Christmas pudding (aka plum pudding)
Christmas pudding dates back to Medieval times. Traditionally made on Stir up Sunday, this special dessert contains charms symbolizing good luck for the New Year. Hard sauce was introduced in the 19th century.
How old is the tradition?
“Christmas pudding, the rich culimation of a long process of development of ‘plum puddings’ which can be traced back to the early 15th century. The first types were not specifically associated with Christmas. Like early mince pies, they contained meat, of which a token remains in the use of suet. The original form, plum pottage, were made from chopped beef or mutton, onions and perhaps other root vegetables, and dried fruit. As the name suggests, it was a fairly liquid preparation: this was before the invention of the pudding cloth made large puddings feasible. As was usual with such dishes, it was served at the beginning of the meal. When new kinds of dried fruit became available in Britain, first raisins, then prunes in the 16th century, they were added. The name ‘plum’ refers to a prune; but it soon came to mean any dried fruit. In the 16th century variants were made with white meat…and gradually the meat came to be omitted, to be replaced by suet. The root vegetables disappeared, although even now Christmas pudding often still includes a token carrot…By the 1670s, it was particularly associated with Christmas and called ‘Christmas pottage’. The old plum pottage continued to be made into the 18th century, and both versions were still served as a filing first course rather than as a dessert…What currently counts as the traditional Christmas pudding recipe has been more or less established since the 19th century.”
—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2000 (p. 184-5)
“…the name Christmas pudding appears to be a comparatively recent coinage, first recorded in Anthony Trollope’s Doctore Thorne (1858). The association of dishes containing mixed dried fruit and spices…with Christmas is a longstanding one, though. Most of them originally contained dried plums, or prunes, but long after these had been replaced by raisins the term plum lingrered on… Nowadays served only at Christmas…this was formerly a common year-round pudding.”
—An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 76)
“The plum pudding’s association with Christmas takes us back to medieval England and the Roman Catholic Chruch’s decree that the ‘pudding should be made on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles, and that that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction.’… Banned by the Puritans in the 1660s for its rich ingredients, the pudding and its customs came back into popularity during the reign of George I. Known sometimes as the Pudding King, George I requested that plum pudding be served as part of his royal feast when he celebrated his first Christmas in England after arriving from Hanover to take the throne in 1714. By 1740, a recipe for ‘plum porridge’ appeared in Christmas Entertainments. In the Victorian era, Christmas annuals, magazines, and cookbooks celebrated the sanctity of family as much as the sanctity of Jesus’ birth, and the tradition of all family members stirring the pudding was often referenced…Poorer families made the riches version of plum pudding that they could afford…Even workhouse inmates anticipated a plum pudding on Christmas Day.”
—Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History, Andrea Broomfield [Praeger:Westport CT] 2007 (p. 150-151)
What is the classic recipe?
There are as many recipes for Christmas pudding as there are cooks. These notes, circa 1875, sum it up best:
Christmas Plum Pudding.— The plum pudding is a national dish, and is despised by foreign nations because they never can make it fit to eat. In almost every family there is a recipe for it, which has been handed down from mother to daughter through two or three generations, and which never has been and never will be equalled, much less surpassed, by any other…It is usualy, before sending it to table, to make a little hole in the top and fill it with brandy, then light it, and serve it in a blaze. In olden time a sprig of arbutus, with a red berry on it, was stuck in the middle, and a twig of variegated holly, with berries, placed on each side. This was done to keep away witches…If well made, Christmas plum pudding will be good for twelve months.”
—Cassell’s Dictonary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: London] 1875 (p. 137)