Christmas pudding also known as plum pudding is a type of pudding traditionally served as part of the Christmas dinner in the UK, Ireland and in other countries where it has been brought by Irish and British immigrants.
Despite the name “plum pudding”, the pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins.
It is traditionally composed of thirteen ingredients, symbolizing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, including many dried fruits held together by egg and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle or molasses and flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and other spices.
The rich and heavy pudding is boiled or steamed. The pudding is very dark, almost black, and is saturated with brandy, dark beer, or other alcohols. The puddings used to be boiled in a “pudding cloth,” but today they are usually made in basins.
Christmas pudding is often decorated with a sprig of holly (to bring good luck).
Traditionally, the pudding is made on Stir Up Sunday. That’s about five weeks before Christmas, or the last Sunday before the Christian season of Advent.
Christmas pudding has its roots in medieval English sausages, when fat, spices and fruits (the best preservatives of their day) were mixed with meats, grains and vegetables and packed into animal stomachs and intestines so they would keep as long as possible.
The first records of plum puddings date to the early 15th century, when “plum pottage,” a savory concoction heavy on the meat and root vegetables, was served at the start of a meal.
By the end of the 16th century, dried fruit was more plentiful in England and plum pudding made the shift from savory to sweet.
By 1650 it had become the traditional Christmas pudding.
The Puritans banned Christmas puddings in 1664, as they were trying to turn Christmas into a fast day. They described the desserts as ‘sinfully rich’ and ‘unfit for God-fearing people’. Fortunately, King George I brought them back in 1714, as he had tasted and enjoyed plum pudding.
Rich Victorians often cooked their Christmas puddings in fancy moulds (like the ones used to make jelly). They were often in the shape of towers or castles. Normal people had to make do with the traditional spherical shape.
People put silver coins into Christmas puddings as it’s said to bring luck to the person who finds it. Traditionally, a silver sixpence was used, but the closest coin to that nowadays is a five pence piece.
Other items, also known as tokens or favours, that can be placed in a Christmas pudding, include:
Bachelor’s Button – if found by a single man, he will be single for the next year
Old Maid’s Thimble – if found by a single woman, she will be single for the next year
A ring – the finder will get married or become rich in the next year
A wishbone – the finder will have good luck
An anchor charm – the finder will have a safe year, with the charm protecting them from danger
Becouse of an alcohol content in the pudding, it can be lit at the table as a display. This represents Jesus’s love and power.
The Christmas pudding can last over a year; the alcohol content of the pudding prevents it from spoiling during this time. Many families keep one back from Christmas to be eaten at another celebration later in the year, often at Easter.