A Christmas Favorite – Christmas Pudding

December 19, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Posted in dessert | Leave a comment
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This Christmas pudding is decorated with skimmia rather than holly

This Christmas pudding is decorated with skimmia rather than holly

 

Christmas pudding is a type of pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day (December 25) as part of the Christmas dinner. It has its origins in medieval England, and is sometimes known as plum pudding or Christmas Pudding or just “pud”, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving dried fruit. Despite the name “plum pudding,” the pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins. The pudding is composed of many dried fruits and is held together by egg and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle or molasses. Also, flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and other spices. The pudding is aged for a month or even a year. It can age for a long time because it has so much alcohol in it, it never spoils. Plum pudding was also used as a model example by J. J. Thomson, where the cake represented the protons and the plums represented electrons.

 

 

 

Many households have their own recipe for Christmas pudding, some handed down through families 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, 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 its long cooking time. 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).
Christmas puddings are often dried out on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavor. This pudding has been prepared with a traditional cloth rather than a basin.
Prior to the 19th century, the English Christmas pudding was boiled in a pudding cloth, and often represented as round. The new Victorian era fashion involved putting the batter into a basin and then steaming it, followed by unwrapping the pudding, placing it on a platter, and decorating the top with a sprig of holly.
Initial cooking usually involves steaming for many hours. To serve, the pudding is reheated by steaming once more, and dressed with warm brandy which is set alight. It can be eaten with hard sauce, brandy butter, rum butter, cream, lemon cream, custard, or sweetened béchamel, and is sometimes sprinkled with caster sugar.

 

 

 

Traditionally, every member of the household stirs the pudding, while making a wish.

Traditionally, every member of the household stirs the pudding, while making a wish.

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 16th 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 threepence or a sixpence. The coin was believed to bring wealth in the coming year.
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 harbor).
Once turned out of its basin, decorated with holly, doused in brandy (or occasionally rum), and flamed (or “fired”), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause. In 1843, Charles Dickens describes the scene in A Christmas Carol:
“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

 

 

A Christmas pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it.

A Christmas pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it.

 

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. Constance Spry records that it was not uncommon to go so far as to make each year’s pudding the previous Christmas.

 

 

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