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  • Martin Castle

Boil it up...

So the panic is on...

What if your Christmas cake is sat in a lorry at Dover, Calais or Boulogne? Unlikely I know but at least it's topical. Ok, not on a lorry but you missed stir-up Sunday (see below) and you realise that you are sans cake!

The recipe below is a mix of that my dad made and one from the Australian Women's Weekly (a treasure trove of all kinds of wonderful things). It takes about 5 hours to make and bake so there's plenty of time to get it ready for Christmas day, especially, if like me, you are a fan of the unadorned - ok you can put nuts on the top and a ribbon around if you so desire. I'll be having it for Christmas morning breakfast with a strong (stronger the better) cheddar and a glass of sherry - extra dry in my case but each to their own. Now that will set you up for the day!!!

What we think of as Christmas cake has come a long way from its origins and is the merger of two dishes traditionally eaten around the Christmas period - plum porridge or pottage and Twelfth Night Cake. Plum porridge was first cited in 1573 and was traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve designed to line people’s stomachs after a day of religious fasting. Soon, other fruits and a dash of honey joined the plums and became the good old Christmas pudding. During the 16th Century the oatmeal in the porridge was replaced by butter, flour from wheat and eggs. This mix would still have been boiled and it was not until richer families had ovens in the home, that the mix was baked. Richer families could also afford to wrap their cakes in marzipan (almond paste) and traditionally this cake/pudding would have been eaten at Easter. The use of dried fruit of the season and spices - symbolic of the Magi - were added. The cake was originally eaten not at Christmas but on the Twelfth Night, the Epiphany. Thus the Twelfth Night cake - I have a recipe for this and as I was unaware of it, that's a task for the early days of January

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, and the other Puritans banned the feasting on that special day in the 1640s (he also banned mince pies as well) complaining that there was too much excess. Christmas Day remained a public holiday and some feasting was allowed, so people simply made their cake to eat at Christmas instead and the Christmas cake was born! This change continued and by the

1830's, the cake was eaten on or around Christmas Day. Bakers of the Victorian era started to decorate the cakes with winter snow scenes. They became very popular at Christmas parties and by the 1870's the modern Christmas cake had developed.

There are a couple of traditions surrounding the Christmas cake. The first is the 'Stir Up' which traditionally takes place on the last Sunday before Advent (now more associated with the Christmas pudding). Traditionally the cake is made in November. The second is the 'feeding of the cake' when alcohol, usually brandy, sherry or whisky is added in small amounts through small holes in the cake (the cake during this time is kept in an airtight container) and the final tradition which is not so common now but was in Victorian times, it was thought to be unlucky to cut the cake before dawn on Christmas Eve. Oops already done this on my test cake!


Christmas fruit cake recipe


1kg/2lb mixed dried fruit, chopped coarsely – I use currants, raisins, sultanas, dates, prunes, peel, cherries & apricots (& dried mulberry - toot -if I can get hold of it)

250g butter, chopped coarsely

275g/1¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

2x250ml/1 cup Sherry

60ml/¼ cup water

2 tsp finely grated orange rind (or 1 tsp orange essence)

4 eggs, lightly beaten

225g/1½ cups plain flour

75g/½ cup self-raising flour

2 tsp mixed spice

200g/6½oz mixed nuts



1. Combine the chopped fruit with 250ml of sherry and soak overnight.

2. Line a deep 22cm round cake pan with three layers of baking paper, extending paper 5cm above side.

3. Combine the fruit, butter, sugar, and ¾ od the second cup of sherry (or another liqueur from the back of the cupboard) and the water in a large saucepan; stir over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil, remove from heat; transfer to a large bowl; stir in the chopped nuts and allow to cool.

4. Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F (130°C/275°F fan).

5. Stir rind (or orange essence) and eggs into the fruit mixture, then the sifted dry ingredients. Spread the mixture into the pan and top with nuts.

6. Bake cake for about 3 hours. Brush hot cake with remaining sherry; cover with foil; cool in pan overnight.

I like my Christmas cake unadorned but you can cover the top in macadamias and pecans before baking.

Word of the Day is ...

"Timmynoggy [TIM-ee-nawg-ee]

(n.) Any device that saves time and labor; a gadget.

From “timenoguy” (rope stretched between different parts of a ship to prevent tangling) of uncertain origin. - Mid 18th century.

Over the busy day that is Christmas a number of timmynoggy will be welcomed - my favourite will be the potato peeler!

ps: The last Sunday before Advent is ‘Stir-up Sunday’, the day when traditionally families gather together to prepare the Christmas pudding and or cake. This year that was Sunday 22nd November. The day does not actually get its name from ‘stirring the pudding’: it gets its name from the Book of Common Prayer. The Collect (prayer) of the Day for the last Sunday before Advent starts, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. However since Victorian times it has become associated with the rather lovely family custom of preparing for Christmas together by making the Christmas pudding and cake, an essential part of most British Christmas days.


Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”

44 views2 comments


Martin Castle
Dec 24, 2020

Sorry to hear that but hope you can have a good Christmas


David Burns
David Burns
Dec 24, 2020

Thanks Martin, and a very happy Christmas to you both. I am in lockdown as someone at the factory tested positive today and I have been working with her for the last few days!! I will be out just in time to go back to work!

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