First recorded in 1858 in a novel by Anthony Trollope, the ‘Christmas pudding’ had previously been referred to as a plum pudding, a slightly blander version of which had been enjoyed as a year-round dessert since medieval times, except during the reign of the Puritans, who declared it sinfully rich and outlawed it! Something of a misnomer, it has never contained any plums, but the word plum used to represent other dried fruit, the staple of this scrumptious tradition, and the name stuck.
Around the time that it became established as a solely seasonal speciality came Christmas pudding charms, tiny silver surprises each representing a different fate for the fortunate or unfortunate finder. A few different variations of these charm sets existed, but the following were commonly added to Christmas pudding mixtures: a coin to represent wealth in the coming year, a wishbone for good luck, a silver thimble for thrift or spinsterdom, a button for an enduring bachelor and an anchor for safe harbour.
We intend for our own traditional Christmas pudding charms to bring only good tidings, and perhaps even the imminent nuptials of the recipient of the wedding bell, but we recommend that they are not concealed by the cook, as is customary, to avoid the risk of any dental or intestinal misfortune!
Like many families, ours has its own cherished Christmas pudding recipe that has been passed down the generations and we’re thrilled to be able to share it with you. Ideally, it would be made two or three months before Christmas, with brandy injected it into it weekly until 25 December, but few of us are so organised!
5oz plain, strong flour
Breadcrumbs from third of a family sized loaf
Two eggs beaten
Third pint milk
3oz soft brown sugar
5oz stoned raisins
5oz mixed fruit
2oz tinned prunes chopped
Third box of fruit peel
Third packet of pitted dates chopped
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1 small apple grated
Third tablespoon mixed spice
Third tablespoon nutmeg
Third dessert spoon vanilla essence
2oz ground almonds
Two tablespoons brandy (plus extra for later addition)
Two tablespoons sherry (plus extra for later addition)
1 In a large bowl, blend together all the dried fruit, peel, prunes, lemon, apple, essences, spice and nutmeg.
2 Work in the flour, breadcrumbs, sugar and softened suet, mixing well.
3 Stir in the eggs, milk and slowly incorporate the brandy and sherry.
4 Thoroughly grease a pudding basin and spoon in the mixture, flattening the surface and then covering it with greaseproof paper and securing over it a calico or muslin pudding cloth.
5 Place the pudding in a large pan with water at least halfway up the basin and boil (or steam in a steamer) for six hours, topping up water as required.
6 Replace the greaseproof paper and pudding cloth with fresh and store the pudding in a cool place.
7 Carefully inject additional brandy and sherry into the heart of the pudding every few days or so, depending on how far in advance it has been made.
8 On Christmas Day, repeat step 5, but for four hours rather than six.
To serve, pop a sprig of holly into the top, dim the dining room lights (for those in the northern hemisphere), pour a couple of tablespoons of brandy over the top and quickly (and carefully!) light the pudding before presenting it to your guests.
Best served with brandy butter/sauce and whipped cream.
Image credit (top): 'The Christmas Pudding' engraved by W. Ridgway after a picture by T. Webster, published in The Art Journal, 1868. Steel engraved antique print. Via ancestryimages.com.