Plumcake is still a traditional Christmas food (God knows why I hear you say). It was often prepared a year before making its appearance at the holiday table. Plumcake (and fruitcake) is like fine wine - it needs time to allow the full flavor to develop. Plumcake appears to have evolved from plum pudding. A good plum pudding, whose recipe was a closely guarded family secret, was cooked then allowed to ripen in a cupboard where it grew hard and dry. The older it got, the harder it grew. Plum pudding was steamed prior to serving to make it moist and therefore edible. My theory is that cooks soon learned they could keep the pudding moist and preserve it by soaking it in liqueur. Thus plum pudding became plumcake aka fruitcake. Whatever the origin of fruitcake it has gotten a particularly bad reputation as something to be shunned or thrown about like a medicine ball. However, a good fruitcake, rich and sweet with molasses or brown sugar along with a cup of afternoon tea is something that must be tried. IRISH CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING With Brandy Butter This is a classic Christmas dessert, but why is it called Plum Pudding when there are no Plums in it? Beats me! The best thing to do with this cake is to pour the brandy butter over it, set it on fire and when Aunt Maureen has fell asleep at the table letting out silent but deadly farts-push it in front of her and get everyone to scream "Fire"-that's what the holidays are all about-family. INGREDIENTS 12 oz currants 4 oz sultanas 4 oz raisins 4 oz mixed candied peel 8 oz peeled and cored apples 1 lemon & 1 orange (grated rind and juice) 12 oz shredded suet 2 oz chopped almonds 2 oz chopped walnuts 12 oz plain flour 1 level teaspoon salt 2 level teaspoon mixed spice 8 oz soft brown sugar 8 oz castor sugar 4 oz glace cherries 12 oz fresh breadcrumbs 4 eggs 2 tablespoons brandy 7 oz stout (Guinness) METHOD Grease 3 pudding bowls of varying sizes. Place circular greased pieces of tin foil around the bottom of the bowls. Put the chopped nuts, peel, cherries, apples, lemon and orange rind into a large bowl. Add the flour, spice, salt, breadcrumbs, suet and sugars to it and mix well. Now add the lemon, orange juice, brandy and eggs and again mix well. It is an Irish tradition to ask each of the members of your family to stir the mixture for luck! Now cover the mixture with a towel and leave overnight. This is very important. Next day, mix again and place the mixture into the prepared bowls. Don't fill the bowls right up to the top. This leaves room for the pudding to expand when it is cooking. Cover with double layer of greased greaseproof paper and a layer of tin foil. Put each of the bowls in a large saucepan. Fill the saucepan half way up with boiling water and maintain this level by adding more boiling water during the cooking. A small saucer placed in the bottom of the saucepan prevents the pudding bowl from moving around. Cooking times Allow 9 hours boiling time for a 2 pint pudding Allow 7 hours for a 1 and a half pint pudding. Allow 5 hours for a 1 pint pudding. On the day you want to eat the pudding heat it up in a microwave, douse it in brandy and set it alight. When the fire has gone out serve with cream, custard or brandy butter. BRANDY BUTTER Ingredients 4 tablespoons softened, unsalted butter Half cup of castor sugar 3 tablespoons brandy Half teaspoon vanilla extract METHOD Put all the ingredients into a bowl. Beat with an electric beater until the mixture is smooth and well integrated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until the mixture is firm. Now serve alongside plum pudding! AND FINALLY... The jockey was riding the favorite at a race meeting and was well ahead of the field. His horse rounded the final corner, when suddenly the jockey was hit on the head by a turkey and a string of sausages. He managed to keep control of his mount and pulled back into the lead, only to be struck by a box of Christmas crackers and a dozen mince pies as he went over the last fence. With great skill he managed to steer the horse to the front of the field once more when, on the run in, he was struck on the head by a bottle of sherry and a Christmas pudding. Thus distracted, he succeeded in coming only second. He immediately went to the race stewards to complain that he had been seriously hampered. MERRY CHRISTMAS! - CHEF GILLIGAN