As I have mentioned before, I am thoroughly enjoying the whole food-blogging business. Even though it took a big push from my sister for me to start it, I'm incredibly glad I did. Since starting this blog back in January, I've joined a few food-blog-challenge groups, and I was excited to see I had been accepted into the Daring Bakers group on the Daring Kitchen. I waited anxiously all last month, counting the days until I would find out what my very first DB challenge recipe would be. Finally, April arrived and I could not believe my luck when I saw the April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet. Scrolling through the comments, I could tell not everyone was excited about this month's task, but then not everyone was lucky enough to grow up with my Grandfather and his Carrot Pudding at Christmastime.
My dear, sweet, darling Grandpa was, quite simply, the most important man in my life. There shall forever be an incredibly sacred place in my heart for him, a place where I keep all the cherished memories I have of him before he passed away, very suddenly, almost 16 years ago. I'll apologize for the incredibly emotional post, but it is still somewhat surprising to me how quickly the tears flow when I think of him even today - I often wonder if the pain of losing him will ever pass...
Neil Weir was an incredible man. He was extremely intelligent, generous, kind, had a wonderful sense of humour and was passionate about many things, especially politics. He is the reason Nana Mouskouri is on my iPod. He got a kick out of reading the work of Erma Bombeck. Grandpa was so ambitious he planned to go back to university and take all of his classes en français after his retirement - we even bought him french books for his birthday in March, but sadly he passed before classes ever began. He loved to read and had a den filled with books; he loved to talk and he loved a good debate - a very large part of my childhood was spent going for coffee at Grandma & Grandpa's house, sitting at that kitchen table & listening to political debates and conversations about everything under the sun. Grandpa loved to laugh and he loved to cook, ever since he was a chef in the Navy. He was a huge fan of Julia Child's, and I have many memories (decades before Julie & Julia was around) of sitting on the floor in my grandparent's living room while Grandpa sat in his chair and watched Julia work her magic. A few years ago, when hubby & I spent a month in Paris, I took a class at le Cordon Bleu. Looking around that famous kitchen, wearing my white apron, all I could think was how much Grandpa would have loved this... I could almost feel him beside me, laughing with excitement.
Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was always over at Grandma & Grandpa's house. They would unfold the big kitchen table leaves in order to have enough room for everyone, and we'd all crowd into the kitchen for the holiday meal he and Grandma had prepared. All five granddaughters, of which I am the youngest, would hurry in to get seated so we wouldn't get stuck sitting on the one horribly uncomfortable, tiny wooden chair from Grandpa's desk in the den (naturally as "the baby" I spent many holiday meals on that chair). Fantastic smells filled the entire house and delicious food filled the table. Roast turkey with all the trimmings, peas, carrots, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and always, always, the crystal dish filled with chunky sweet pickles and bright yellow mustard pickles. Grandpa always sat at the head of the table, Grandma to his left, as the kitchen exploded with a dozen 'cracks' and 'pops' as we snapped open our Christmas crackers, donned our tacky paper crowns, showed off the toy prizes we had scored and read aloud the terrible jokes we found as we enjoyed our shrimp cocktails. Eventually platters and bowls were passed around the table and we filled our plates. Conversation always filled the room as we filled our bellies, only to sit back and complain about how much we ate and how painfully full we all were.
After dinner, we'd all chip in to clean the kitchen, wrapping left-overs and washing dishes while we slowly digested the wonderful meal. By the time the dishes were done and the coffee was made, we finally had just enough room for dessert. Back into our seats we'd all climb, and wait patiently as Grandpa pulled the huge rectangular roaster from the oven, lifted the lid and carefully passed us each a steaming hot bowl of Carrot Pudding from inside. The 14 or more of us crammed around that big kitchen table would wait anxiously as two bowls of Hard Sauce were passed around and everyone hummed and hawed over the choice between lemon or rum. When the bowls finally made their way down to the kids end of the table, I'd impatiently crane my neck, dying to see if there was going to be anything left of the flavour I wanted. When it was finally my turn, I'd scoop out a big hunk of hard sauce and then, and only then, break my spoon into the soft exterior of the piping hot pudding. You see, the trick was to not actually break into your Carrot Pudding until the hard sauce had arrived - after all, you couldn't risk your dessert cooling down too much, or the topping wouldn't melt! I remember so many Christmases, slowly savouring every delectable bite of Grandpa's Carrot Pudding and intently watching the sweetened butter melt into the cracks and crevices of what remained before taking another bite. Eventually, bowls would empty, the tryptophan kicked in and we all grew drowsy. Dessert dishes would be cleaned, the kitchen table would be restored to it's original size, extra chairs put away and another Christmas feast would draw to a close. That was my Christmas dinner for almost 20 years of my life, save for the years I lived in BC and wasn't home to celebrate. Thankfully, I still remember them, as my cousins, my sister , my uncle and I have all grown and dispersed to different towns or countries, families of our own.
The first Christmas after Grandpa died, everything changed. We moved dinner to my mom's house, but for everyone's sake, tried to keep as many things the same as possible. The official excuse for this was to make things easier on my Grandma, but the truth was that none of us wanted to face a Christmas dinner around that big table without him... our beloved patriarch was gone forever. Even I, the baby, was grown and living on my own by then, so we decided to have more of a "pot-luck" feast and everyone chose one of Grandpa's signature dishes to bring to dinner that night. I volunteered to make the Carrot Pudding, knowing that Christmas dinner would just not be the same without it. I was wrong. That first Christmas after Grandpa died was the one and only time we had Carrot Pudding without him. Maybe it was just a little too painful for us all, but in the 15 years since that Christmas, today is the first time I have baked it since that first, painful year. Thankfully, the same ramekins that he used each Christmas are still in the family, so I've collected them just for this very special occassion.
I still think of my Grandpa every day, smiling fondly on some tiny memory, or thinking of all the great stuff we could share if only he were here today. I'd have someone to practice my French with, I'd have someone to make crêpes with, I'd have someone to share my love of baking and cooking with. Maybe he & I would go take another class together in Paris. He would get such a charge out of my food blogging adventure, and I can picture how he would smile now, at seeing me discover a new passion. I guess the hardest part of losing him has been the simple fact that I know in my heart what great friends we would be now - best friends - and I realize now that I've saved that place in my heart for him, and no one will ever be able to touch that place in my heart but Grandpa.
So tonight I'll sit quietly at my own kitchen table and have a long forgotten taste of Carrot Pudding, and I think maybe I'll have to set a place for him to join me as I reminisce.
Bon appétit, Grandpa. I love you, and I miss you every single day...
Grandpa's Christmas Carrot Pudding
(the memories of this dessert are so strong for me, that I did not even have to check the recipe before I shopped for ingredients. Beef suet can be incredibly hard to find, especially in the springtime)
2 1/4 Cups (320g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/8 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 1/4 tsp (17g) baking powder
3/4 Cup (100g) beef suet (if you're not able to get beef suet, you can substitute shortening)
1 1/2 Cups (300g) brown sugar
1 1/2 Cups (180g, about 3 medium) carrots, washed & grated
2 1/2 Cups (460g, about 4 medium) apples, peeled & grated
1 1/8 Cups (180g) seedless raisins
Prepare a large roaster that can accommodate 12-14 small ramekins - you may need 2 roasters or oven-save pans that can be covered tightly. Preheat oven to 350˚F and adjust racks according to the size of your roaster. Put a kettle of water on to boil
Into a medium bowl, add the dry ingredients, whisk together to combine and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand, in a large mixing bowl, just like Grandpa always did it), cream together the suet and brown sugar. Add in the carrots, apples and raisins and mix until just blended. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix just until no streaks of flour remain. Scrape the bottom and the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure there are no pockets of un-mixed ingredients.
Scoop approximately 1/2 Cup of the pudding batter into each of the small ramekins. (NOTE: this batter does rise quite a bit, so make sure there is plenty of room for them to grow)
Place filled ramekins into your roasting pan and gently fill the bottom of the pan with the boiling water, taking care not to pour any water onto the puddings. Carefully cover the roaster with tin foil and cover tightly with a lid. Place the roaster in the oven for 60-90 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pudding comes out clean. Carefully serve piping hot, with a delicious, buttery Hard Sauce...
Hard Sauce for Steamed Pudding
makes about 1 cup
5 Tbsp (75g) butter, at room temperature
1 Cup (114g) confectioner's sugar
flavouring to taste*
- Vanilla: add 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Lemon: add 1 tsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- Mocha: add 2 tsp instant espresso powder and 2 tsp cocoa powder
- Rum: add 2-4 tsp of rum... to taste!
Cream together the butter and sugar until well combined. Add flavouring and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from fridge about 30 minutes before Carrot Puddings are finished cooking. Spoon over hot pudding and enjoy!