If you ever experienced Christmas in Britain, you know that there is absolutely no way around this flavorful, brown lump of deliciousness. Christmas Pudding has been around since Victorian times and has ever since been the most popular Christmas sweet for many generations. The steamed dessert of dried fruits and nuts is traditionally served on Christmas Day, so 25th December. A proper Christmas Pudding decorated with a twig of holly and the flickering blue flames from the burning brandy crown every festive dinner table.
In a long curing process, the pudding receives its distinct characteristics. The dense dessert comes in a dark color with a rich, fruity flavor – pretty much what anybody would imagine Christmas to taste like. As the making is too much effort for many people today, the pudding is available in all supermarkets across the country during Christmas season. And of course, you may simply get your dose of the sticky deliciousness online.
While numbers show that young people increasingly turn to foreign Christmas treats like Italian Panettone, we highly encourage everybody to try the British classic. After all, there is a good – and delicious – reason why Christmas Pudding has been a favorite for so long!
Haste Makes Waste
Making traditional Christmas Pudding is quite a lengthy and time-consuming process that starts several weeks before Christmas. Some families even make the dessert one year ahead to be consumed on the following Christmas. Traditionally, people used a specific cloth in which they would cook or, more accurately, steam the pudding for several hours. Over time, the fabric was replaced by a proper pudding tin, though.
The festive dessert mainly consists of breadcrumbs, eggs, raisins, condiments, alcohol and suet. Some recipes call for additional ingredients such as apples, almonds, flour as well as orange or lemon peels. The mixture is sweetened with dark sugar and black molasses from sugar cane. In combination with the long cooking time, the syrup tints the pudding in its distinct dark color.
After several hours of steaming the coarse dough, the solidified pudding gets stored at a cool place for a couple of weeks. During this time, it dries and the special flavor evolves in the curing process. Now, the dark dessert is easily keepable for up to a full year. When the day has finally come, the dense pudding is heated up one more time. Of course, the kids can hardly wait anymore by the time that the festive scent permeates throughout the house. The proud presenter then takes the Christmas Pudding to the table, soaks it with brandy and flambés it in front of the shining eyes of the other family members. This ceremony of flambéing the Christmas Pudding also has a historical meaning: It symbolizes the passion of Christ.
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And as if the sweet ball itself wasn’t delicious enough, it usually gets a creamy upgrade. Probably the most popular topping here is another British Christmas favorite: Brandy Butter. But also vanilla custard, lemon curd or English Cream make for a great pairing. For an extra wintery touch, some people besprinkle the Christmas Pudding with icing sugar, making it look like a little, snow-topped mountain.
Will The Christmas Pudding Bring You Good Luck?
Its deliciousness is surely justification enough for the Christmas Pudding’s status as a British Christmas staple. But it is not only the sweet taste that kids and adults alike look forward to every year. Several fortune-telling rituals play a big role in the excitement surrounding it.
Traditionally, the dessert was made right before the beginning of the advent season – more specifically on the 25th Sunday after the Holy Trinity. Back in the days, Christmas Pudding contained exactly 13 ingredients. These would stand for Jesus and his 12 apostles. On so-called “Stir-up Sunday”, family members would take turns in stirring the dough from East to West. This procedure paid tribute to the Three Kings and their common journey. While doing so, everybody – especially the children – would make a wish for their future. It is a tradition that has survived in many households until today, provided that they still make their own Christmas Pudding.
Another popular tradition surrounding the delicious treat is hiding fortune-telling objects in the dough. The most common item was a silver coin, usually a threepence or sixpence. Whoever would find it, would be the lucky duck of the following year. He or she would have a happy time, full of wealth and health, and the previously made wish would come true. Still today, especially kids enjoy this entertaining way of predicting the future. Instead of coins, some families turn to objects that are more specific to the fate that they bring. Among these are golden rings for marriage, silver thimbles for thrift or anchors for safety.
From A Meat Preservative To A Christmas Staple
Originally, the brown chunk in question had nothing to do with a Christmas dessert. What went by the name of “plum pottage” in the 15th century was rather a starter with meat instead. Although the name might make it seam that way, the dish didn’t actually contain any plums. It was only an expression used for raisins or other dried fruits at the time. Apart from that, the pottage contained mainly shredded beef or mutton, onions and bread crumbs. The thick mixture was refined with several condiments and wine. Being more than just a delicious dish, the pottage served as a means to preserve meat – similar to Mince Pies, which became another traditional British Christmas dessert.
In the following centuries, the meat was more and more replaced by suet and the dried fruits became the main ingredient. This was especially fueled by the improved techniques for preserving meat which took this function from the pottage. The changed recipe also resulted in a name transformation. While Mince Pies kept their initial name and, thus, their initial connection to meat, the pottage was now increasingly referred to as plum pudding. All this time, though, it was still no specific Christmas dessert but rather a sweet dish eaten during the harvest celebrations. Only by the mid-1800s, the sweet ball had established its status as a Christmas staple with British families. Until today, it is impossible to imagine a Christmas Day meal without the traditional dessert.
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Christmas Pud. So fantastic we eat it only one a year. by Smabs Sputzer (1956-2017), licensed under CC BY 2.0