Sweet, sticky and intensely rich, the Christmas pudding is as much a part of the British festive season as holly and mistletoe. Somehow, Christmas dinner isn’t complete without a slice of this fruit-laden dish, preferably topped with blazing brandy.
The Christmas pudding has its origins back in the Middle Ages when a type of porridge, known as pottage, was traditionally made in the run-up to Christmas. Unlike today’s recipes, this was a thick mixture of meat, spices and dried fruit.
Over the centuries, the ingredients changed with the meat element being dropped and replaced with breadcrumbs, eggs and alcohol, making a dish that was more like the pudding we enjoy today.
Confusingly, it’s sometimes known as ‘plum pudding’, the name referring to the dried fruit – plums have never been one of the ingredients.
As with many Christmas customs, the pudding is surrounded by superstition, not least when you are supposed to make it. ‘Sir Up Sunday’, the last before Advent, is when the mixture should be prepared and cooked.
Stirring should be from East to West – to remember the Wise Men of the Christmas story – and every member of the family should take a turn while making a wish.
It is said the pudding should contain just 13 ingredients, to symbolise Jesus and his disciples, while the holly that is often put on top of the pudding before serving represents the crown of thorns.
Tokens have often been included in the mix, most commonly silver coins. The person who received this in their slice was guaranteed good luck for the following year. Other tokens included rings to show a forthcoming marriage and a button – a single man getting this wouldn’t marry for at least a year.
Such was the importance of the pudding to Christmas celebrations, during the Victorian era clubs were started to help the poor save up for the ingredients.
And it’s probably the only pudding to be banned. When the Puritans came to power after the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell outlawed it in 1647 along with other elements of Christmas, such as carol singing, as they were deemed too close to both Catholic idolatry and paganism.
Thankfully, the ban was lifted with the restoration of the monarchy and Christmas pudding once again became part of the Christmas season.