Plum pudding: n. also known as Christmas pudding, because (surprise!) it’s traditionally eaten on Christmas Day. It’s a dark dense rich sweet mixture of dried fruits, nuts, suet, bread crumbs and egg which is steamed in a mold over simmering water for several hours. Although it took its final form in Victorian England, the pudding’s origins can be traced back well before that. According to Wikipedia, it emerged not as a confection or a dessert at all, but as a way of preserving meat at the end of the season. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative – mince pies, actually – which plum pudding tastes a lot like. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding, however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times. This was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added.
All you can see in this picture is the blue flame from the warm brandy my daughter just poured over our Christmas dessert.
The recipe I’ve been making for thirty years is from James Beard, and requires drenching the fruits and nuts in brandy or rum, a quarter cup every day for several days, till all is plump and drunken. The chopping of all the fruits was a sticky family affair which the kids really got into. (I got into the brandy…) The rest of the ingredients are added just before steaming. Well wrapped, it keeps well for a couple of years (in the frig) – which is nice because it means you only have to go through the fuss every other year.
Beard used to call it “Ten-Day Plum Pudding” when I found it in Gourmet Magazine so long ago. Now it’s “Five DayPlum Pudding...” Sign of the times that even plum pudding making has a speedy version. It’s not quite the same as my recipe, but I’m sure it’s excellent.
A few years ago I turned my molds over to my daughter, who is now our pudding maker.
She does it beautifully and we still love the stuff, but we all agreed that we’re ready for a different flaming Christmas dessert next year.