A Glorious Plum Pudding for Christmas

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Christmas Pudding was not introduced until about 1670. Before that Plum Porridge, or Pottage, was the fashion. A mixture of beef and mutton in broth, the pudding was thickened with breadcrumbs dried fruit and flavoured with wine and spices. It was served with the first course and eaten with a spoon. Over the years the mixture was gradually made thicker and the meat left out to give us our modern pudding, again with suet as a remnant of the original meat. The first Sunday in Advent is known as "Stir-Up Sunday" because the Collect (church prayer) for that particular Sunday begins "Stir up we beseech thee.." and was said to serve as a reminder that it was time the puddings were made if they were to mature in time for the great day. In fact, some believed that a pudding made one year should not be eaten until the next, giving it full time to mature. Puddings were tied up in a cloth and boiled to give the traditional shape we see on Christmas cards. They were often hung from the rafters where air could circulate round them and keep them fresh.

A Righte Merrie Christmasse! The Story of Christ-tide

By John Ashton. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 153-157 Fifth Avenue. [1894]

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Plum pudding is a comparatively modern dish-not two centuries old; but, nowadays, wherever an Englishman travels-even when engaged in war-be he in any of our colonies, a plum pudding must be had. If an explorer, some loving hand has presented him with one. Were not our soldiers, in the latter part of the Crimean War, bountifully supplied with plum puddings? Was there ever a Christmas on board a man-of-war without one? It is now a national institution, and yet none can tell of its genesis. It has been evolved from that dish of which Misson gives us a description: "They also make a Sort of Soup with Plums, which is not at all inferior to the Pye, which is in their language call'd Plum porridge." We can find no reference to plum pudding in the diaries either of Evelyn or Pepys, and perhaps as early an instance as any of a Christmas plum pudding is in Round about our Coal Fire (1730?): "In Christmas holidays the tables were all spread from the first to the last; the sirloins of beef, the minced pies, the plum porridge, the capons, geese, turkeys, and plum puddings, were all brought upon the board."

Plum porridge is very frequently mentioned, and Brand gives an instance of it being eaten in this century. "Memorandum. I dined at the Chaplain's Table at St. James's on Christmas Day 1801, and partook of the first thing served up and eaten on that festival at table, i.e. a tureen full of rich luscious plum porridge. I do not know that the custom is anywhere else retained." "Plum porridge was made of a very strong broth of shin of beef, to which was added crumb of bread, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, currants, raisins, and dates. It was boiled gently, and then further strengthened with a quart of canary and one of red port; and when served up, a little grape verjuice or juice of orange was popped in as a zest."-Daily Telegraph, 21st January 1890.

Plum pudding is a peculiarly English dish, and foreigners, as a rule, do not know how to make it properly, and many are the stories told thereanent. In a leading article in the Daily Telegraph, 21st January 1890, a recipe is given, copied from the Kreuz Zeitung, for making a plum pudding: "The cook is to take dough, beer in the course of fermentation, milk, brandy, whiskey, and gin in equal parts; bread, citronate, large and small raisins in profusion. This must be stirred by the whole family for at least three days, and it is then to be hung up in a linen bag for six weeks 'in order thoroughly to ferment.' "

There is a somewhat amusing story told in vol. i. of Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches by Lady Hawkins, widow of Sir John Hawkins, the friend of Johnson. Dr. Schomberg, of Reading, in the early part of his life spent a Christmas at Paris with some English friends. They were desirous to celebrate the season, in the manner of their own country, by having, as one dish on their table, an English plum pudding; but no cook was found equal to the task of making it. A clergyman of the party had, indeed, a receipt-book, but this did not sufficiently explain the process. Dr. Schomberg, however, supplied all that was wanting by throwing the recipe into the form of a prescription, and sending it to an apothecary to be made up. To prevent any chance of error, he directed that it should be boiled in a cloth, and sent home in the same cloth. At the specified hour it arrived, borne by the apothecary's assistant, and preceded by the apothecary himself, dressed according to the professional formality of the time, with a sword. Seeing, on his entry into the apartment, instead of signs of sickness, a table well filled, and surrounded by very merry faces, he perceived that he was made a party to a joke that turned on himself, and indignantly laid his hand on his sword; but an invitation to taste his own cookery appeased him, and all was well.

There is a good plum pudding story told of Lord Macartney when he was on his embassy to China, and wished to give gratification to a distinguished mandarin. He gave instructions to his Chinese chef, and, no doubt, they were carried out most conscientiously, but it came to table in a soup tureen, for my Lord had forgotten all about the cloth.

I cannot verify the following, nor do I know when it occurred. At Paignton Fair, near Exeter, a plum pudding of vast dimensions was drawn through the town amid great rejoicings. No wonder that a brewer's copper was needed for the boiling, seeing that the pudding contained 400 lbs. of flour, 170 lbs. of beef suet, 140 lbs. of raisins, and 240 eggs. This eight hundred pounder or so required continuous boiling from Saturday morning till the following Tuesday evening. It was finally placed on a car decorated with ribbons and evergreens, drawn through the streets by eight oxen, cut up, and distributed to the poor.

