Recipe 38: Traditional Christmas Pudding

Who doesn’t LOVE a tasty hot Christmas Pudding? These puddings held a high position in the Christmas Day feast and some were incredibly rich and heavy.  In Victorian England times were tough and the average pocket book was stretched beyond it’s means. The industrial age was in full swing and the working class toiled up to 18 hours a day for little pay. Pollution was extreme and areas of London were choking in thick smog. Work houses were common place for women and children  and people were dying at an alarming rate, while crime was at an all time high. London was a mix of the poor and destitute, middle class and those who lived like Royalty. Puddings in general were popular and an inexpensive way to feed a family by combining minimal amounts of ingredients into a suet base and steaming them to perfection. The Christmas Pudding or Plum Pudding however, had achieved a lofty place and was more often served to those of means as the ingredients were expensive and extravagant.

Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding (because of the abundance of prunes), originated in England.Traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. That day was often deemed “Stir-up Sunday,” and each family member or child in the household gave the pudding a stir and made a wish.

The rich, heavy pudding is boiled or steamed. Made of a mixture of fresh or dried fruit, nuts and suet or raw beef or mutton fat. The pudding is very dark, almost black, and is saturated with brandy, dark beer, or other alcohols.

Silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor)were added to the mixture, and when served, whoever got the lucky serving, would be able to keep the charm. When silver coins were on the decline, the practice ended as people did not want alloy coins in their pudding. Today small token coins and other objects are made just for this use.

There were different ways the Christmas pudding was served. They were often decorated with a sprig of holly or doused in brandy and set alight. Many families presented the pudding in the dark or brought it to the table ceremoniously, where it is met with a round of applause.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 1/2 hours
Total Time:  3 hoursIngredients

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 pound ground suet
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cider or apple juice
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup seedless raisins
1 1/2 cup dried currants
2 cups mixed cut-up candied fruit
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup soft day-old bread crumbs

Directions

Sift together first 6 ingredients. Mix suet, sugar, milk and cider; add eggs. Mix raisins, currants, fruit and nuts with 1/4 cup flour. Add with crumbs and flour mixture to suet mixture. Mix well. Turn into greased and floured 2 quart pudding mold or 2 1-pound coffee cans. Cover with 2 thicknesses of wax paper, allowing space for pudding to rise, and tie tightly. Place on rack in a large pot or Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. Pour in enough boiling water to come half way up on one side of mold. Cover.

Bring water to boil, turn to simmer and steam 2 1/2 hours.

Yields 12 servings

FOOTNOTE: Original recipes call for suet but butter may be substituted. I also use apple cider in place of alcohol when soaking the pudding.

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