Christmas pudding is the dessert traditionally served on Christmas day, although still available and popular throughout the year in Britain. It has its origins in England, and is sometimes known as plum pudding, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving a lot of dried fruit.
Although it took its final form in Victorian England, the pudding's origins can be traced all the way back to the 1420s, to two sources. It emerged not as a confection or a dessert at all, but as a way of
The earliest reference to the "standing pottage" dates to 1420s, a dish of preserved veal,
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 is not until the 1830s that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, makes a definite appearance, more and more associated with Christmas. It appears that Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her cookbook.
Many households have their own recipe for Christmas pudding; those that command the most pride have been handed down the family 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 the long cooking. 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.
Traditionally, Christmas puddings were boiled in a pudding cloth, and they are often represented as round, but at least since the beginning of the twentieth century they have usually been prepared in basins.
Initial cooking is usually done on Stir-up Sunday and 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.
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.
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
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, the Christmas pudding is traditionally decorated with a spray of holly, and it may be doused in brandy, flamed (or 'fired'), and brought to the table ceremoniously - where it may be greeted with a round of applause. In some houses the lights are turned out as the pudding is brought in amid a halo of purple brandy flames (this is related to the Christmas tradition of snap-dragons). It can be eaten with hard sauce, brandy butter, rum butter, cream, lemon cream, or custard and is often 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).
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. Some take the practice so far as to make each year's pudding the previous Christmas. Others claim that this impairs the flavour, but admit that a well-made pudding will keep at least adequately for a year.
- List of Christmas dishes
- Mincemeat, another common Christmas food incorporating suet
- Touch Pieces More details of coins being added