“Stir up, we beseech thee Oh Lord…”
The words of the collect rolled around her and Sarah felt the magic gather. Her puddings would be the better for her participation in Christian ritual on Stir Up Sunday. The priest noticed her inward focus and guessed the reason.
He glared as she came out of the dimly lit church, blinking in the winter sunshine.
“How dare you turn my service into heathen witchery, woman?”
“But it’s Stir Up Sunday, Father. ‘Tis traditional to make the puddings on this day.”
The priest grunted, considering her a lost cause.
Sarah slipped away. She had such a lot of cooking to do today. But she’d have to make sure the priest ate one of her puddings. With all the goodness she stirred in, he couldn’t help but be less sour.
“Yes alright, but I still don’t see why it has to be today. He does have homework you know.”
Sally put the phone down. Her sister Rose was in one of those moods. Still, she was letting Grey come over to help. Sally had no children of her own and the art had to be passed on somehow.
“That’s all right isn’t it? Teaching Grey?”
Sally addressed her many times great grandmother. The portrait of Dame Sarah Perkin hung in Sally’s kitchen – another thing that Rose took issue with.
She scrutinised her distant relative. Green eyes, black curly hair, unfashionably curvy body.
“I got your genes didn’t I, great grandmother? So did Grey. Missed the rest of the family though.”
“Mum said you wanted me for the day, Sally. She said you’d feed me an’ all.” Grey burst into the kitchen beaming. “What are we creating today?”
Sally smiled at her nephew over the top of her reading glasses.
“Grab your apron and let’s get busy. Today is Stir Up Sunday. We have to stir the Christmas puddings.”
“So what do we stir into them?”
“Christmas goodwill. Most people end up rowing with their nearest and dearest. That wouldn’t happen if they’d feasted on one of my puddings.”
Grey weighed out raisins, currants and sultanas. These went into a large mixing bowl. He added dried chopped orange peel.
“Dried fruit for health and longevity. Brandy for relaxation and happiness,” said Sally as she poured a generous slug into the bowl.
Grey stirred with care and they left the fruits soaking while they weighed out the next batch.
“Grated suet for warmth and to put some padding on your bones. God knows you need it Grey, unlike me.”
He put his arms around her and hugged her leaving a floury streak on her jumper.
“I’d rather have your comfortable curves than Mum’s elegance anytime,” Grey said, his voice muffled by speaking into her bosom. ”At least you let me hug you.”
He let her go, and they added flour, salt and spices to the mix.
“Why nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, but not say, pepper, caraway, cumin?”
“These are sweet spices. The only one that’s missing is vanilla. I wouldn’t put vanilla into a Christmas pudding. Your mother might though, it’s more her style – very trendy and a bit cold. Ginger is warmth and good health again, cinnamon and nutmeg add a little bit of challenge.”
Sally grated apples and added them, then Grey tipped in a sparkling golden stream of demerara sugar. They stirred again.
“Seems very dry,” he remarked. “What have we missed?”
“Stout. We add that now while we do the serious stirring. Did you know that your many times great grandmother, Sarah Perkin, was burned at the stake for making Christmas Puddings on Stir Up Sunday?”
“What, her in the picture?”
Sally nodded as she picked up a dark brown bottle.
“I’ll pour and you stir. Don’t talk, just wish for all the good things you want to come out of this batch of puddings. When we’re half done, we’ll swap, so that the puddings will have my goodwill too. Oh and stir widdershins if you please.”
She nodded and began pouring. The mixture was stiff and hard to turn. As he stirred, putting all his force into it, Grey wished for good health for his mother and sobriety for his father. Most of all he wished for Rose and Sally to be friends again.
They swapped. Grey poured steadily, the rich dark liquid smelled both bitter and tangy. Sally thought about the people who would eat her puddings. Her sister’s fragmented family. She wished them peace and happiness. The people at the homeless shelter. She wished them warmth, health, hope and a chance to start over. The cinnamon and nutmeg might help there.
Puddings stirred with such goodwill couldn’t fail to help the people who ate them. The old recipes were as relevant today as they were in Sarah’s time.