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Stevie's Crazy Kitchen

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!)
Nov. 8, 2012 4:41 am
Thanks for sharing your experiences, research and this recipe! It sounds difficult at first, but really it is just a matter of time. What a great tradition.
Nov. 8, 2012 5:51 am
Thank you so much for this blog. I am a big fan of Agatha Christie and one particular book has a small discussion about the Christmas pudding. I always wondered why it was made ahead of time then when you mentioned your pudding in yesterday's blog, I just had to ask for more. So again, thank you for sharing the history. I really enjoyed reading about it!
Nov. 8, 2012 8:56 am
Doc, you're welcome, of course! At a glance, the list of ingredients can be a bit intimidating, but overall, it comes together quickly. Once it's being steamed it's just a matter of sitting back and watching the pot boil, lol! Be well!
Nov. 8, 2012 9:07 am
Cat, as always, you're welcome for the info! I had meant to write from the perspective of making the puddings, and introducing the "why" along the way... There is an entire facet of the puddings that I never knew, but the religious symbolism had faded away over the years ( I guess...) long before I first tasted this dessert. Be well, and glad you enjoyed!
Nov. 8, 2012 12:04 pm
I think it is really neat to hear about holiday traditions and how they connect with food. I believe in the book I read they put little symbols like a thimble that meant different things in the pudding and predict the luck of the recipent. I wonder how many people actually choked from either money or the symbols. I would think you wouldn't knowing that there was a surprise in your pudding. Again I really enjoyed your blog!
Nov. 8, 2012 3:39 pm
Cat, I do recall reading something last evening about items other than coins being cooked into the puddings, and a thimble was named - I just don't rememeber what it represented! I agree, that if you are "expecting" something to be in your food, you'll be looking for it... Be well!
Nov. 8, 2012 5:00 pm
Bugger! I thought I could lay my hands on that book but I can't. I want to say the thimble was a sign you would be a bachelor. When I lay my hands on that book I will let you know :)
Nov. 8, 2012 5:50 pm
Cat, I don't think that I've heard the term "bugger" since I returned to USA, unless... ma probably uses it time to time... lol!! US is home, but then after those years/mom's life and history, so is UK, I guess! Be well, and maybe I'll find what I read again...
Nov. 8, 2012 6:11 pm
Cat, MAKE ME NUTS!! I can't find the article that I read last night, but did read a "blurb" that the SILVER thimble represents "thrift." Don't know if this helps! Be well!
Nov. 9, 2012 10:55 am
That's kind of like the kind cakes down here served around Mardi Gras. One of the first questions everyone asks is "is there a baby inside" so we know to look for it. The Christmas pudding sounds like a neat tradition. Thanks so much for sharing!
Nov. 9, 2012 2:43 pm
Amanda, glad you enjoyed! Be well!
Dec. 22, 2012 12:22 pm
Hey Stevie! I made Christmas steamed pudding this year. Cat very kindly pointed me to your blog and I have saved it to my RB. I want to "play" with steamed puddings for awhile. ;) I wish I knew more about the "plants" coins, thimbles, intrigueing
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Stevie crazycook

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About Me
Started cooking many years ago, and learned as I went. First meal may have been "steak & chips" at age 15, in Birmingham England, where I lived for several years. Mostly grew up in MI, transplanted to the desert 30yrs ago, or so. Favorite cookbook is "Better Homes", also enjoy "Great British Cooking, a well kept secret." Hesitate to call myself "expert," but friends do rave...
My favorite things to cook
Italian has been my "specialty" for some time, and my "signature" meal is Lasagne, salad, garlic bread, which I first made 20yrs ago... from SCRATCH, very first time I made it. (Never again, folks...) Now start with a big jar of sauce!
My favorite family cooking traditions
Thanks to my heritage, I have enjoyed trying foods from different cultures. We still have beer battered fish, and chips of course; ground meat dishes often, chicken occasionally, pork too. I would love to submit a bean dip recipe, however, my ex who gave me the original has passed, and I have no way to verify that it didn't come from another source! I also enjoy British cooking (with a few yankee twists) and once made Plum puddings, also known as Christmas puddings, as far as I know... what an ordeal that was, but well worth the effort. Today, there is mail order!
My cooking triumphs
Greatest triumph was not too long ago, when I held a sit down dinner for 12, Lasagne being the entree. It was a fund raiser I chose to sponsor, and am proud to say that "we" raised over $1000 from that meal alone, minimum donation being $25. All proceeds collected were donated; my partner and I provided the meal and beverages.
My cooking tragedies
MEATLOAF of all things! Went through a stage of "winging" it each time, and I pulled one after another out of the oven that were almost unedible. As yet, not too big on baking... no sweet tooth here! Have dabbled, but find doughs/pastries especially difficult, perhaps as it's 90 degrees in my kitchen much of the year.
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