Our winner of “Share the Love” Writing Competition Deirdre O’Brien
As a young child Christmas began in our family when granny McCarthy set about making the Christmas puddings.
Now let me explain, this was a job that involved gathering enough ingredients for ten or more puddings as they would be given to friends and neighbours as presents!! I recall how she would be building up her store in the weeks running up to the start date. In those times people were very mindful of money and each item would be purchased in advance over a number of weeks to spread out the cost. This sometimes meant you could find a case of sugar under her bed, a bag full of dried fruit packets behind the armchairs in the sitting room and tins of spices, mixed peel etc. would be lined up on the dresser.
As day one approached the loaves of bread, or the crusts and odd stale slices that had been salvaged the previous week would be blitzed to make crumbs. No ready-made packaged convenience for granny!! The next item to appear from storage would be the trusted pudding bowl which had (I am guessing) once been white but by now was an odd mixture of cream and brown. Stored inside the bowl was a length of string, yes the same string that had been used last year and for every year before that. Like the bowl it was showing the signs of its many years spent tying up pudding bowls.
The real signal for the start of this traditional baking frenzy was when granny took her small spiral notebook out of the drawer in the dresser. The flowery cover still had a faint shine but the pages were aged. A brown hue that resembled tea stained pages made up the inside of the notebook. In red in granny’s handwriting was the prized recipe. The scales was assembled on the table, the big mixing bowl and wooden spoon at the ready, the apron was on…….and now we knew that for the next 2 weeks the house would be filled with the amazing smell that for us marked the start of the Christmas season. It didn’t matter that it was still October, it was pudding time!!
As each pudding was mixed, put in a bowl to boil the next set of ingredients for the following day were compiled. We waited each time to lick the remaining sticky sweet mixture from the spoon, using our small fingers to get at the bottom of the mixing bowl where granny might have missed a bit if we were lucky. As each pudding was taken from the pot on the old range after hours and hours of boiling they were placed on plates to cool. This meant that when visiting granny there would be less and less plates for us to use as the puddings were lined up like soldiers waiting for battle.
We were always a bit sad when the time came to wrap up the puddings, first in greaseproof paper, then in tinfoil. This masked the wonderful aroma and stopped us from that deep sniff of spices each time we passed those pudding soldiers!! As my granny aged she came to live with us so that spiral notebook, old bowl, string, scales and all the other necessary items took up residents in our house. Just like all the years in her house our house was now the place where sugar appeared under the bed and mixed fruits and spices were in hiding behind the armchair. When the time came that granny couldn’t perform this pudding ritual as she had been called to heaven….probably to make God a pudding if I know granny…..my mother stepped into her role.
Each year through school we would run in the door on pudding days to get THAT smell. It usually took place in October depending on weather as all Irish things do. The reason being that the windows had to remain open to let the steam from the boiling pots out!! I must admit there have been a few times when we were frozen to death if the weather turned nasty during that pudding spell!! In college we longed for the weekend when we would get home to have our ‘fix’ from the smell so age never mattered, pudding smell was savoured just like it was as small kids.
One year my mom had so many to make that she ran out of space to let them all cool and so lined them up on plates on the floor of the ‘good room’ which we rarely used. I had recently got a little dog and one night somehow my dog found her way to the puddings while we all slept soundly. I was woken up by the dog scurrying about the hall in obvious distress. On close inspection I could see she was ill. It was the next day when we got to the root of the illness when my mother discovered her precious puddings had been ‘sampled’. Each one had a bite taken out of it, the dog obviously decided to check if they all tasted the same!! World War 3!!! We all lived to see another year of puddings and still laugh each year about dog proofing them. We still have granny’s notebook which must be well over 50 years old by now and every year as it comes out I bless myself, say a prayer to granny and take a moment to reflect on how blessed we are to have such a long running family tradition that has lived on through generations. This year was special as Jerry my nephew, my parents first grandchild came to stir the pudding ingredient. Being 10 months at the time it was more spilling than stirring but it marked yet another generation of pudding makers. Now all moms’ puddings are wrapped and ready for delivery.
Christmas is a time to count our blessing and be thankful for the rich heritage and family ties that are so important in the Irish family. Granny may have left us over 23 years ago but her spirit lives on and is celebrated each pudding season. Christmas would not be Christmas in our family without our special puddings.