Every housewife has her own pet recipe for her Christmas pudding, of undoubted antiquity, none being later than that left as a precious legacy by grandmamma. Some housewives put a thimble, a ring, a piece of money, and a button, which will influence the future destinies of the recipients. It is good that every person in the family should take some part in its manufacture, even if only to stir it; and it should be brought to table hoarily sprinkled with powdered sugar, with a fine piece of berried holly stuck in it, and surrounded on all sides by blazing spirits.

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On the subject of the identity of the modern plum-pudding with the ancient hackin, we are furnished with the following curious remarks, by Mr. Crofton Croker - which we think well worth submitting, for the consideration of the curious in such matters.

" 'The hackin, says that amusing old tract, entitled, 'Round about our Coal Fire,' 'must be boiled by day-break, or, else, two young men must take the maiden [i. e. the cook] by the arms, and run her round the market-place, till she is ashamed of her laziness.' Brand, whose explanation Hone, in his Everyday Book, has adopted, renders hackin by 'the great sausage;' and Nares tells us, that the word means 'a large sort of sausage, being a part of the cheer provided for Christmas festivities,' - deriving the word from hack, to cut or chop. Agreeing in this derivation, we do not admit Nares's explanation. Hackin, literally taken, is mince-meat of any kind; but Christmas mince-meat, everybody knows, means a composition of meat and suet (hacked small), seasoned with fruit and spices. And from the passage above quoted, that 'the hackin must be boiled [i. e. boiling] by daybreak,' it is obvious, the worthy archdeacon, who, as well as Brand and Hone, have explained it as a great sausage, did not see that hackin is neither more nor less than the old name for the national English dish of plum-pudding.

"We have heard first rate authorities, upon this subject, assert -the late Dr. Kitchener and Mr. Douce were amongst the number, -that plum-pudding -the renowned English plum-pudding - was a dish, comparatively speaking, of modern invention: and that plum-porridge was its ancient representative. But this, for the honor of England, we never would allow, -and always fought a hard battle upon the point. Brand, indeed, devotes a section of his observations on popular antiquities to ' Yuledoughs, mince-pies, Christmas-pies, and plum-porridge,' omitting plum-pudding, -which new Christmas dish, or rather, new name for an old Christmas dish, appears to have been introduced with the reign of the 'merry monarch,' Charles II. A revolution always creates a change in manners, fashions, tastes, and names; -and our theory is that, among other changes, the hackin of our ancestors was then baptized plum pudding. In Poor Robin's Almanac for 1676, it is observed of Christmas, -'good cheer doth so abound as if all the world were made of minced-pies, plum-pudding, and furmity.' And we might produce other quotations, to show that, as the name hackin fell into disuse, about this period, it was generally supplanted by that of plum-pudding."

Plum-pudding is a truly national dish; and refuses to flourish out of England. It can obtain no footing in France. A Frenchman will dress like an Englishman, swear like an Englishman, and get drunk like an Englishman; but if you would offend him forever, compel him to eat plum-pudding. A few of the leading restaurateurs, wishing to appear extraordinary, have plum-pudding upon their cartes; but in no instance is it ever ordered by a Frenchman. Everybody has heard the story of St. Louis -Henri Quatre, -or whoever else it might be -who, wishing to regale the English ambassador, on Christmas-day, with a plum-pudding, procured an excellent receipt for making one; which he gave to his cook, with strict injunctions that it should be prepared with due attention to all particulars. The weight of the ingredients, the size of the copper, the quantity of water, the duration of time, -everything was attended to except one trifle; -the king forgot the cloth; and the pudding was served up, like so much soup, in immense tureens, to the surprise of the ambassador,-who was, however, too well bred to express his astonishment.

And, lo! through its windows, just caught in the distance, the last flutter of the coat-tails of old Father Christmas! - Our Revels are, indeed, ended !

The Book of Christmas, Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling, and Festivities of the Christmas Season.
By Thomas K. Hervey, Complete in one Volume.
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The Pudding Mixture

3 Cups (lightly packed down)
— crumbs from homemade type white bread-a 1/2-lb. loaf, crust on, will do it.
1 Cup each: black raisins, yellow raisins, and currants, chopped
1 1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg; more if needed
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, melted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
few drops of almond extract
1/2 Cup bitter orange marmalade
1/2 Cup rum or bourbon whiskey, heated before serving
sprigs of holly, optional
2 Cups Zabaione Sauce

Zabaione Sauce:

(Makes about 2 cups)
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
small pinch of salt
1/3 Cup rum or bourbon whiskey (or Marsala or sherry)
1/3 Cup dry white French vermouth
1/2 Cup sugar
Julia Child, The Way to Cook (copyright 1989 by Knopf).
Notes : For about 6 cups baked in an 8-cup mold, serving 12 or more
Contributor: Epicurus

Flaming and serving:

Pour the hot rum or whiskey around the pudding. Either ignite it in the kitchen and rapidly bring it forth, or flame it at the table. Serve the following Zabaione Sauce separately.

Zabaione Sauce:

Whisk all the ingredients together for 1 minute in a stainless saucepan. Then whisk over moderately low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick, foamy, and warm to your finger-do not bring it to the simmer and scramble the eggs, but you must heat it enough for it to thicken. Serve warm or cold. Ahead-of-time note: The sauce will remain foamy for 20 to 30 minutes, and if it separates simply beat it briefly over heat. If you wish to reform the sauce, whisk in a stiffly beaten egg white.


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