Could you imagine a Christmas dinner without Christmas Pudding for desert? Christmas Pudding and cream or with Brandy sauce has been a Christmas tradition in England for many years now, but do you know why?
The first recipes of this pudding can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages. The ingredients for mince pie, as it was then called, were chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge, and rabbit. Later sugar, apples, raisins, and candied oranges and lemons were added. It wasn't until later in 1595 that spirits, dried fruit, eggs, and breadcrumbs were added to the recipe and it became plum pudding. 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.
Although Christmas Pudding was eaten in some shape or form for hundreds of years, it was only established as a Christmas 'must' in the 1800s when Queen Victoria's husband, with his insatiable appetite for 'plum duff', making it fashionable throughout the country. In 1830s the cannon ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices makes a definite appearance and more associated with Christmas when the recipe for Christmas Pudding was first published. Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her cookbook, and so began the tradition of Christmas Pudding that we know today.
Christmas Pudding was traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. Some families would add a silver six pence to the pudding for luck whilst it was being mixed. Then every member of the family would stir the pudding and make a wish. This day came to be known as "Stir-up Sunday." It was the tradition that if you were the lucky person that found the six pence in your serving of Christmas pudding that you would also enjoy wealth, health, happiness in the coming year, and your wish would come true. However in reality finding the silver six pence in the Christmas pudding did not ensure health, quite the opposite in fact, as some coins were swallowed, or got stuck in children's throats.
A Christmas Pudding takes about 8 hours to cook, traditionally it was steamed, but with the arrival of Microwave Ovens some recipes have drastically cut down on this cooking time. After the pudding had been steamed, it was kept in a cool dry place for several weeks or longer. This was thought to improve the flavour.
Setting the Christmas pudding alight is again an old tradition. Once the Christmas Pudding was turned out of its basin it would be decorated with holly, doused in brandy and set alight or flamed. The fiery pudding was then brought to the table - an exciting after dinner marvel. Charles Dickens describes a Christmas pudding being served in this way in his classic Christmas story 'A Christmas Carol'. Flaming the Christmas pudding tradition is now not usually carried at homes anymore, but it is sometimes served in this traditional way at restaurants and it is still considered an exciting sight. For the best effect under modern conditions, the lights should be turned out as the pudding is brought in amid its halo of purple brandy flames.