There is a very old tradition that has stood the test of time and is still observed today. It’s called Christmas pudding or in times past was often referred to as plum pudding. There was never any plums in the pudding however. It was actually the term used for raisins before Victorian times. Originally, the recipe was made mainly with a mixture of suet (raw animal fat), meat, eggs, treacle or molasses and dried fruit. It was made several weeks in advance as the recipe improved with age. The making of the pudding was centered partly around traditions and partly around superstitions. It was also a family affair as it was considered good luck to have your turn at stirring the pudding. The way to do this was to stir clockwise (to represent the magi travelling from the east to the west) while making a wish. While your eyes were closed, the cook would drop some trinkets into the batter such as a ring or a coin or a thimble. On Christmas day, a person might find one of the trinkets in their portion of pudding. A coin would mean to expect wealth, a ring for marriage, a thimble might represent thrift or spinsterhood. The pudding was then placed in a muslin cloth (another invention of the Victorians), tied and then boiled or steamed for six hours. To serve, it was re-steamed to heat and then brandy was poured on it and set on fire.
These days, you can find ready-made Christmas puddings in every supermarket in England. It is …very dark brown…you could even say it’s black. It is served with cream, or brandy sauce or hard sauce or custard.
The picture above shows it as being lighter in colour than I am use to seeing. It is very moist and tastes better than it looks!
The Christmas carol, ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, was written in the 16th century. The English tradition was to give carolers treats on Christmas eve such as figgy pudding.
We wish you a Merry Christmas (x3)
and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings to you, where ever you are
Good Tidings at Christmas and a Happy New Year
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding (x3)
and a cup of good cheer
We won’t go until we get some, (x3)
so bring it right here
We wish you a Merry Christmas (x3)
and a Happy New Year
Figgy pudding is a paler version of Christmas pudding made with figs. It isn’t widely eaten any more as the tradition has died out a bit.
Christmas pudding is mentioned in the popular Christmas story by Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage…
Personally, the best Plum pudding I ever had was one I made myself which doesn’t at all resemble the traditional version. I first made it while I was still living in the States. When I made it for my English husband here, he (naturally) declared it as more of a Christmas cake rather than pudding. The recipe I used is from a really special book called ‘Emma’s Christmas Wish’. It’s a lovely family story with lots of traditions and recipes. I especially recommend this if you have daughters who like to help in the kitchen. It also has a really good mulled wine recipe! However, this year I may try the one below by Nigella Lawson simply because Nigella has this to say about it: “…having soaked my dried fruit for this pudding in Pedro Ximénez – the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle about it – I know there is no turning back.” Mmmm sounds interestingly good to me!
Nigella’s Ultimate Christmas Pudding Recipe
- 1 ¼ cups currants
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup roughly chopped pitted prunes
- ¾ cup pedro ximenez sherry
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ⅓ cups breadcrumbs
- 14 tablespoons coarsely grated vegetable shortening (freeze overnight to make it easier to grate)
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs
- 1 medium apple (peeled and grated)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ cup vodka
You will need a 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart heatproof plastic pudding basin with a lid, and also a sprig of holly to decorate.
- Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart basin, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you’re unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride instilling size of this, plus it’s wonderful on following days, microwaved in portionsafter or between meals, with leftover Eggnog Cream, or fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts. But it wouldn’t be out of the question – and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season – to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins – a 2 pint/1 quart one for you, a 1 pint/½ quart one to give away. Three hours’ steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it’s had its first steaming, and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.
- Put the currants, golden raisins and scissored pitted prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.
- When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients, either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas.
- Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly, then fold in cola-cleaned coins or heirloom charms. If you are at all frightened about choking-induced fatalities at the table, do leave out the hardware.
- Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my all-purpose pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.
- When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.
- On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.
- To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)
- Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.
- Serve with the Eggnog Cream, which you can easily make – it’s the work of undemanding moments – while the pudding’s steaming.
MAKE AHEAD TIP:
Make the Christmas pudding up to 6 weeks ahead. Keep in a cool, dark place, then proceed as recipe on Christmas Day.
FREEZE AHEAD TIP:
Make and freeze the Christmas pudding for up to 1 year ahead. Thaw overnight at room temperature and proceed as recipe on Christmas Day.