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In the weeks before Christmas, we make plum pudding!
My dear friend (of over 20 years), Kathy and I gather at her home to make it. Kathy and her husband are from Ireland, so ours in an Irish plum pudding. Every year, we use the recipe her mother handed down.
This year, our festivities were bittersweet. Kathy’s Mom, Rita, passed away this Fall. We dedicated our cooking to Rita. Kathy buys all the ingredients, and I help with the chopping, mixing and tasting.
Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities. 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.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavor with the addition of beer and spirits.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. Then as now, the “plum” in plum pudding was a generic term for any dried fruit—most commonly raisins and currants, with prunes and other dried, preserved or candied fruit added when available. By the end of the 16th century, dried fruit was more plentiful in England and plum pudding made the shift from savory to sweet. The development of the pudding cloth—a floured piece of fabric that could hold and preserve a pudding of any size—further freed the pudding from dependence on animal products (but not entirely: suet, the fat found around beef and mutton kidneys, has always been a key ingredient).
By the mid-1600s, plum pudding was sufficiently associated with Christmas that when Oliver Cromwell came to power in 1647 he had it banned, along with Yule logs, carol-singing and nativity scenes. To Cromwell and his Puritan associates, such merry-making reminded them of paganism and Roman Catholic idolatry. In 1660, the Puritans were deposed and Christmas pudding, along with the English monarchy, was restored. Fifty years later, England’s first German-born ruler, George I, was styled the “pudding king” after rumors surfaced of his request to serve plum pudding at his first English Christmas banquet. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.
Kathy and I do not put tokens in the pudding, mostly for fear that someone (a child perhaps) might swallow them! But if you would like to, you can.
After the puddings are mixed, we place them into molds. Kathy buys her molds (she uses plastic ones) every summer when she goes home to Ireland. You can buy the metal molds on Amazon but they are kind of pricey.
It can be cooked without a mold. You just need to be sure that whatever you cook it in can hold up to the long cooking. A stainless steel bowl should be fine (just leave room for expansion). I have used wide-mouthed canning jars to make small puddings (i.e. that taper down from the mouth, so the pudding can slide out). An ovenproof ceramic bowl would work as well. Make sure that you seal the top of the bowl with several layers of foil so water can’t get in. I would think the suspended double-boiler set up would work the best, or place the pudding on a steamer rack inside a big pot. Just make sure you don’t run out of water and that the pudding is not touching the bottom of the pot!
The puddings are first boiled for 4 hours (if using an Instantpot steam for 40 minutes). Don’t forget to add water periodically. I set a timer to check every thirty minutes.Store them in a refrigerator until serving. The day you serve, boil for 2 more hours on the stove or heat in the Instantpot for 20 minutes.
Another alternative, suggested by by my English friend Anne is to steam your puds in the oven. She claims it has changed her life.
Our puddings are topped with brandy butter and set aflame. You can follow these instructions.
If you don’t use alcohol, a vanilla custard sauce is an equally nice alternative.
Here are the readings for the third Sunday in Advent
I especially like the prayer at the end of the Epistle: