One of my favourite writers is Hunter S Thompson and one of his early novels, ‘The Rum Diary’, recently turned into a film with Mr Johnny Depp playing the lead role is a tale of debauchery and razor sharp wit, with the lead character trying his best to drink his body weight in Rum on a daily basis.
Rum is a magical ingredient. I’m talking about the really dark stuff, proper sailor Rum. The kind of Rum that gets drunk by that old eccentric Great Uncle that every family seems to have. The rogue Uncle who gets rowdy at family get-togethers. The kind with a few skeletons in his closet and a reputation for philandering.
We had one, he was called Uncle Ronny and he loved his Rum and coke. He was brilliant, he’d rock in through the front door just as things were starting to get a bit boring, swaying, teetering on the edge, looking like he might fall over at any second. He’d become more lubricated as the evening wore on, with the Rum coursing through his dilated blood vessels.
What a picture he was. A mass of unkepmt gray hair, bushy eyebrows and one eye that wandered so you weren’t sure exactly who he was talking to. He wore a faded tweed suit that he never changed, with a spotted silk handkerchief sticking out of his jacket pocket, pontificating in an old Anglicised military accent and he always smelt like mothballs. He would only appear once in a blue moon, but it was never a let down as he’d get sozzled and upset all the adults, but us kids loved the entertainment, he was the magic ingredient for the evening…so for me Rum has always held a special place in my heart. It doesn’t surprise me that it is a magic ingredient in baking, it holds mystical properties and is conducive to good times.
When I was a kid at home, Christmas pudding was something I wasn’t too keen on, I was more interested in whatever selection box was going, or maybe some Ferrero Rocher or a Terry’s chocolate orange. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered Christmas pudding and just how good it can be. It might be a pudding for grown ups, but as far as I’m concerned there is no going back, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a proper pudding.
This is a basic recipe for a traditional plum pudding, using dried figs and prunes as the base, but I’ve tweaked it a good bit with the addition of dried cranberries, mixed peel, sweet mincemeat, and of course Rum. Some people hate mixed peel but I love the stuff, I like the tang and texture it adds to the pudding. The key inredient in this pudding for me is the alcohol, without it the pudding would just be a boring fruit sponge. The recipe calls for stout, I like to use a local brew called ‘Belfast Black’, but it’s the addition of dark sailor Rum that dials this pudding up to eleven.
There seems to be some magical reaction between the Rum, the Muscavado sugar and all the dried fruit – the first time I cooked this for Christmas day I couldn’t believe the texture of the pudding when I turned it out of the bowl. It was like a really heavy thick dark fudgey jelly, but the flavour was unbelievable. I could taste all the fruit, the alcohol had mellowed and matured, it was heavy, but so heady and full of flavour, with the mixed spice coming through, which lifted the dark molasses, treacle notes of the Rum and dark sugar. The addition of the juice and zest of one orange adds a fresh aromatic kick, helping to cut through the richness of the pudding.
This is the easiest pudding to make, anyone can do it, just get all the ingredients together, give it a few stirs, add your alcohol of choice, boil it for a few hours and let it mature for a month at least, or longer. The longer you can leave the pudding to mature the better the flavour will be on Christmas day. You have to allow enough time for the alcohol, sugar and the dried fruit to work their magic together. I baked mine in October, but I’m already thinking I might try August or July next year!
This pudding will keep for weeks after Christmas in an air tight container. Why not fry a slice in butter and serve hot with cold vanilla ice-cream, like my Grandad used to do.
Uncle Ronny would have loved this pud! Rums all round!
100g dark muscavado sugar
400g chopped dried fruit (prunes, figs, cranberries)
1 dessert spoon of mixed peel
1tsp mixed spice
Grated zest of 1 orange and 50ml juice
1 dessert spoon of sweet mincemeat
2 egg yolks
50g plain flour
75g chopped walnuts
50g melted butter
50g soft breadcrumbs
Put the sugar, fruit and spice in a bowl. Stir in the other ingredients in order.
Spoon into a buttered pudding basin, seal with foil and string, and simmer for three hours. Store in a cool place, do not break the seal.
On Christmas day, simmer for another three hours.
Can’t wait to taste this on Christmas day!