♔Charles Dickens proclaimed the Christmas Pudding to be the ‘centrepiece’ of the Christmas feast. But the pudding of today, is a very different dish from its humble beginnings…
‘Frumenty’ or ‘Furmety’
Part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal, frumenty was traditionally served with venison, boiled meat, fish or game as a ‘pottage’ (thick soup or stew).
In England it was often eaten on Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent.
One of the first documented recipes for frumenty can be found in the 1390 manuscript ‘The Forme of Cury’ (The Method of Cooking: cury being from French cuire: to cook), an extensive collection of 196 Medieval English recipes, written by a master cook from the court of Richard II. (1377-1399)
Pottage to Pudding
By the 1700s a combination of cheaper sugar, better livestock and food preserving techniques, meant the savoury element of both the Mince pie and the Plum pottage diminished, as people began adding more dried fruit and sugar to their recipes.
In 1714, George I announced that he enjoyed “Christmas pottage;” officially sanctioning the pudding and outraging Quakers who declared the dish “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon”.
By 1747 the forerunner of the Christmas pudding can be seen in the Hannah Glasse recipe ‘Plum porridge for Christmas’ from her book ‘The Art of Cookery’.
Plum porridge (‘plum’ meaning dried grape or raisin) was made up of beef and mutton broth, bread crumbs, currants, wine, spices and raisins. This dish was served together with meat, but still without any festive connection.
The Mince pie kept its name, but the ‘pottage’ was increasingly referred to as plum pudding.
Birth of the Christmas Pudding
By the early 19th century, furmenty was seen an archaic dish from the Middle Ages, long out of fashion in cities, although still fed to the poor in workhouses throughout the Victorian period.
It was English cook Eliza Acton who first refered to the ‘pottage’ as “Christmas Pudding” in her bestselling book Modern Cookery for Private Families. (1845)
The rise of the Plum Pudding as a traditional Christmas dish is shown in this recipe from the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management. (1861)
The meat had disappeared, (except for suet), eggs, and more dried fruits were added with the first appearance of brandy. This recipe would be easily recognisable today as Christmas Pudding.
During the Victorian period the ‘Plum pudding’ rose in prominence as a Christmas dish, and by the 1830s the cannonball of mixed fruits, sugar, suet, and spices, topped with holly, made a very definite appearance.
The first Sunday before Advent, ‘Stir-up Sunday,’ was the traditional time to make the pudding. Most recipes included 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the apostles with family and friends taking turn to stir the ingredients from east to west to symbolise the journey of the Magi (wise men). A garnish of holly represented the crown of thorns, and the flaming brandy the Passion.
Some families dropped silver coins into the mix to represent luck; a ring for marriage, wishbone for wealth, a thimble for thrift, and an anchor for safe harbour.
Charles Dickens became synonymous with Christmas, immortalising the Christmas Pudding in his novel ‘A Christmas Carol.’ (1843)
Dickens saw the Christmas pudding as a unifying dish and a central symbol of Christmas:
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! … All sorts of horrors were supposed… 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.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.
The plum pudding came to epitomise Christmas, and every Victorian expected a pudding as the finale to their festive meal.
A London illustrated news article from 1850 describes the puddings importance; a sentiment that still rings true today…
The Plum pudding is a national symbol – It does not represent a class or caste, but the bulk of the English nation. There is not a man, woman or child raised that does not expect a taste of plum pudding of some sort or another on Christmas Day.
and so in the words of Tiny Tim …
“A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”
Make Your own Christmas ‘Pud’ Watch this simple video…