I was contacted by Dave recently (2017) and asked would I be interested in his Christmas Pudding story, I said "of course"!
I added the following verbatim:
FEN HOUSE RESTAURANT CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS
Thanks for getting back to me.
I started working in my Dads cafe when I was eleven. Just a Saturday job. Then Westminster Hotel School London, 1967-70. Then the family business, then mine. I've now just retired after 55 yrs.
At Westminster we made Christmas Puddings straight on to an 8' x 4' marble top table. Just sort of dumped all the stuff on there and mixed it up. Must have been about 50 lbs at a time.
Didn't make any more until I had to get an extra job during our recession in 91 -92. They were buying in frozen pudding in foil sleeves. So bad I couldn't stand it. Sort charcoal cotton wool with the odd lump in it. So I elected to make my own. Made them every year for 25 years, even after the job there ended.
Created a website called www.christmaspuddingcompany.co.uk and thought we would be Christmas pudding millionaires. As I remember, we sold only 3 puds through the website, one of those to a friend who wanted to be first.
It really is a superior pudding. I've tried many commercial puddings and sad to say they are pretty poor.
Part of the reason we failed to make our fortune in puddings was the fact that the 'young' don't like them. Based on what you can buy I don't blame them.
I'll add the recipe anyway at the end as there are a couple of things that might answer some of your questions. I printed this out for customers who had bought our pud for many years. I felt a bit guilty.
Organising for large quantities.
Usually started on the puds mid-October.
As we nearly always knew how many we had to make we could employ some labour-saving techniques.
We mixed the spices, flour, and baking powder in bulk and bagged the mix up in the right amount for one mix. Mixed the citrus juice and grated rind and froze that in the right amounts. Grated the apple and carrot and mixed them together. Bagged and frozen. The apples usually came from a friends tree and were prepared earlier in the Autumn. It didn't matter if they went brown. Better actually. Tried mixing the fruits and nuts together and keeping in a large container but it made it difficult to handle and didn't really save any labour.
We used to make 30lbs of pud at a time. We had a 20 qt Hobart mixer that could handle a third of the mix. 30lbs filled a 20 litre plastic cooking oil bucket that had a nice tight lid and fitted well in the fridge. Matured in the fridge up to 5 days.
The steamer was ancient. It sat on top of the restaurant stove direct on the burner and with a couple of home-made 'storeys' added we could steam 15 x 2lb puds at a time. This would be running for up to nine hours and constantly needed topping up. A kettle full every 40 mins.
Once cooked, we lifted the puds out, trayed them up and removed the lids and parchment paper. We then covered them with a clean cloth and cooled them overnight.
Next day we dipped the basin in hot water and turned the pudding out on to a hand. We then sprayed the exterior with brandy before re-potting in a clean pot. New parchment and lid. Marked with date. Boxed up and stored.
We cut our own wrapping, using a quality cloth-like banqueting paper table cloth ( forest green ) that we cut into squares. Gathered together at the top and tied with burgundy ribbon laced through our own printed lables. Difficult to store without damage so we tended to wrap some as needed.
We did not recommend keeping our puddings from year to year unless frozen. We considered them a fresh product with a long shelf life. They didn't improve and though some would survive many would go mouldy.
We also sent puds to France, Norway and South Africa.
We developed recipes for Gluten free, Dairy free and Vegetarian. Suet in packets had a powder added to help keep it separate. This used to be rice flour which was good but this was changed and now wheat flour is used. So for Gluten free we could use beef suet from the butcher and Vegetarian was O.K., but the only way to do a Gluten-free Vegetarian was to use butter. Never grated well for me, frozen or otherwise.
We tried to market the puddings with the slogan
A Pudding is Not Just For Christmas.
I used to tell customers that the recipe was my grandmothers. ( It did start from a grease stained record card that I inherited, but she probably copied it from Mrs Beeton. ). I said she was a steam engine driver during the Russian revolution and she used to cook the pud in engines boiler. The recipe is actually mine.
A guy contacted me from the U.S. He'd seen the website and wanted to know what a Christmas pudding was.
After some thought I described it as
A rich fruit cake that is steamed and served hot.
His reply: ' I hate fruit cake.' ( use American accent here )
We didn't pre-soak the fruit. Seemed a bit redundant to me. We wanted the fruit to soak up the various liquids in the mix, juice, brandy and so on. It had 9 hrs in the steamer to do this. I was also worried that adding more moisture would cause problems later with storage.
Apart from the first 'spray' of brandy at packing time, we didn't add more brandy. Brandy is only 35% alcohol so the rest must be water. Adding any moisture to a stored pudding must be risky. Anyway I wanted to pudding to taste of pudding not brandy.
We, mostly, used vegetable suet as we wanted to be able to please vegetarians. Used beef suet from packet or fresh from the butcher sometimes and the pudding was perhaps a little richer.
We only ever used plastic pots in 2lb and 1lb sizes. I would have liked to use a china basin but cost would be off the scale commercially'
FEN HOUSE CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS