One of the staples of Christmas dinner in the nineteenth century in England was the Christmas pudding. But don’t think of the pudding we have today. English pudding is more like cake, and the Christmas pudding was the crowning glory of the feast! It was generally carried in with great ceremony, sprig of holly in the top, soaked in brandy and on fire.
Many families had a secret recipe, handed down from mother to daughter. Some started the pudding as early as the first Sunday in Advent, a good four weeks before Christmas. Others insisted that you had to include 13 ingredients for Christ and his apostles, and stir from east to west in token for the wise men who came to visit the Christ child. In some families, everyone from the youngest child to the most senior adult took a turn at stirring. The Christmas pudding was so critical that housekeepers in the great houses were taught that creating it was their most important duty for the month of December! Here’s what Mrs. Beeton has to say in her Book of Household Management, published in 24 parts from 1859 to 1861:
“In December, the principal household duty lies in preparing for the creature comforts of those near and dear to us, so as to meet old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder; and in stoning the plums [raisins], washing the currants, cutting the citron, beating the eggs, and MIXING THE PUDDING, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the genial season of all good things.”
Here, then, is her recipe, for Christmas Pudding:
1 ½ pounds raisins
½ pound of currants
½ pound of mixed peel
3/4 lb. of bread crumbs
3/4 lb. of suet (shortening)
1 wineglassful of brandy
Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas Day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at
the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.”
Lovely picture, what? She goes on to note that five or six of these puddings should be made at one time, as they will keep well for many weeks and can be served to unexpected guests.
Or maybe unsuspecting guests?
I haven’t tried this recipe, but I did try making plum pudding one year. I didn’t own a knife strong enough to cut through it. Never did figure out what I did wrong! Maybe I should have kept it a few more days?