14th December, Christmas Pudding
Christmas Pudding is a steamed pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day. Originating in England and Ireland, and sometimes known as “Plum” or “Figgy Pudding,” it can be traced back at least to the fifteenth century when it contained meat as well as fruit and spices.
By the Victorian period, Christmas Pudding had become heavy with dried fruits and nuts, usually made with suet (all that remains of the medieval meat ingredient) and dark in appearance – effectively black – as a result of the dark sugars and black treacle included, and its long cooking time. The mixture was moistened with the juice of citrus fruits, brandy and some recipes called for dark beers such as stout or porter.
In the nineteenth century, Christmas Puddings were boiled in a cloth and they were round. However, in twentieth century they were prepared in basins, acquiring the shape we recognise today. Traditionally, the pudding is made four or five weeks before Christmas on what is called “Stir-up Sunday” with all the household stirring the mixture for good luck, although they can be made a year or even two in advance. It was common practice to include small silver coins in the mixture as prizes which could be kept by those who found them in their portion.
Once cooked, turned out, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or “fired”), the pudding is always brought to the table ceremoniously and greeted with a round of applause. Charles Dickens descibes the scene in “A Christmas Carol.”
- “Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witnesses – to take the pudding up and bring it in… 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-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
Today, the term “Figgy Pudding” is known mainly because of the sixteenth century secular carol “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” which repeats, “Oh bring us a figgy pudding” in the chorus, confirming it as a traditional Christmas dish served during the season and given to Christmas carolers.
- Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
- We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
- Now! bring us some Figgy Pudding
- and bring some out here!
- Illustration copyright © Paul Bommer