Christmas is a time to uphold traditions, and that includes, of course, food. Christmas pudding (also known in America as ‘plum pudding’) is one of those dishes that is always present in the Christmas dinner of many British households. It is dense, sweet, and it is traditionally served with brandy sauce, brandy butter or custard. Charles Dickens put it on the table in his novel A Christmas Carol, and it is mentioned in the verses of several Christmas songs. But it originated long before Dickens’s time…
SAVOURY TO SWEET
The first recorded plum pudding dates back to the 15th century. Back then a ‘plum pottage’ was a popular savoury dish that was served as a starter. It was made of meat, root vegetables and any kind of dried fruit (raisins, currants, prunes). It became a sweet dish by the end of the 16th century, when dried fruit was more abundant in England. By the mid-17th century, plum pudding was already associated with Christmas.
the pudding king
When the republican general and statesman Oliver Cromwell came to power, after deposing King Charles I in the name of religious freedom during the English Civil War, the pudding was banned for its pagan and Catholic idolatry. In 1660, the monarchy was restored, and, with it, the Christmas pudding. In fact, a popular myth says that George I asked to have plum pudding served for his first Christmas in England. Fact or fiction, it gave rise to his nickname: the Pudding King.
In the 19th century, the recipe of the Christmas pudding changed to become a standardised version of more or less what it is today. The usual ingredients were suet, brown sugar, raisins and currants, candied orange orange peel, eggs, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and a lot of alcohol. Housewives were encouraged to save money throughout the year to buy them, and on the last Sunday before Advent, families began to celebrate “Stir-up Sunday”. This consisted of stirring up the pudding dough, which would be later wrapped, boiled and put aside until Christmas day.
The nature of the pudding allowed it to last for a year, which meant that
it travelled well. This way, British colonists and soldiers abroad could enjoy Christmas pudding anywhere in the world.
A HEALTHY CHOICE
Nowadays, it is common to find lighter, simplified recipes for the Christmas pudding. And even though it can still feel a bit heavy after Christmas dinner, the Christmas pudding is quite nutritious, containing fibre, vitamins, minerals such as potassium and iron, and antioxidants... Just don’t overdo it with the brandy!