The Tradition of the Christmas Pudding

We all should know by now that I have a great love of food, celebration, festivals, traditions – I can wax lyrical for hours. Waxing the floor (i.e. domestic work), not so much.

I was hard pressed to choose what Christmas dish to blog about, but seeing as there are so many, I had to choose, so I girlied up and made a decision.

*Christmas (or Plum) Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is not what it was originally like.

Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.

By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, and dried fruit and given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits. It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it as a bad custom.

In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.

Although Christmas Puddings are eaten at Christmas, some customs associated with the pudding are about Easter. The decorative sprig of holly on the top of the pudding is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. Brandy or another alcoholic drink is sometimes poured over the pudding and lit at the table to make a spectacular display. This is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.

In the Middle Ages, holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers. It was often planted near houses in the belief that it protected the inhabitants.

During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds, like those one would pour jelly into. These were often in the shapes of towers or castles. Normal people just had puddings in the shape of balls. If the pudding was a bit heavy, they were called cannonballs.

Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another age-old custom that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. In the UK the coin traditionally used was silver ‘six pence’.

The tradition seems to date back to the Twelfth Night Cake which was eaten during the festivities on the ‘Twelfth Night’ of Christmas (the official end of the Christmas celebrations). Originally a dried pea or bean was baked in the cake and whoever got it, was ‘king or queen’ for the night. There are records of this practice going back to the court of Edward II (early 1300s). The bean was also sometimes a silver ring of small crown. The first coins used were a Silver Farthing or penny. After WW1 it became a threepenny bit and then a sixpence.

I remember with great fondness, the pouring and lighting of the brandy over the Christmas Pud (only time I could ever stomach brandy) and then the anticipation of carefully searching your slice to see if you had the lucky silver piece in it. I’ve put the suggestion forward to HOD, Mrs Furtheringstoke, to see if we could have a Christmas pud lighting ritual around the water cooler before we close up shop this year, but, meanie that she is, as soon as she heard me mention ‘brandy’ and ‘set the pud alight’, she deep sixed that idea. Pfft! It’s fine though, I’ve already started up a secret society of the Papa Uniform Delta. Instructions to follow. Foxtrot, Echo, Romeo, November, out.

*excerpts from a delightful article at Why Christmas