The traditional end to a Christmas dinner in the United Kingdom has always been the traditional Christmas Pudding and it is usually a real showstopper. Generally, it looks like a deep brown, currant-speckled glossy football or in most cases, just half of one. Brandy is added and then the whole dessert set alight or literally on fire as happens often as it is brought to the dining table. It is usually decorated with a sprig of holly and served with brandy butter. If ever there was a symbol of the Christmas dinner as we gasp at the arrival of this centrepiece !
The original however was certainly not the currant riddled pudding we know today. Its origins go back to 1430 and even earlier. In the earliest of days, the lords and ladies were served ‘pyes’ and ‘cof fyns’ which were flour based pastries containing meat and fish, suet and tallow, and dried fruit which was brought from Spain or the Near East. Adding a sugared fruit lent some preservative action to meat and fish which would rapidly decay and become unpalatable if left. Honey and if available, sugar, was also added in later years to replace the dried fruit. Christmas puddings have an exceptionally good life to them as the preservative action of the fruit and sugars coupled with their cooking stabilises many of the less secure ingredients.
The Role Of Spices
Spices are also a critical feature of these puddings. Nutmeg, all spice, and even cinnamon were all added. The idea of using this method of preservation can be found in the preparation of mincemeat which is then used to make mince pies.
Another pudding source was ‘frumenty’ which was a meat and fruit porridge that steadily became more fixed as a recipe in later life.
One other key aspect was to add money or some other trinkets which could be found by some-one lucky enough to have it in their slice. It is also one of the key sentiments in the traditional Christmas song “We wish you a merry Christmas” as we are asked to repeat the phrase “so give us some figgy pudding” and so on.
Puddings Galore !
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