Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Making good old time Christmas foods is much easier today than it was in the distant past. To make an old favorite, like Christmas Pudding, one can bring back a feeling of nostalgia with the tried and true original method, or try a much quicker method. Either way, the pudding is going to taste good. It is not actually a pudding, but more like a bread.
Christmas Pudding is traditionally served on Christmas Day. It is the traditional finale to a proper British Christmas dinner. In the Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, he describes how nervous Mrs. Cratchit was "to take the pudding up and bring it in." Since it was the highlight of the holiday supper, Mrs. Cratchit was all aflutter and in a great worry that the pudding she had spent two days on preparing and hours of steaming had turned out right. The whole family awaited in abandoned joy and anticipation. Finally in she brings the long awaited dessert, pride showing on her face, to the dining room, 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.
The origins of Christmas pudding goes back to medieval England. At that time it was not a dessert, but a method of preserving meats for the winter months. Dried meats and fruits were kept in pastry bag. When liquids were added to the dried mix it all expanded, and when cooked in pies, it fed many people. It was a very savory dish, not sweet at all. It was originally called "frumenty", made with beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and several spices. It was more like a soup. By the end of the 14th century, the addition of eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruits, beer and spirits gave it more flavor and a thicker consistency. The Christmas pudding of today is more like a bread, or heavy cake.
In Victorian England, the pudding contained less meat with additions of flour, suet, sugar, fruits, and spices resulted in the Christmas pudding of today. It is also called plum pudding by some, although there are no plums in it.
The traditions and lore attached to the pudding are very interesting. The traditional time to make the pudding was on "Stir-up Sunday", which is four to five weeks before Christmas, or the last Sunday before Advent. It was common lore to include something in the pudding for good luck. Silver coins for wealth in the following year, a silver thimble for thriftiness, a wishbone for good luck, were some items put inside the pudding. The lucky person who received the item in their serving was envied by all.
When the pudding was being made, a common custom was to have each member of the household give a stir and make a wish. Some superstitions became associated with the pudding in early days. It was believed that it should contain thirteen ingredients to be symbolic of Jesus and the Disciples. Another honored custom was that the stirring should be done with a wooden spoon, from east to west, to remember the three Wise Men. The holly sprig stuck on top of the pudding represents the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore when He was crucified -- the holly also was for good luck and healing for the coming year. The brandy that was poured over the pudding and set alight represented the love and power of Jesus.
A traditional Christmas pudding takes two days to make. The first day is when all the ingredients are mixed well, covered, refrigerated and left overnight. On the next day, you grease a basin (a stainless steel pan with no handle), put the dough in it, and cover the dough with wax paper. The basin is then sat into a large pan of water to steam for eight hours. When the pudding is cool, it is wrapped in wax paper and put into a pastry bag and stored till Christmas day. Prior to serving, the pudding is warmed up by the steaming method for two hours. To serve, warm brandy is poured over the pudding and lit. The flaming pudding is ceremoniously taken to the table as the family anxiously await that great moment.