By Peter, 70. South Fremantle, WA
For my mother, and Norman Lindsay, who first alerted me to the magic, and mischief, of puddings.
There’s just a month to go. So Mum’s preparing shopping lists: flour, suet, sugar, raisins, ginger, lemons, cherries, mixed fruits, treacle or golden syrup. Watching out for bargains at the co-op. Sticking notes on the bedroom mirror for Dad to keep aside thruppences.
Then comes washing of cloth squares. A thorough scraping of the top of the stove to ensure close seals with bottoms of boilers. Checking enamel pots to see if rusted-through pinholes can’t be managed by topping up.
Come Cooking Day, it’s triple-sifting of flour, kneading in of suet — and she’s sweating already — unclumping of mixed fruit, cherries, extra raisins, and sprinkling in. After which it’s just a matter of nimble fingers and supple wrists mushing, squeezing, squelching and pressing, churning, and turning with wooden ladles.
Does being wood add to the taste? merits a silent stare; dipping fingers a smart rap, then it’s letting the mush stand overnight, putting the boilers on first thing, a remix then ladling of sweet gunge onto the cloths, moulding, gathering and tying off tops and, after letting bags sit an hour or two to seal, lowering them gently into seething pots to steep until nose and quick prods tell her they’re done.
Weeks after, it’s still impossible to pass the still-brewing ambrosia without sneaking into the pantry to poke the sacs, looking now like something a big spider’s hung until, at last, it’s Christmas — and magic: the changing of bread into Baby Jesus; bells and carols; moon hanging fully dilated above the FJ; opening of first presents; fitful sleep dreaming of opening the rest.
Then, all day, it’s food: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, of course; but mixed nut, chocolate and short-bread surprises, too, scattered on side-tables for in-betweens.
Yet nothing raptures as completely as The Pudding — which, by now, like that magic one, should be walking about on thin legs wearing a bowl on its head — the blue-green dance of flames after Dad’s poured on and lit the brandy; the depths of its colours; the nostril-flaring aromas bursting from first slices.
Later, tipsy on home-made ginger-beer, us siblings lie about farting and laughing, watching the sun sink past frog song into deepening Mallee.
Photo courtesy of http://www.christinascucina.com