Homemade Christmas


The countdown to Christmas continues. This week, let’s get the puddings sorted and a little encouragement for those of you who have never ventured to make your own plum pudding or homemade mincemeat, honestly it’s a doddle. Mincemeat is just a question of combining ingredients and putting the end result into glass jars.

For the plum pudding, it’s the same but when you’ve mixed all that yummy dried fruit with the suet, spice and breadcrumbs, everyone has to make a wish before you divide it between the pudding bowls for the initial steaming. Here’s where that pressure cooker I wrote about a few weeks ago can really come in handy – it will reduce the cooking time substantially.

Your butcher will give you lovely fresh suet which will make a delicious succulent pudding and if you would like a gluten-free version use gluten-free bread to make the breadcrumbs (note, commercial suet often contains flour.) Here again is my favourite plum pudding recipe passed down through my grandmother’s family for many generations. Make a large, a medium and several teeny weenies for friends who would love just a taste of a moist and succulent pudding. A pot of brandy or rum butter completes the gift.

Mincemeat also benefits from being made well ahead; here’s a delicious recipe we use at Ballymaloe which is also gluten free. This also can be added to your edible presents.

On the subject of edible presents, few things are more welcome around Christmas than some delicious homemade gifts.  Pickles, relishes, chutneys also benefit from a couple of weeks mellowing. Confiture d’Oignons is a particularly delicious accompaniment to have in the pantry to cheer up cold meats or to add to starter plates of coarse pates or terrines.

We also love to have a proper old fashioned trifle at Christmas. This is also my mum’s recipe which was so loved that she had to hide it every year in ever more obscure places otherwise the boys would polish it off when they came home from midnight mass. It can easily be made a few days ahead of Christmas provided it’s well soaked in sweet sherry. The sponge cakes could even be made now and frozen but don’t add cream and final embellishments until Christmas Day or whenever you decide to serve it.

Christmas is all about tradition, in our house it was always served in the special cut-glass trifle bowl which only appeared once a year however it also works brilliantly in tiny glass pots (we use recycled Glenilen yoghurt pots) for individual helpings or little presents.

Let’s have a homemade Christmas this year and enjoy the compliments.


Mummy’s Plum Pudding


It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.

It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.  Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.


This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings.  The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.


12 ozs (350g) raisins

12 ozs (350g) sultanas

12 ozs (350g) currants

12 ozs (350g) brown sugar

12 ozs (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)

12 ozs (350g) finely-chopped beef suet

4 ozs (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4 ozs (110g) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2 1/2 fl ozs (62ml) Jamaica rum


Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with

You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire – as well as the pudding!


Brandy Butter


3ozs (75g) butter

3ozs (75g) icing sugar

2-6 tablespoons brandy


Cream the butter until very light, add the icing sugar and beat again.  Then beat in the brandy, drop by drop.  If you have a food processor, use it: you will get a wonderfully light and fluffy Brandy Butter.


Note: Rum may be substituted for brandy in the above recipe


Mummy’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle


There’s a few things, like gravy and trifle, that are very personal – your yardstick is whatever your mammy or granny used to make. In earlier years, Mummy would have made this trifle with the trifle sponges that could be bought in Mrs Freeman’s shop in our village around Christmas; they looked like sponge rusks. Over the years, as these sponges became more difficult to source, we started making the sponge ourselves. We actually used to have a layer of tinned peaches in this trifle, but now I’m too snooty to put them in; the truth is I prefer the trifle without them. Even when my brothers were in their late 40s and 50s, they seemed to revert back to childhood and squabble over the trifle, finishing it off in the middle of the night when they came home from the pub on Christmas Eve. Mummy would have to go to great lengths to hide it on the top of a cupboard or even in her wardrobe, but somehow they always managed to find it! So, why is it better than any other trifle you’re likely to taste? Surprise, surprise – it’s the quality of the ingredients. Use homemade sponge cake, homemade raspberry jam and homemade custard made with good organic eggs, lashings of Bristol cream sherry (don’t waste your time with cooking sherry), and you cannot go wrong. Choose a bowl (glass for preference) that’s not too deep, otherwise the layers will become disproportionate – either too luscious or too dry. For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of Swiss roll.


Serves 8–10


450g (1lb) homemade sponge cake

225g (8oz) homemade Raspberry Jam


For the Custard

5 organic eggs

11⁄4 tablespoons caster sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

700ml (11⁄4 pints) full-cream milk


150–175ml (5–6fl oz) best-quality sweet or medium sherry – don’t spare the sherry



600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets


8 diamonds of candied angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds


1.7 litre (3 pint) trifle bowl, preferably glass


Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with raspberry jam. If you are using trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs (you’ll need 5–6 pairs).

Next make the egg custard. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract. Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and pour it over the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Return the mixture in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat and stir with a straight-ended wooden spoon until the custard lightly coats the back of the spoon. Don’t allow it to boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm (3⁄4in) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, drizzling generously with the sherry as you go along. Spoon over a layer of the warm egg custard then add another layer of sponge and drizzle with the remainder of the sherry. Spread the rest of the custard over the top. Cover and leave for 5–6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge for the flavours to mature.

To serve, spread softly whipped cream over the top, piping rosettes if you wish, and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica. Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.


Ballymaloe Mincemeat


Makes 3.2 kilos approx.

Makes 8-9 pots.


2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling

2 organic lemons

450g (1lb) beef suet

pinch of salt

110g (4oz) mixed peel (preferably homemade)

2 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade

225g (8oz) currants

450g (1lb) sultanas

900g (2lbs) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey


Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and mash the flesh into pulp.  Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.  Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.




Ballymaloe guests have been enjoying Nora Ahern’s farm fresh geese, ducks and turkeys for several decades – if you hurry you can too – 021 4632354.


The inaugural Bord Bia Christmas Food Market will take place at CHQ Building, IFSC, Docklands, Dublin 1 from Thursday 12th December to Saturday 14th December, 10am to 8pm – and 10am to 6pm on Sunday 14th December. You’ll be spoilt for choice with produce from 40 Irish food producers under one roof!


Ballymaloe Cookery School Gift Vouchers last a lifetime – 021 4646785.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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