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A steamed pudding, very heavy in dried and other fruit and suet and bound with either or both of breadcrumbs and flour, made very dark, almost black, by the addition of black treacle or Muscavado sugar and dark beer such as stout. Christmas puddings were formerly boiled in a pudding cloth, giving the iconic spherical shape, but are now more commonly formed in a rounded basin. Christmas pudding is most traditionally brought to the festive table whole, topped with a sprig of holly and flamed with brandy. Served with sweet white sauce, brandy butter, cream, custard and/or sprinkled with sugar.
Cutting the Christmas Pudding,
from Aunt Affable's Stories, about 1830
Although rich fruit puddings are known from the earliest times, they were not specifically associated with the Christmas feast. The 'Bill of Fare for Christmas Day' in Robert May 1660 includes a great deal of roast meat and mince pies, but no pudding. In the time of Bradley 1728 we get a receipt for 'Plum-Pottage, or Christmas-Pottage' - a stew of beef stock with with wine, beer, cloves, mace, nutmeg, currants, apple and raisins.
Original Receipt in Bradley 1728;
Plum-Pottage, or Christmas-Pottage.
Take a Leg of Beef, and boil it till it is tender in a sufficient quantity of Water, add two Quarts of red Wine, and two Quarts of old strong Beer; put to these some Cloves, Mace, and Nutmegs, enough to season it, and boil some Apples, pared and freed from the Cores into it, and boil them tender, and break them; and to every Quart of Liquor, put half a Pound of Currans pick'd clean, and rubb'd with a coarse Cloth, without washing. Then add a Pound of Raisins of the Sun, to a Gallon of Liquor, and half a Pound of Prunes. Take out the Beef, and the Broth or Pottage will be fit for use.
While there are references to Christmas Puddings in the 18th Century - the earliest I can find is in the 'The Gentleman's Magazine' of 1790 - the first actual receipt seems to be;
Original Receipt in Hammond 1819;
Boiled plum or Christmas pudding.
Cut a pound of beef-suet extremely fine, to which add a pound of raisins well stoned, half a pound of currants, picked, cleaned, and dried, some nutmeg, two spoonsful of brandy, two ounces of candied lemon-peel, and one ounce of candied orange-peel shred fine, six well beaten eggs, a gill of cream, and seven or eight table-spoonsful of flour, mix them well, and boil it four hours; when done, serve with melted butter and grated sugar.
The Church collect for the Sunday five weeks before Christmas begins "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works". This gave it the name of 'Stir-Up Sunday', the day on which the mixture for Christmas pudding is prepared, with each member of the household taking a lucky share in the mixing.
This style of Pudding is sometimes, mysteriously, called by the name of other puddings, 'Plum Duff' or 'Figgy Pudding'. I can't find any traditional Christmas Pudding receipt that calls for plums, nor one with figs. It is almost certain that 'plum' refers to its colour and shape, and it is known that 'figgy' means 'having an appearance like the inside of a fig', ie, filled with fruity specks, which might be any dried fruit.
Many households consider that five weeks is far too short a time for the pudding to properly mature, making it the preceding Easter, or even one year ahead, often 'feeding' it weekly with brandy or whisky.
It has been common practice to include small tokens or silver coins in the mixture, to be kept as a gift by finder.
Sir JJ Thomson's discovery of the structure of atoms as being spheres dotted with electrons is often called, though not by Thompson himself, the 'Plum Pudding Model' of atomic structure.
Almost all bought Christmas Puddings in the UK and Ireland are manufactured by one company - Matthew Walker of Heanor in Derbyshire, who produce some 20 million puddings each year.
Mr. Punch brings in the Pudding
(From 'Punch' magazine)
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