep.
This one is so rich, it should definitely remind you of Christmas past, but it keeps up to a year in a cool place, so if you make too much, you can be sure your puddings won't spoil.
The recipe makes enough for 1.5kg of pudding. It will fill two medium-sized (16in) pudding basins, or a large (20in) one.
Mix all the dry ingredients together.
Beat the eggs and the milk until frothy then stir into the dried ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Allow to stand in a cool place (not the fridge) for 12 hours.
Put mixture into pudding basins and cover with a layer of folded greaseproof paper. Tie with string.
Cook, covered in a water bath, for 3 hours. Keep 4-5cm (1-2in) simmering water in the pan at all times. If using a pressure cooker, cook for 1 1/4 hours.
Allow to cool and store in a cool, dark place.
Before serving, steam for an hour in a saucepan (or for 30mins in a pressure cooker).
Flame with brandy and serve with all the usual asides.
As mentioned above, this pudding is much lighter and completely fat-free. It's also vegetarian, so make this one if you have non-meateaters coming round. This pudding will not keep for very long. So don't make it more than 2-3 weeks before Christmas.
To serve four:
Grate the apples without peeling them. Peel and roughly chop the bananas and nuts. Break the eggs and whisk with the milk.
Mix all the ingredients together and stir well.
Place into one or two well-greased pudding basins and cover with folded greaseproof paper. Tie round with string.
Steam for 3-4 hours in a covered pan with 5cm (2in) simmering water. Check the water level at intervals and don't allow to boil dry. Then cool and store.
To re-heat, steam for an hour before turning out.