Stirring success: Behind the scenes at Essex Christmas pudding company during busy festive period

Cole's employees put the mixture into pots

Cole's employees put the mixture into pots - Credit: Archant

Christmas pudding lovers in Saffron Walden flocked to The Courtyard Tearoom last weekend to help stir pudding mixture and make a seasonal wish.

Stir Up Sunday, on November 22, was organised by Cole’s Puddings in Great Chesterford, and the first 50 people through the door received a free Christmas pud along with a lucky sixpence from the company.

The tradition derives from being the last Sunday before Advent, when puddings were made a month before Christmas in order for flavours to fully develop.

Families would gather to each stir the mixture from east to west, in honour of the three wise men, and make a secret wish.

A silver sixpence was stirred into the mix to bring the finder wealth and good luck in the year to come.

The event takes place at what is an extremely busy time of year for Cole’s, which produces around one million puddings per year.

The company make a wide selection of Christmas puddings, steamed puddings and festive treats and even produce their own bespoke private label puddings for organisations such as the National Trust and the House of Commons.

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Cole’s was originally established as A.J. Cole in Essex in 1939, when Albert Cole created a range of puddings and cakes using his great-grandmother’s recipes.

Fifty years later, Albert’s son Chris expanded the business into Cole’s Traditional Foods and moved to a new custom-built facility in Great Chesterford.

In 2010, the company became part of the Wilkin and Sons Ltd family of businesses, but Albert’s traditional recipes remain today.

Simon Hatcher, 50, operations director at Cole’s, said: “Making the puddings is essentially a three-day process. The recipe differs slightly for each pudding we produce, but the ingredients are weighed and put into the mixing machine.

“We bake our own bread here on-site, and the bread is then crumbed and added to the mixture. The mix is then placed in pots and put into the oven for a long time, usually around four hours, on a low temperature of 110c.

“We use about three tonnes of dried fruit per week, and around one ton each of flour and sugar. “Each range of puddings we make is individually taste tested, which means trying a lot of Christmas pud during the year – but I love it.”

Mr Hatcher said that depending where they are in the process, the company can produce anywhere between 1,500 to 10,000 puddings in a day.

Sales manager Mark Jackson said: “People often come to me and say they don’t like Christmas pudding, but I always encourage them to try ours as it’s a bit lighter than some of the traditional ones. They always end up saying that they really like our recipes.

“The phone and email is always going crazy in the lead up to Christmas, and we’re constantly on the go with sales. My friends think I put my feet up in January but it all starts again, it’s a year-long effort from all the team here.”