Updated Friday, November 2nd, 2007
Soak the cotton square in warm water and wring it relatively dry. Lay it flat on the kitchen table and flour the top side well. This will form a moist coating of flour on the cloth which is essential to removing the pudding from the bag later. Shake off excess flour. Now dump the pudding mixture in the center of the cloth. The mixture will not be too "loose" and will remain pretty much upright in a blob.
Gather the corners and edges of the cloth up around the mixture to form the "bag" around the pudding, and while somebody holds the folds, tie off the pudding--bag string. Make allowance for some rising (the eggs) and some swelling during cooking. In short, don't tie the bag completely tight about the mixture, but leave a small emptiness between the string and the pudding. If you do it right, the ultimate pudding will have the form of a flattened orb, swelling to the precise size you have left in the bag. If you leave too much space, the pudding will sag.
Leave a loop in the string so you can thrust in the handle of a long wooden spoon to retrieve the finished pudding from the boiling water. Everything is going to be wicked hot when the time comes, and the loop is a must. Also, tie the knot around the bag so it can be easily untied (I suggest a bowline on the end of the cord and a clove hitch around the bag).
An ordinary canning kettle is ideal--you are dealing with a pudding nearly the size of a basketball. Make a judgement as to how much water will last 4 hours and have it boiling when you lower the pudding by its loop. It is all right to add water during the cooking, but don't let the boiling stop at any time. After the pudding has absorbed the heat, you can lower the burner, but keep the boil going all 4 hours. You will want a 'kivver" on the "kittle."
If possible, plan so that the 4 hours will be up just as the family sits down to dinner. The pudding is now removed from the heat and left to linger in the hot water until time for the final dessert. When that time comes, lift the bag from the big kettle and lower it onto the platter. Best way is to have two people lift on the wooden spoon handle through the loop, and have a third shove the platter home as soon as the kettle rim is cleared. Untying the pudding needn't be difficult if 'twas tied right at first. The pudding will roll forth all fine and dandy. Top it with a sprig of holly.
Serve the pudding with brandy poured over it and set alight, or not, as you choose. Slice it, and pass around hard sauce and soft sauce--both should be available, and those who take both are what we know as the Wise Men. And what they do not eat that Christmas night will last sometimes into March (unless, of course, it is eaten sooner), which is pretty good mileage for Christmas.
Be careful tying the string, and don't fret the eggs too much.
In this issue: Summer Off the Beaten Path
Comments maybe edited for length and clarity.
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