The hectic pace of modern life often means most of us will feel very lucky and proud if we find the time to concoct even one home-made Christmas pudding.
So, we should all spare a thought for those busy bakers at Elliotts Kitchen, in Watling Street, Towcester, who are currently in the throes of whipping up no less than 300 Christmas puddings for festive shoppers.
The Elliotts team – which won the Artisan Local Product Of The Year for their Cold Eating Chicken and Ham Pie and came runner-up for their Sticky Toffee Pudding in this year’s Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards – start their epic baking task in October each year.
Director Pamela Grattan told me more about the process, although the recipe itself is a closely-guarded secret.
She said: “We try to do quite a traditional product. Last year we did about 200 but we sold out so we thought we would do 300 this year. We have been selling more each year, we also promote them a bit more and we have quite a few repeat customers.
“It is quite a long process for them. In one batch we make about 30. We allow them to mature for 24 hours before we cook them. We steam them but we steam them for quite a long time so they are a nice dark colour. That is a two-day process. We then pack them in muslin so they look quite traditional; the whole thing takes four days.
“We start in October and hope to finish by the middle of November, although we have time to do another batch by the end of November.”
The traditional day on which these puddings are made by the ordinary, non-professional baking population is the Sunday before advent, known as Stir-up Sunday. This year, Stir-up Sunday falls on November 24.
The process starts a little earlier at Elliotts to give the team a chance to get everything done.
Pamela said: “There are a lot of extra products for the beginning of December we have to make.”
Although the recipe is a secret one, Pamela did reveal some of the component ingredients and a tip on how to keep puddings moist. She said: “This is a recipe I devised myself using a lot of traditional elements. There is a huge amount of ingredients, 24 in total. Lots of Guinness and brandy go into it. It is really hard work to make, we are on our hands and knees.
“We use a lot of dried fruit, raisins and sultanas. We put in some prunes, which is where ‘plum pudding’ comes from. There are also apples and carrots in there too.
“I think a tip is that you have to keep them moist, that is the secret. We put ground almonds in, but putting the apples and carrots in helps to keep it moist. There is a huge amount of liquid in there and that is the alcohol. Puddings can be dry and stodgy, but ours are light and moist.
“I think ours last for about four months, but I know my grandparents would pull out Christmas puddings which had been made two years previously.”
Even though Elliotts make their puddings in bulk, there is still a little room for festive tradition in the baking process.
Pamela said: “When we make the first batch, we do all have a stir and make a wish which is what they say you should do when making a Christmas pudding.”