If asked to name a place associated with plum pudding, often called Christmas pudding, England would most likely spring to mind; however it also has strong associations with Jerusalem and France. Steamed or boiled puddings, of which plum pudding is one, were a common food in the Crusaders' camps. The invention of plum pudding is attributed to the famous French chef, Taillevent, who was supposed to have included it in his 14th century cookbook Le Viandier de Taillevent. While I was unable to to find the recipe in my copy, that is not necessarily meaningful. In an article in the University of Toronto Quarterly, L.E. Doucette explains that early editions were handwritten and each was unique and even the later printed editions varied.
The Jerusalem connection does not, however, come from Tailevent nor Jesus's birth in Bethlehem near Jerusalem – it is of much later origin. During World War I, British General Allenby was ordered to take Jerusalem from the Turks by Christmas in 1917. He succeeded on December 9 and, if reports from the victors can be taken as more than wartime propaganda, was welcomed by the inhabitants (see FirstWorldWar.com for more details.) It is certainly reasonable to believe that the local Christians would be happy to have Jerusalem back under Christian rule, and it is they who asked General Allenby what special dish he would like for his Christmas dinner. In true British form, he asked for plum pudding. According to a report by Daniel Rogov in The Jerusalem Post, Christmas in Jerusalem and plum pudding have been synonymous ever since. Rogov also mentions that Tailevent was a French Jew, so interestingly enough, the traditional English Christmas dish is neither English nor Christian in origin.
Traditional plum pudding is steamed or boiled (different terms for the same cooking process), but today's flat-top stoves can be damaged by the hours of boiling water in a large pot necessary to make such a pudding, so I was excited to find a recipe for baked plum pudding in the Joy of Cooking. (I, of course, adapted it to the tastes of my family and the ingredients that are readily available in my area.) Unlike traditional plum pudding, it's even vegetarian! In times past, plum or plumb meant variously dried plums - what we now call prunes - or more often any dried fruit. In the Willamette Valley fruit basket, where I live, prunes can mean fresh or dried plums of the type suitable for drying and since my freezer is full of frozen fresh prunes, that's what I used for my plum pudding. If you wish to used dried fruit, reduce it to about 2/3rds cup.
Julie's Baked Plum Pudding
Preheat oven to 375 F. Beat one stick of butter, cream in a cup of sugar, then gradually beat in 1 ½ cups of low-fat carton eggs or egg whites (or 6 whole eggs.) Dust 2 cups fresh prune plums and 1/3 cup chopped nuts with enough flour that they don't stick together and stir into the butter and egg batter. Mix 2 cups bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and a half teaspoon each of cloves and allspice. Add the spiced crumbs to the fruit mixture, mix, and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake for about 30 minutes, at which point it should be slightly firm and brown on top. Plum pudding is traditionally served with hard sauce – a mixture of butter with as much powered sugar as you can beat in and a few drops of vanilla or rum. You can also add a pinch of the spices used in the pudding for a decadently rich spiced hard sauce.
General Allenby's report on the fall of Jerusalem on FirstWorldWar.com with links to other primary documents on the fall of Jerusalem.
The Joy of Cooking - 1975 edition - an invaluable resource for understanding and recreating historical recipes and food references. (Click on title for more information or to order from Alibris.)