|List of Christmas dishes,|
Christmas pudding is a pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day (December 25). It has its origins in England and Ireland, and is sometimes known as plum pudding, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving dried fruit.
English Christmas pudding (also called plum pudding) is a timeless tradition. Here at the English Tea Store, we carry a wide variety of the most popular Christmas pudding brands from the UK, including Matthew Walker, Coles, Huntley & Palmers, Walkers of Scotland and more.
|Christmas pudding manufactured in Bracknell, Berkshire,|
Many households have their own recipe for Christmas pudding, some handed down through families for generations. Essentially the recipe brings together what traditionally were expensive or luxurious ingredients - notably the sweet spices that are so important in developing its distinctive rich aroma.
Christmas pudding is a steamed pudding, heavy with dried fruit and nuts, and usually made with suet. It is very dark in appearance - effectively black - as a result of the dark sugars and black treacle in most recipes, and its long cooking time. The mixture can be moistened with the juice of citrus fruits, brandy and other alcohol (some recipes call for dark beers such as mild, stout or porter). In Peru, some families use Pisco.
|Christmas puddings are often dried out on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavour. |
This pudding has been prepared with a traditional cloth rather than a basin.,
In the nineteenth century, Christmas puddings were boiled in a pudding cloth, and they are still often represented as round. However at least since the beginning of the twentieth century they have usually been prepared in basins. Initial cooking usually involves steaming for many hours (the period can be shortened without loss of quality by using a pressure cooker). To serve, the pudding is reheated by steaming once more, and dressed with warm brandy which is set alight. The pudding is traditionally topped off with a sprig of holly. It can be eaten with hard sauce, brandy butter, rum butter, cream, lemon cream, or custard and is sometimes sprinkled with caster sugar (the fall of the sugar on triangular slices resembling the fall of snow on a pitched roof, or snowy mountain tops). It is usually served with white sauce which is a sweetened béchamel flavoured with rum or brandy.
Recipes for plum puddings appear mainly, if not entirely, in the seventeenth century and later. Their possible ancestors include savoury puddings such as those in Harleian MS 279, crustades, malaches whyte, creme boiled (a kind of stirred custard), and sippets. Various ingredients and methods of these older recipes appear in early plum puddings.
Features of these recipes were combined or refined in ways that could have yielded plum pudding recipes. For example, combining the stirred custard with sippets makes it into a fool, a contemporary of early plum puddings, which is very similar to a pudding. Some early custard tarts, such as the crustade lumbard in Harleian MS 279, are only unlike plum puddings in that they are held together by a pastry crust and not by crumbs or meal. Malaches whyte, another kind of pastry, has a filling of eggs, bread crumbs, and butter, but no plums. So a fully developed plum pudding recipe could be derived from the above list of possible ancestors by some recombination. This is not to say that there were not other ancestors, only that there need not have been any.
Although it took its final form in Victorian England, the pudding's origins can be traced back to the 1420s, to two sources. It emerged not as a confection or a dessert at all, but as a way of preserving meat at the end of the season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resultant large "mince pies" could then be used to feed hosts of people, particularly at the festive season. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding, however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times. This was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added.
The earliest reference to the "standing pottage", dating from the 1420s, suggests a dish of preserved veal, mutton or chicken, thickened with bread, reddened with sandalwood and full of currants. By the time of Elizabeth I, prunes were added to this basic concoction. This became so popular that the dish was known from this point forward as Plum Pottage.
By the eighteenth century, as techniques for meat preserving improved, the savoury element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name, though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding. Although the latter was always a celebratory dish it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It was not until the 1830s that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, becoming more and more associated with Christmas. It appears that Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her cookbook.
The wish and other traditions
Traditionally puddings were made on or immediately after the Sunday "next before Advent", i.e. four to five weeks before Christmas. The Collect for that Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, as it was used from the sixteenth century (and still is in traditional churches), reads:
"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"
The day became known as "Stir-up Sunday". Traditionally everyone in the household, or at least every child, gave the mixture a stir, and made a wish while doing so.
|A traditional bag-boiled Christmas Pudding still showing the "skin".,|
It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them. The usual choice was a silver threepence or a sixpence. The coin was believed to bring wealth in the coming year. Despite knowing that a portion might contain a coin, many a Christmas reveller damaged their teeth by biting into one, or indeed swallowed one by mistake. However this practice fell away once real silver coins were not available, as it was believed that alloy coins would taint the pudding. Additionally, coins pose a choking hazard.
Other tokens are also known to have been included, such as a tiny wishbone (to bring good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), or an anchor (to symbolise safe harbour).
Once turned out of its basin, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or 'fired'), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause. Charles Dickens describes 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."
For the best effect under modern conditions, the lights should be turned out as the pudding is brought in amid its halo of purple brandy flames (this is related to the Christmas tradition of snap-dragons).
Christmas puddings have very good keeping properties and many families keep one back from Christmas to be eaten at another celebration later in the year, often at Easter. Constance Spry records that it was not uncommon to go so far as to make each year's pudding the previous Christmas.