by Cheryl Campbell
The folktale tells of a King who got lost in a forest on Christmas Eve. He sought help, shelter and food from a poor woodman’s cottage, but the woodman did not have much food either, so the King’s servant was asked to mix the King’s food with that of the woodman’s, the combined ingredients became the first Christmas Pudding, although originally having a different name.
The pudding was made from chopped suet, flour, eggs, apples, dried plums, ale, sugar and brandy, all boiled in a cloth and hung, dangling by a hook to dry.
Due to the use of plums in the Christmas pudding receipt dating back further than the folk tale itself, and being used in various receipts, including one for ‘sweet soup’, the Christmas pudding was originally known as Plum pudding.
The Christmas pudding was originally known as Plum pudding
The pudding became wide spread, and in 1714 King George I ordered it to become part of the official royal Christmas dinner, hence the Christmas pudding name was invented by King George I who reigned from 1714-1727.
Religion always plays a part in life and the Puritan Christians (a religious reform movement arising from the Church of England in the late 16th century) claimed that the dessert was not in line with God’s will, for the ingredients were very rich. King George I took no notice of this, and the Christmas pudding has been a symbol of the holiday season ever since, originally decorated with a Skimmia shrub on top, now replaced with Holly.
Puritan Christians claimed that the dessert was not in line with God’s will, for the ingredients were very rich
The method of cooking and the ingredients of the Christmas pudding has varied over the centuries, at one point people using exactly 13 ingredients, this number representing Jesus and his disciples.
It is said that a proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honour of the 3 wise men that came from the East. To me the truth is more about most people being right handed and therefore finding it easier and more convenient to stir the mixture in a left to right direction. What do you think?
In the Victorian era (1837-1901) it became fashionable to put the ingredients in a suitable basin and steam it, much later it became an even faster and easier accomplishment as the pressure or slow cooker was used for its steaming.
Both the silver three penny and six pence piece were minted during the reign of King Edward VI and one of these coins was added into the pudding, who ever found the coin kept it, representing wealth going into the following year.
Both the silver three penny and six pence piece were minted during the reign of King Edward VI and one of these coins was added into the pudding
The silver three pence piece only lasted from 1547-1553, after which the coin was minted in alloy. Alloy was said to contaminate the Christmas pudding ingredients, hence the custom of using the three pence piece was stopped. The silver six pence piece however, continued on, right until decimalation in 1971, hence I can remember mixing it into our own ingredients, and one of us getting it in our piece of the Christmas pudding. We were all very aware of the sixpence in the pudding, this was all part of the excitement and anticipation of Christmas, so there was no fear of us biting on the coin and hurting our teeth, or swallowing or choking on it, as had happened centuries before!
The six pence in the pudding produced a lot of fun, excitement, and often disappointment to the ones who didn’t get it, but it was all part and parcel of the fun of Christmas and taken in that spirit the disappointment soon disappeared.
Today many families have their own receipes for Christmas pudding, passed down from generations, or even obtained from many television chefs, who use the idea of the flammable brandy to set the pudding alight with much flamboyance for entertainment.
We were all very aware of the sixpence in the pudding, this was all part of the excitement and anticipation of Christmas
In 1843, in his book A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens described the scene of bringing the Christmas pudding to the table as:
Once turned out of its basin, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or "fired"), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause.
I do not remember greeting our Christmas pudding with a round of applause, but I’m sure in some traditions and at some tables, this custom may well take place.
We can now buy Christmas puddings from many outlets, but those who make their own often prepare it weeks or months ahead, perhaps this is to honour their history, or maybe just to allow the flavours to mature.