Tradition & History & Magic
Prior to the 19th century, the English Plum 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.
The Plum Pudding's association with Christmas goes back to medieval England with the Roman Catholic Church's decree that the "pudding should be made on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction".
Although it took its final form in Victorian England, the pudding's origins can be traced back to the 1420s, to two sources. It emerged not as a confection or a dessert at all, but as a way of preserving meat at the end of the season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resultant large "mince pies" could then be used to feed hosts of people, particularly at the festive season. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding, however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times. This was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added. In the 15th century, Plum pottage was a sloppy mix of meat, vegetables and fruit served at the beginning of a meal
As techniques for meat preserving improved in the 18th century, the savory element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name, though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding. Although the latter was always a celebratory dish it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It was not until the 1830s that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, becoming more and more associated with Christmas.
The Wishing and Other Traditions
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 (Diana's blessing of good luck & prosperous hunting), a silver thimble (Fairy blessings for thrift), or an anchor (Nereid's blessings for a safe harbour).
Once turned out of its basin, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or "fired"), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause.
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, it was not uncommon to go so far as to make each year's pudding the previous Christmas.
The Wood Fairy - La Fée des Bois' Plum Pudding Recipe
1 lb. prunes (dried plums)
1 lb. raisins
1 lb. currants
1 lb. dates
1 lb. cherries
1|2 lb mixed peel
1 bottle Cherry Brandy
Cut prunes in pieces, add to other fruits and marinade in cherry brandy for a minimum of two weeks.
1 lb. brown sugar
1|2 cup hot water
Place sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan , on medium heat cook until melted and black, slowly add water.Mix well and leave to cool.
Grease four 2-pound coffee cans, four 2-quart pudding molds, or four 2-quart oven-proof deep dishes.
In avery large bowl cream:
1 lb. sugar
1 lb. butter
Add 8 large eggs one at a time beating well after each.
Mix and sift dry ingredients:
1 lb. flour
4 tsps baking powder
2 tsps mixed spice
1|2 tsp grated nutmeg
Add gradually to creamed mixture.
Mix in fruit and black treacle.
Traditional Cooking Method:
Fill each greased pan 1/2 full of batter. Cover tops of pans with lids or 2 layers of aluminum foil. In a large pot or roaster, place molds on trivets or a rack and add boiling water 2/3 up the side of the mold; bring rapidly to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot or roaster, and boil gently 4 to 4 1/2 hours (add more boiling water as necessary) or until fork comes out clean when put into center of pudding.
Remove from heat and cool. Store in refrigerator, covered, until time to serve.
NOTE: These also freeze well.
To serve, steam for 1 hour before serving to heat thoroughly. Unmold and serve hot.
Yields 4 puddings.
Alternative Cooking Method:
Greaseand flour four 2-pound coffee cans, four 2-quart pudding molds, or four 2-quart oven-proof deep dishes. Fill each greased pan 1/2 full of batter. Bake in oven at 250 degrees F. for 2 to 3 hours or until fork comes out clean when put into center of pudding.
Remove from oven and soak while hot with brandy. Can be served hot or at room temperature.
Note: These also freeze well.
©2013 The Wood Fairy – La Fée des Bois