Advent food holidays

Third Sunday in Advent

December 20, 2017

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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.recipe

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.

gab abd kathkitchen

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.

 The Sunday before Advent Sunday (which is also the last Sunday in the Church Year), is sometimes know as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. This is because opening words of the Collect for the day (the main prayer) in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 (used in Anglican Churches) says:

“Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”


Although Christmas Puddings are eaten at Christmas, some customs associated with the pudding are about Easter! The decorative sprig of holly on the top of the pudding is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. Brandy or another alcoholic drink is sometimes poured over the pudding and lit at the table to make a spectacular display. This is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.

In the Middle Ages, holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers. It was often planted near houses in the belief that it protected the inhabitants.

During Victorian times, puddings in affluent homes were often cooked in fancy molds (like the type for gelatin).

Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another age-old custom that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. In the UK the coin traditionally used was a silver ‘six pence’. The closest equivalent in size would be a ten pence coin today. My British friend who does put tokens in her pudding suggested that many people keep old coins just for the pudding. An American alternative could be a quarter.

The tradition seems to date back to the Twelfth Night Cake which was eaten during the festivities on the ‘Twelfth Night’ of Christmas (the official end of the Christmas celebrations). Originally a dried pea or bean was baked in the cake and whoever got it, was ‘king or queen’ for the night. There are records of this practice going back to the court of Edward II (early 1300s). The bean was also sometimes a silver ring or small crown. The first coins used were a Silver Farthing or penny. After WW1 it became a threepenny bit and then a sixpence.

You might also get other items (sometimes called ‘tokens’ or ‘favors’) placed in the Christmas Pudding which also meant to have special meanings:

  • Bachelor’s Button: If a single man found it, they would be single for the following year.
  • Spinster’s/Old Maid’s Thimble: If a single woman found it, they would stay single for the following year.
  • A Ring: If a single person found this, it meant you will get married in the following year! It can also mean you will be rich for the following year.

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.

plum pudding

Plum Pudding

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  • 2 ounces flour
  • 4 ounces suet or butter
  • 4 ounces bread crumbs
  • 4 ounces demerara sugar or light brown sugar
  • 4 ounces chopped dried apricots
  • ounce candied mixed peel or just mixed peel
  • 1 ounce chopped almonds
  • rind and juice of half lemon and half orange
  • 1 green apple chopped
  • 2 ounces dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 ″ (2.5 cm) piece cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of whiskey (omit if you don't like alcohol)


  1. Chop all fruits and nuts finely and dice apple. Place into steamer container. Leave to stand overnight for blending of flavors. Prior to cooking, place lid on pudding mold and cover the mold well with foil. 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 Instant pot for 20 minutes. Once you finish boiling the pudding prior to serving, unwrap pudding once cool enough to touch and unmold from cooking container. Serve with brandy sauce.

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.

Rita’s Brandy Butter

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  • ounce butter
  • ounce powdered sugar
  • 1 ounce good quality brandy
  • 1 dash red food coloring (to make a pink color)


  1. Mix all ingredients together and keep in a covered container in refrigerator until use. Try to refrain from eating the brandy butter before serving

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:

23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

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