Advent Calendar for Grown-ups

by Paul Bommer

DECEMBER 14 Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding
Illustration by Paul Bommer
Used by permission

Christmas Pudding is a steamed pudding or dessert traditionally served on Christmas Day (December 25). It has its origins in England and Ireland, and is sometimes known as Plum or Figgy Pudding.

The pudding's origins can be traced back to the 1420s (though probably goes back much further) when it contained meat as well as fruit and spices. By the Victorian period Christmas pudding had become a steamed pudding, heavy with dried fruits and nuts, and usually made with suet (all that remains of the Medieval meat ingredient!). It is very dark in appearance—effectively black—as a result of the dark sugars and black treacle in most recipes, and its long cooking time. The mixture can be moistened with the juice of citrus fruits, brandy and other alcohol (some recipes call for dark beers such as mild, stout or porter).

In the nineteenth century, Christmas puddings were boiled in a pudding cloth, and they are still often represented as round. However at least since the beginning of the twentieth century they have usually been prepared in basins.

The pudding is traditionally made four or five weeks before Christmas on what is called 'Stir-up Sunday' with all the household stirring the mixture for good luck, although they may be made a year or even two in advance! It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them.

Once cooked, turned out, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or 'fired'), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause. Charles Dickens describes the scene in A Christmas Carol:

Mrs Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in . . . 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."

Today, the term Figgy Pudding is known mainly because of the 16th Century secular Christmas carol 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' which repeats, "Oh bring us a figgy pudding" in the chorus, indicating that it was a Christmas traditional dish served during the season and thus might potentially be given to Christmas carolers.

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Now! bring us some Figgy Pudding and bring some out here!

From Paul Bommer: Illustration, design & Print-making. Used by permission.

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