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The Christmas pudding of today was completely different at its origin. It started life as a 14th-Century 'porridge' called frumenty. This combined the unlikely ingredients of boiled beef and mutton with fruits, wines and spices and was more like soup than a pudding. It tended to be eaten as a fasting dish in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
By 1595, it had evolved into the more recognisable dessert we know today. It was thickened using eggs and breadcrumbs, more dried fruit was included and the addition of ale and spirits gave it much more flavour. It grew in popularity until, in 1664, the Puritans banned it as a 'lewd custom'. It was, mainly due to its rich ingredients, described as 'unfit for God-fearing people'.
It remained in obscurity until 1714 when George I, who developed a taste for plum pudding, re-established it as part of the Christmas feast. This was despite the fact that the Quakers objected, calling it 'the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon'. Having survived this vilification, it had fully established its place on the Christmas menu by Victorian times. It was around this time that the tradition of placing a silver coin, a thimble or even a ring was established1. Although most often depicted as a sphere - because of the original method of wrapping it in a damp muslin cloth before steaming - these days it is more usual to find it basin-shaped. Christmas Pudding is often set alight with a small amount of brandy, decorated with a sprig of holly and served with brandy butter, custard or cream... or all three! It may also be served cold or reheated by frying gently in a knob of butter.
Making Your Own
Despite the ready availability of many good shop-made puddings, there is nothing quite so satisfying as making your own. Traditionally, this should be made several weeks before Christmas to allow the fruits to mature and the mix to form the gooey texture so indicative of a good pudding. A Christmas pudding will quite happily last, in good condition, for a year or more if kept sealed.
There are many family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Here is this Researcher's recipe, for your pleasure.
This will make enough to fill a 2 pint pudding basin.
- 8oz (240 grams) currants
- 8oz (240 grams) sultanas
- 1lb (480 grams) seedless raisins
- 4oz (120 grams) mixed citrus peel
- 8oz (240 grams) breadcrumbs
- 8oz (240 grams) suet2
- 8oz (240 grams) soft brown sugar
- 4oz (120 grams) plain flour
- One large carrot
- 1oz (30 grams) ground almonds
- ½ tspn mixed spice
- 4 eggs
- 2 tblsps black treacle
- 2 tblsps golden syrup
- ¼ tspn grated nutmeg
- Grated rind of one lemon
- 4fl oz brandy
- 8fl oz stout3
- Pinch of salt
Making and Baking
Use a large mixing bowl or very clean washing-up bowl and a wooden spoon.
Start by mixing all the dry ingredients together. Make sure that the fruit is clean and the sticky peel is separated.
Peel and grate the carrot and add to the mixture.
Beat the eggs well and add, along with the treacle and golden syrup.
Pour in the brandy.
Add enough stout to make sure that the mix is moist without becoming too 'runny'.
Give the pudding a final stir, make a wish and leave to stand for a short while.
Meanwhile, grease the pudding basin.
Put the mixture into the basin and cover with either greaseproof paper or cooking foil. Two good tips for you:
Make a fold in the foil to allow plenty of room for the mixture to expand without the foil splitting.
Use household string to tie the foil in place and make a 'handle' with it at the same time. This way you can more easily lift the cooked pudding out of the pan when completed.
There are two alternative ways to cook the pudding: steaming (the traditional way) and with a pressure cooker (much quicker and less vapour in the kitchen).
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Gently lower the basin into the pan, taking care that the liquid doesn't come over the top. Set your timer clock for eight or nine hours and admire the wonderful smells after about three hours. Check every couple of hours to make sure that the water hasn't boiled dry and top up when necessary. If you have made your string handle, you should be able to lift the pudding out after the cooking time by using a wooden spoon... be careful though, a steam burn is very painful!
Place the basin in the pressure cooker and fill with water up to just under the lid. Place the pressure cooker lid on and use only the 5lb weight. Bring up to pressure, lower the heat and time for two and a half hours. Reduce the pressure slowly by running the cooker under the cold tap, remove the lid and use the wooden spoon to lift out the pudding.
If you used greaseproof paper, remove it and replace with fresh. Foil covers can be safely left if they are intact. Place the pudding in a cool, dark place until Christmas Day.
If you steamed your pudding, you will need to allow another hour of steaming before serving. If you used the pressure cooker method, you can pop the pudding back in and cook for a further half hour... just fire it up when you serve the main course and it will easily be ready.