A stirring tradition

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas.
The mincemeat is mixed ready to st

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas. The mincemeat is mixed ready to store for a month. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2009

Christmas cake

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas.
The Christmas pudding, with some o

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas. The Christmas pudding, with some of its ingredients, ready to stand in its bowl to rest and mature until Christmas Day. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2009

This is a real mix of several people’s fruit cake recipes old and new, from my great grandmother, Nigel Slater, and Delia to the Australian cookery writer Stephanie Alexander. It’s full of fruit, but there are no hard and fast rules about which fruits you use, though I would always include the basics – raisins, sultanas, currants and glacé cherries. Every year, I try to have my cake made in November, it is much better if you can, then keep it wrapped in greaseproof paper and fed with brandy at least once a week. But if I run out of time and make it at the last minute, it still tastes great and is a lovely, moist, fruity cake.

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas.
The Christmas Cake cools on a rack

Mary Kemp's November preparation of the food ready for Christmas. The Christmas Cake cools on a rack, then it will be wrapped ready to feed with brandy. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2009

650g total of mixed dried fruits, ie prunes, figs, dates, apricots, candied peel, glacé cherries, dried papaya or pineapple

350g total of raisins, currants, sultanas and cranberries

Zest and juice of an orange

Zest of a lemon

3tbsp brandy

Most Read

250g unsalted English butter

125g light muscovado sugar

125g dark muscovado sugar

3 large eggs

250g plain flour

75g ground almonds

½tsp salt

¼tsp freshly grated nutmeg

½tsp mixed spice

½tsp baking powder

1 dessertspoon black treacle

A 20cm wide, deep cake tin lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper on the bottom and sides, which should come up a good 4cm above the sides of the tin.

1 Weigh all the fruit and chop as necessary, so all the fruit is a similar size, rinsing any non prewashed or fruit in syrup, removing any stalks. Place all the fruits in a large bowl and add the zest, orange juice and brandy. Cover with a cloth or clingfilm and leave to soak overnight.

2 Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Cream the butter and sugar together until it becomes light and fluffy and a creamy coffee colour, then add the eggs a tablespoon at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. If it looks like it’s going to curdle, add a little of the flour.

3 When all the eggs have been added, fold in the flour, ground almonds, spices and baking powder, fold don’t over beat at this point. Then fold the cake mix into the fruit that has been soaking, also adding the black treacle.

4 Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon. Then place the cake in a preheated oven. After an hour, turn the oven down to 150C/gas mark 2 and leave the cake to gently cook for another 1½-2 hours.

5 Check the cake is done by inserting a skewer into the middle, if it comes out with raw cake mix on you know it needs a little longer. Once the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin.

6 Wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and feed it regularly with a little brandy.

About two weeks before Christmas I then marzipan my cake and I have to say, after years of making marzipan I now buy good quality, uncoloured, ready-made marzipan. You can of course make your own and Delia’s recipe of almond icing is the best.

Christmas Puddings

I make my great grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipe – not being at all biased or modest – it’s the best! Other than using melted butter rather than suet, it is the same recipe she and my grandmother made. My mother stills makes it and I now make a batch for family and friends, and all the other traditions continue. If you walk through our door when I am making my Christmas puddings you will be invited to have a wish and a stir and I hope it will bring you health, wealth and happiness next year.

225g (½lb) currants

225g (½lb) sultanas

225g (½lb) raisins

115g (¼lb) glacé cherries rinsed and quartered

115g (¼lb) chopped dates

115g (¼lb) shelled almonds roughly chopped

85g (3oz) grated carrot

175g (6oz) plain flour

225g (½lb) white breadcrumbs

½tsp cinnamon

¼tsp freshly grated nutmeg

¼tsp ground cloves

½tsp baking powder

The juice and zest of 1 orange

The juice and zest of 2 lemons

225g (½lb) demerara sugar

2 peeled and finely chopped cooking apples

6 beaten eggs

A good dessertspoon of black treacle

A good glass of rum or brandy

225g (½lb) melted butter and a little extra for greasing the bowls

1 In a large bowl, mix all the dried fruit together with the almonds and grated carrot.

2 In another bowl mix the flour, breadcrumbs, spices and baking powder and then add them to the dried fruit mix, followed by the fruit rind, sugar and apple and thoroughly combine.

3 Beat the eggs and pour into the mixture with the orange and lemon juice, the black treacle, the rum and the melted butter. Make a wish and stir well.

4 Grease the pudding basins and three quarters fill them with pudding mixture and cover, either with a lid or greaseproof paper and a cloth.

5 To steam, put the pudding in the top of a steamer filled with simmering water, cover with a lid and steam for a good 6 hours, topping up with water when necessary, until the pudding is a wonderful, deep brown colour. Or place on a trivet in a large saucepan with simmering water which comes half way up the side of the pudding.

6 Remove the pudding from the pan and cool completely then store in a cool dry place. On Christmas Day, gently steam or boil the pudding for about an hour to reheat. Turn on to a plate and flame with a little rum or brandy. Have a Happy Christmas.

A gluten free Christmas Pudding

You can use this recipe to make gluten free pudding, you just need to substitute the breadcrumbs, flour and baking powder with gluten free alternatives, and when you buy the dried fruit check the ingredients list, some companies use flour to stop the fruit sticking so make sure they list rice flour not wheat.

Christmas Mincemeat

500g crisp, English eating apples

500g suet or grated, ice cold butter

250g seeded raisins

350g currants

150g mixed peel

400g dark brown sugar

½tsp freshly grated nutmeg

½tsp ground allspice

½tsp ground cinnamon

½tsp salt

The juice and zest of an orange

4 tbsp brandy

Peel the apples and cut into thin slices. Simmer in a little water, stirring regularly until they are soft. Cover and leave overnight. Next day, grate the ice cold butter and mix all of the ingredients with the cooked apple, stir well, cover and stand overnight. Then spoon into sterilised jars, seal and leave for a month to mellow and mature.

Hints and tips

Christmas Bread and Butter Pudding

Layer your bread and butter pudding with home-made mincemeat to give a wonderful, festive taste.

Christmas Tart Tatin

Add a layer of home-made mincemeat between the apples and puff pastry to give your tatin a hint of Christmas.

Christmas Pudding

You can, of course, fry leftover pudding in a little butter and serve it with creamy vanilla ice cream. But, equally, slice any leftover pudding thinly and lay it in a gratin dish, pour over a good home-made or ready-made custard, sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 200C/gas mark 6. It’s delicious and so much easier.


Once you have made your own mincemeat, ready-made will never taste the same.

For quick mince pies

Roll out shortcrust pastry between clingfilm, then roll up into a tube and freeze it. It is then ready to defrost, roll out and cut with pastry cutters for quick home-made mince pies. Or cut the discs and freeze them individually layered with greaseproof paper, all ready to defrost and fill.

Comments powered by Disqus