Sunday, December 10, 2006

Making Christmas Pudding in Pasadena: part one

I am late to start this task, but I have an excuse: you cannot buy suet in America. At least, not for people. For months I've been looking in Froogle for mail-order suet for months, and asked in local stores; even the well-heeled Bristol Farms shopper can't get suet from the imposing butcher's counter. Or kidneys, for that matter, which would give them enough suet for my simple pudding needs. (The same is true for candied peel: there's no candied orange peel or candied lemon peel to be had, even in the Hispanic and Armenian markets. Would you believe it?)

But on Saturday, I was lucky: I noticed that Whole Foods Market, a mile away, had a really nice beef aging chiller, with six-week-old sides of beef in it; and after a short conversation the butcher gave me a pound of raw suet cut from a loin. A little spotty, but the real thing.

I'm roughly following Mrs Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding 1, but I've had to make my own candied peel, of course. It's tough, possibly because I only boiled the peels once. In order to keep the peels separate and workable, I've left them out on a layer of corn syrup, which won't crystallise and stick to the tray underneath, and should wash off. My keyboard's less lucky, and some keys and the mousepad are tacky from the syrup left on my fingers. Floury fingers, buttery nose and a sticky keyboard, that's the way the cooking goes around here.

I'm also adding deglet noor dates to the mix, because they're the right texture and sweetness. They also brought back memories of Tunisia, and the tales in Douz of breakfast at dusk during Ramadan - a kilo of dates and a litre of milk.

For now - to try to recover some of the time lost to the hunt for suet - I'm leaving the raisins, currants and sultanas to steep in brandy. This should also mean my son can help finish the pudding on Tuesday.

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