A British Tradition
Nov. 7, 2012 9:31 pm
Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 12:22 pm
One fond memory I still carry from my years in England is the "sweet" served after dinner on December 25th, the "Christmas Pudding." It's origins date back to the 1400's, however the recipes have changed since then, as has the actual tradition was introduced
by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. It was also mentioned in the Charles Dickens novel "A Christmas Carol," and served by Mrs Cratchit.
Early on, the "pudding" was made as a way of preserving meat (similar to "mincemeat" but that's a different story!) The meat was removed from each of these recipes many a year ago, which resulted in a dessert, with it's own purpose.
Recipes vary greatly, handed down from one generation to another. Usually, the "family" gets together, and more than one pudding is made. I can recall visiting an aunt, only to end up with a large pot on each burner of the stove, bubbling away, as the puddings
are steamed. I actually have three different recipes, one of which was supplied by my cousin Jean - handed down to her by Aunt Frances(?) my favorite, by far. The puddings should be made well in advance... my research this evening varies, from 5 weeks prior,
to 3 months before serving, allowing the pudding to age, and the flavors to "mature" (as one article read.) Steaming the puddings takes hours - I mean from 5-8 hours, and then need to be steamed again when served for an additonal hour or two.
As was custom for many years, coins would be baked into the pudding. I only remember one per pudding, but then, I've lost memory cells since then! Mom always served a pudding with one "sixpence" buried within, and the person who found it would experience
health, wealth, and happiness, in the New Year. I asked Jean a few months ago if this was still the practice, but her response was that it had died out, of fear that the "finder" would choke on it! The pudding was served in small quantities due to it's richness,
and usually was accompanied by hard sauce, brandy sauce, heavy cream, or custard sauce (or Creme Englaise as my cookbooks call it.)
When it was time to serve the pudding, mom would exit the dining room (we didn't have a cook!) The lights would be dimmed, and the pudding, now turned out onto a platter, would be doused with flaming brandy, quite ceremoniously. While it did indeed make quite
a presentation, all it did in my mind was make the pudding taste burnt!
Before anyone asks, a "pudding" can be either sweet, or savory, and made in a pudding basin. Almost always steamed, though treacle pudding, for instance, is baked. The steamed desserts are usually very dense, rich, and moist, or, a steak and kidney pudding,
would be a basin lined with heavy pastry, filled with the meats and gravy, topped with more pastry, and steamed into oblivion. (I was never a fan of organ meats, and would pick out the kidneys.)
One thing I learned this evening is that Christmas Pudding, and Plum Pudding, are terms often used to describe the same dessert. In fact, a Plum Pudding does contain plum(s) which the alternate does not.
The clock is ticking, should you wish to make Christmas Pudding(s) Here is the recipe I use, provided by my cousin Jean Harris, of Birmingham...
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup currants
3 tbls brandy or rum
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1 cup suet (I've used vegetable shortening)
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup diced candied peel
1/4 cup "glace cherries" - I guess that's what is used in "fruitcake"
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tsp cinnamon
The grated rind and juice of 1 orange, and one lemon
1 tbls dark treacle, clear honey, golden syrup, or dark molasses
3 large eggs, beaten
1 & 1/4 cups dark ale (I use "Guiness.")
Soak the raisins, sultanas, and currants in the brandy or rum for two days. Cover, and stir occasionally.
Sift flour and salt int a large bowl. Add the bread crumbs, suet and sugar, mixing well. Add all remaining ingredients, including the raisins etc., mixing well. Mixture should be soft, and drop easily from a spoon. Grease pudding basins with butter, and
fill each to 1" from the rim. Cover with two layers of wax paper, and one layer of greased foil (which should be pleated, to allow for expansion.) Tightly tie string around the outside of the rims, holding the covers in place.
Place the puddings in large pots, on top of an overturned saucer, or trivet. Add boiling water to a depth of 1", and steam as follows;
2 medium puddings, 4-1/2 hours, 1 large, 6 hours, checking water level often, and adding as needed.
When cooled, place puddings in a cool dark place until serving day, the longer the better, leaving the original wrappings over the bowls. To serve, steam the pudding for an additional 2 hours, turn out onto a serving platter, and "flame" it with burning brandy.
Pass the sauce of your choice over each serving, after your grand entrance... (did you find the sixpence?)
Now, I don't have "pudding basins," so I use my pyrex mixing bowls. This recipe makes 1 small, and 1 medium pudding, although 3 "small" puddings would work best, as I don't have a huge family to feed, - beware, it IS rich!
So folks, be happy, be healthy, be crazy... (oh, and let me know if you try out this "crazy" recipe!)