Good Ole Christmas Pudding

I believe in father Christmas and I also believe that 20% of people don’t like plum pudding while 70% love it and the other 10% don’t give a plum duff.

It is assumed that the origins began as a dish called Plum Pottage a sweet and savoury beef broth, thickened with bread, enriched with fruits, sugar & spice.

Or in other words a fatty oily stew with similar taste qualities to a thin Tagine, which turned to jelly when left to cool in the larders of the rich due to the marrow fat in the shin of beef it was made from.

The name ‘Plum’ it seems derives from a mixture of fruits, although prunes – dried plums are often added to its 21st century version.

This soup was consumed at the beginning of the Christmas feast and later banned by Cromwell for being too indulgent. Mind you he did ban almost anything enjoyable like music, singing, dancing, theatre, horse racing, mince pies, royalty and even ale in some Inns – –  Christmas must have been a bore in Oliver’s strict household, the boring puritan that he was – not even a royal speech.

You see the pudding was born of meat, animals were often slaughtered by the end of autumn, meat had to be preserved and adding it to dried fruits and sugar helped it last longer, hence the original minced pie as in minced meat.

It became fashionable by George I in the early 1700’s who requested a Plum Pudding be served at his first Christmas banquet without the addition of meat – a man with very good taste and a lot of money (and German!). Sugar and spices were a luxury of the rich hence the traditional Christmas pudding was only for the gentry of the time.

Over 100 years later in 1861 Mrs Beeton published her Plum Pudding recipe in ‘the book of household management’, a recipe that is similar to the ones of today, see below. Making it popular in middle class households all across Britain.

Roll on a few decades to the Rule of Queen Victoria, when we ruled the waves and the masses had a few pennies to rub together. The royal couple Victorian & Albert especially liked the pudding, as a similar dish was brought back from the kitchens of Germany – maybe PUDDING helped in 9 perfect royal births, a 40 year reign and the rule of an immense empire. (If only that other German, Hitler knew that all he needed to rule the world was a regular supply of puddings, maybe he wouldn’t of been so insane & if his blond bimbo power crazy girlfriend had of given him 9 children he wouldn’t have had time to destroy half of Europe)

This incredible era (Victorian / not the war years – who mentioned the war) proved Christmas was back in fashion and indulgent in all extremities, the pud was well and truly established as the xmas pudding of choice, sweet, plump, fruity and boiled to pudding perfection in all its stodgy heaven-ness.

A tradition in time dictates that it should be made on the 25th Sunday after trinity, using 12 ingredients to represent the twelve apostils. Every family member would in turn give it a stir in honour of the 3 kings – it is also said that the holly garnish on top represents Christs crown of thorns. I’m not sure what Sunday that would be but I always make mine in October – the perfect time for flavour to develop. Sore in a cool dark place and forget about it – microwave to heat, desert done, job done.

The old tradition of adding a silver sixpence to the pudding was supposed to give the finder a year of good luck. My Nana used to put in a 10p piece, the old ones they were so massive you couldn’t miss them and she made sure there was one for all of us – eternal good luck until health and safety stepped in!

Hence the tradition of shoving a sixpence in to a pudding has been lost forever for fear of tooth loss or choking – just like shoving six year olds up chimneys to sweep them out, what was wrong with that! (ok – not quite the same, only joking)

Of course if I was to do a Risk Assessment on the Christmas lunch –

Christmas Pudding would be a high risk, danger, danger – – –

Name Risk Action to be taken
Christmas Pudding Flaming alcohol – risk of burning, setting fire to house, drunkenness if not burned out. Do not use alcohol instead use ice-cold water its safer.
Six-pence or other coin inserted – danger of choking, chipped or lost tooth, in severe cases death by affixation. Do not use a coin – instead use a rice paper coin or a slice of carrot.
Re-heating ‘HOT’ – danger of the pudding being too hot and burning. Keep your pudding cold just in case you scold your lips.
Stodgy, filling– danger of falling asleep while playing a game (possible heavy machinery) and dying. Do not use dried fruit in your pudding or suet – replace with water.
Heavy – falling hazard, you could potentially break toes or even your foot. Do not steam your pudding or add anything heavy – instead eat raw.
Contamination – if you allow several family members to stir your pudding without the right health and safety training inc. goggles and safety gloves,  you may get bacteria, finger nails and other pollutants in to the mix – possibly causing food poisoning & in some cases death. Do not eat Christmas pudding on Christmas day it is too big er risk. Instead opt for a wafer bought from a reputable supplier, wear plastic gloves in case of contamination.

Here’s Isabella’s Recipe –

Mrs Beaton’s Plum Pudding


INGREDIENTS.— 1–1/2 lb. of raisins, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of mixed peel, 3/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 3/4 lb. of suet, 8 eggs, 1 wineglassful of brandy.

Mode .— Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.

Time .— 5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.

Average cost , 4s.

Sufficient for a quart mould for 7 or 8 persons.


Article by Zena Leech-Calton ©

Cookery Tutor & Food writer, usually for fun.