Now! bring us some figgy pudding
and bring some out here.
- from the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"
From sixteenth century West Country of England comes the traditional Christmas dessert, "figgy pudding". So, what is figgy pudding? Figgy pudding is for the folks down home.
Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses --to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose --a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered -- flushed, but smiling proudly --with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
- from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Figgy pudding was very much a part of traditional Christmas suppers in the days of the Cratchit family. It seems Mrs. Cratchit had great concern that her pudding had turned out just right. It had become the "crown of glory" that designated one as a good cook -- so she had reason to worry.
Celtic folklore also holds a special place for figgy pudding. Figgy pudding is one of those recipes that is made in the traditional way of the ancestors and passed down through the generations.
Figgy pudding is basically a moist and delicious spice cake containing figs and walnuts. Traditionally it had become an expected treat for the carolers who came around to homes singing Christmas songs. Usually the cake was steamed, but it can be baked.
Below is one of the many recipes for figgy pudding that folks will love. It takes about fifteen minutes of preparation time and one hour to bake. Because it looks so fancy, especially aflame with brandy, it gives the impression of a difficult and time consuming recipe. This recipe is an easier version than the old traditional way of steaming for four hours or so. Even Mr. Scrooge will like this.
1/2 cup softened butter (room temperature)
1 cup molasses
2 cups dried figs - remove and discard stems, chop figs finely
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and chopped (optional)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cream butter until fluffy (this can be done in an electric mixer, I totally believe in easy). Add the eggs and molasses and beat till well blended. Add the figs, lemon peel, buttermilk, walnuts, cranberries, and cherries. Blend by hand using a wooden spoon till mixed well. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and seasonings. Blend thoroughly.
Pour batter into a greased and floured souffle dish (an 8 by 4 inch dish is perfect), or a bundt cake pan. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven about one hour. Pudding is done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from pan to serving dish and serve individual spoonfuls or wedges of pudding, topped with whipped cream.
For those who would prefer the pudding aflame as a dramatic entrance to the table:
In a small saucepan, warm 1/3 cup of brandy, cognac or rum over medium heat. Set the pudding on the table, have someone turn out the lights. Pour the warm liquid over the top of the pudding and light the alcohol -- then stand back and watch the glow on everyone's face as they praise you and the pudding. When the flames die down, cut and serve. This is an excellent finale to the holiday supper. It will make you feel you are in a folklore story and you will almost feel that "Good Cook Crown" on your head.
Caution: before lighting the pudding, make sure there are no flammable items on the table and make sure all persons stay back from the flames.
For more traditional Christmas folklore and recipes: