“It is my aim to create classic, elegant images with a real sense of place” says Kelly Hall, artist and designer. And that is certainly what she has done with this tea towel which is a classic Christmas Pudding, covered in sauce and topped with a sprig of holly which conjures up memories of Christmases past. The tea towel started out as one of 6 Christmas cards, based on a Victorian design, by Kelly Hall and then adopted by Ulster Weavers for their Christmas tea towels.
I only have to look at this tea towel and the memories of Christmas puddings come flooding back. As a child, Mrs Atkins (commonly known as Mrs A) looked after me; she was like a child minder, babysitter and housekeeper all rolled into one. She looked after me as a two year old and until I went to university (clearly her role changed over the years). Mrs A was a woman with a never-ending source of patience who taught me to read, tie shoe laces and enjoy a sense of adventure. She taught me how to plant seeds in the garden and how to make a good cup of tea. Mrs A was a ‘dab-hand’ at making Christmas Puddings. She didn’t use alcohol in her puddings but could make a deliciously moist Christmas Pudding with a lot of glacé cherries (because I loved them). She always put one silver sixpence in the pudding for some lucky person to find. We knew to be careful with each mouthful until someone had found the sixpence. She made Christmas Pudding for me with custard because I didn’t like (and still don’t) cream or brandy sauce. Ice cream with Christmas Puddings is, in my opinion, criminal. For many years, it was just Mrs A’s Christmas Puddings that I enjoyed.
When I was in my teens, my mother started making Christmas Puddings. I am not sure why but clearly she had a different approach to making Christmas Puddings; there was no stinting on the alcohol. Not only did she soak the fruit in alcohol, she then poured alcohol in the mix and finally poured more alcohol over the cooked pudding, prior to serving. You could be breathalysed after eating one of her puddings. In addition, eating them was nothing short of a health and safety hazard; not one coin in a pudding, it was like a visit to the bank. Everyone who sat around the table was guaranteed at least one coin, if not more, and coins of many denominations. This was the time to take out shares in dentistry because the odds of at least one person breaking a tooth were extremely high; at least, the level of alcohol was such that it could anaesthetise the pain while waiting for the dentist.
After my mother died, I found a number of Christmas Puddings she had made, at the back of the pantry. I don’t know how long they had been there but they were certainly wrapped up well and I wasn’t going to waste them. John cooked them and they were delicious, still a health and safety hazard but certainly a Christmas treat.
However, my experience of Christmas Puddings is not confined to my childhood. If you want a Christmas Pudding experience, you need to meet David and Dorothy. Dorothy makes a mean Christmas Pudding; every year she has made puddings for her daughters; she knows how to balance the alcohol and ensure that everyone’s teeth survive the Christmas festivities. Puddings are always made by Stir-Up Sunday which allows the appropriate time for maturing. The ritual starts with the eating or rather the setting fire to the pudding which is David’s role. This is a family legend. I have witnessed this ritual 15 times and I am still unsure how it is supposed to go, how you know if it has been successful. Since, in my family, there definitely was no need for any extra brandy this is an unfamiliar ritual. However, my understanding is that, in most households, someone chucks brandy across the top of the pudding just before serving and throws a match at it to catch fire. Simples. Not for David. David has a spoon on a stand, with a space for a candle underneath it, specifically for this annual ritual. He pours brandy into the spoon and heats the underneath of the spoon with a match. This, theoretically, means the brandy bursts into flames and is ready for pouring across the pudding. Of course, to heat the brandy through the spoon takes time, many matches and a lot of patience. For those impatient to eat the pudding there are cries of “Why don’t you pour the brandy over the pudding and just light it?”. The anticipation of the delicious Christmas Pudding is tangible. The suspense is intense. The atmosphere anticipatory.
Actually, it doesn’t matter if the brandy is lit or not; it is the sense of family eating together and enjoying themselves, laughing at the ritual, willing the brandy to light, sharing the occasion (and in the case of David’s family, sober). Today these memories are tinged with sadness; this year David will not lead this ritual because he is in hospital and will not be out for Christmas. However, the Christmas Pudding will be served but it won’t be the same if David does not join us at the dinner table.
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