This year, I’ve paired up with local chef (also known as my husband) Ed Hardy – we are selling Christmas puddings. We have done mini versions that serve about 2 people. They’re soaked in a LOT of brandy.
For those non-Brits out there, Christmas pudding is a rich, steamed dessert traditionally served on Christmas day in England. It is made on Stir-up Sunday, five weeks before Christmas, possibly inspired by a passage from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer read at Collection on that date:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord….The fruit of good works..
This prayer book was published in what is close to its current format in 1662, but the pudding may well have medieval roots in the form of frumenty, a type of oatmeal of boiled beef, prunes, currants, raisins, spices and wine. Eggs, breadcrumbs and lager were later added to the mixture in the 16th century, but it was really in Victorian England that the dish became what it is today.
Since I was a little girl, the women in my family have gathered a few weeks before Christmas to make our puddings according to my great-great-grandmother Alice Taylor’s recipe. My mother explained that since raisins and currants weren’t always deseeded, they used to take an entire day making the puddings, since all the currants, sultanas (British for yellow raisins) and raisins needed to be de-seeded, and the almonds would have to be blanched, since they didn’t come ready-blanched at that time. It really was a chore, and not a quick, throw-together dessert. A silver sixpence used to be added to the mixture before cooking and was awarded to the person who received the piece that contained the coin, but this practice has since fallen into disuse, probably once the sixpence began to include harmful alloys. There are regional variations to the dish, but it usually has a shredded suet base with dried fruits and spices and brandy. It even seems to have been brought to America, as it appears in cookbooks dating back as far as 1885, often under the name of “plum pudding” but mysteriously plum-free.
One of the reasons why it died out in the New World may have been the strong Puritan roots of the English settlers and their renowned disapproval of Christmas. Because large amounts of brandy are added before it is stored, Christmas pudding keeps for a very long time. This may have also contributed to its enduring presence throughout history. Alice Taylor’s version includes lager, eggs, brandy, currants, raisins, breadcrumbs, flour, a little sugar, spices, candied citrus peel, nuts and grated carrot and apple. Nothing is more evocative of an English Christmas than the sight of the pudding being brought to the table surrounded by brandy flames and topped with a sprig of holly. The potent and heavy pudding is usually served with cool, brandy-laced double cream or brandy butter, which contrasts with the dark, rich sweetness of the pudding.
For food history buffs, Anglophiles, expats or just people who think things should be soaked in a lot of brandy, click here to buy!