Julie Nichols hasn't had the easiest of years. As the owner of the Handmade Market Canberra she was all set to open the doors in June before the latest lockdown hit. The markets had not been held as a live event since December 2019 due to the pandemic.
Always a popular event in the lead-up to Christmas, Nichols is unsure whether they'll be happening in person in 2021 but she's excited by the prospect of another online market with a brand new website to make all your Christmas shopping much easier.
But if there's one thing that centres her at this time of year, and reminds her of the things that are really important, it's making the Christmas pudding.
"I've been making a Christmas pudding for as long as I can remember," Nichols says. "I don't remember my mum ever making one but once I had kids I wanted my own family traditions. I play around with it each year but the one 'must have' is always port from my father-in-law's port barrel."
She can't remember which magazine she ripped the recipe from, the pages are splattered with spots of what looks like dried batter, she's scribbled "port, apricot nectar, vanilla bean" in a corner of the page.
"I follow the recipe loosely and change the fruit depending on what I feel like, apricot is always the base," she says. This year is apricot, prune, fig and sultana. She serves it warm with custard, icecream and cream.
"I also have a set of pudding coins strategically placed in the pudding before cooking."
Food is a big part of the Nichol's family Christmas.
"It's a very casual and relaxed day and everything is planned around food," she says. "Breakfast is always croissants, panettone, fresh fruit, coffee and juice. Then we do presents and a late lunch around 2pm. A baked ham is a must, turkey breast and all the veggies, a great cranberry sauce. Dessert is always this pudding."
Nichols says she is really looking forward to Christmas this year.
"More than ever if I'm honest," she says. "It's been a rough couple of years for everyone and although Christmas is always special in our house, this year having our family together, including the most adorable grandchild, will mean so much more."
- Head to handmadecanberra.com.au for some early Christmas shopping.
Extra special pudding
150g seedless prunes, chopped
300g raisins, chopped
150g figs, chopped
1 cup marsala
Juice and rind from 1 orange and 1 lemon
250g unsalted butter, chilled in freezer for 30 minutes
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp Parisian essence
1 cup fresh rye breadcrumbs
1. Place all the fruit, marsala, juices and rind in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Stand overnight. Grease an eight-cup capacity basin with melted butter and line base with baking paper.
2. Grate butter into a large bowl, combine with sugar. Stir to coat butter evenly with sugar. Add eggs, sifted dry ingredients and Parisian essence. Mix well. Add soaked fruit and breadcrumbs. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Do not overbeat.
3. Spoon into pudding basin. Cut two large sheets of baking paper and a sheet of foil. Lay foil on top of paper and pleat in the centre. Place the paper side on top of the basin and secure tightly around the rim with string. Make a strong loop with string that runs from one side to the other to help ease the basin into the pan.
4. Place a trivet or upturned saucer in a large stockpot, place pudding basin onto the trivet or saucer. Add enough boiling water to come one third of the way up the side of the basin. Cover pan with a tight-fitting lid, bring to the boil and cook pudding for five hours. Do not let the pudding boil dry - replenish with boiling water as the pudding is cooking. Remove from the water and allow to cool. When cool, turn out of the basin onto a large plate. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place into an airtight container. Serve at room temperature with piping hot custard.
Note: Make pudding six weeks in advance.