Traditionally, in England, the customs surrounding making the Christmas pudding brought the whole family together as each one took a turn to stir the mixture and make a wish combined with the adding of sixpenny bits or even the reckless extravagance of contributing one shilling coins to the mix. Nowadays this would be two and a half pence or five pence. Back in the 1970s, as young folk, we would have seen these coins as a small prize.
According to my internet research, the tradition (for those who still make their own home-made pudds) is still as essential to a British Christmas as it ever was. Traditionally, the Christmas pudding comes at the end of the largest dinner of the year and demands a huge appetite and a staunch constitution. And an ability to fall asleep in front of a James Bond film or a repeat of The Sound of Music or Ant & Dec ruin Christmas style programme.
Historically, early Christmas puddings contained some meat, usually mutton or beef as well as onions, wine, spices and dried fruit. The tradition of Christmas pudding did not appear in England until introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. By this time the pudding looked and tasted much as it does today. Dickens, in the writing of A Christmas Carol made much show of the excitement created in the poor Cratchitt household when the Christmas pudding was brought steaming to the table and flaming with brandy. Enough to make even the crippled Tiny Tim hop around with joy!
Flaming the pudding is another tradition, believed to represent the passion of Christ, and again is an essential part of the theatre of Christmas day. Eating Christmas pudding was banned by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding harked back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.
The perfect pudding should be dense, moist and oozing with the decadence of rich sugary fruits and brandy. Making one does take time with at least thirteen ingredients (to represent Christ and his disciples) also to weigh; time indeed, to marinate and the actual steaming which takes at least 7 hours. But, once made, and put away in a cool, dry place, needs only a further hour steaming on the day itself.
I recall my step mum using beef suet in her ingredients which makes for a heavier pudding but an altogether more satisfying Crimbo pudd experience.
Step Mum, Marnie, looking suprised in the kitchen.
Myself, my half brother and step-sisters, were equally passionate about consuming the pudding and had an almost religious fervour in the attaining of the coins buried within the pudding!
A childhood Christmas from the early 1970s
Lastly, it has to be eaten with warm custard on the day – you can add your fancy splashes of brandy or cointreau but English custard is the very best!