Christmas puddings are every bit as much a part of a quintessential British Yuletide as Christmas crackers, greetings cards and mince pies.
Like many British festive traditions, puddings have a strong link to Victorian times – as this rhyme of the age suggests:
“Oh hurrah for the holiday season!
All hail to its puddings and plums
Great blessings upon the dear children
For whom this sweet Christmastide comes.”
First came the medieval plum porridge or plum pottage, made from meat and dried fruits and somewhat more liquid in consistency than the solid puddings we know today. British monarch George I (1660-1727) is known to have served plum pudding on his Christmas Day menu, but Prince Albert is credited with solidifying the rich, heavy, fruit-laden puddings as a festive staple in the 19th century. His pudding of choice was meat-free apart from beef suet. Victorians introduced the notion of steaming or boiling puddings in basins. The belief has long been held that Christmas pudding should contain 13 ingredients to honour Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples.
Adding charms to puddings is akin to putting dried peas or beans in Twelfth Night cakes. The person finding the pea/bean would be ‘crowned’ king or queen for the night. Put another way, good fortune had befallen them. Charms served a similar purpose. Coins indicated worldly fortune, thimbles were for a life of God’s blessings and rings suggested imminent marriage. Such silver charms can be purchased to this day.
Stir-up Sunday is the traditional day for making Christmas puddings and falls the Sunday before the first weekend of Advent. The term comes from the opening words of the collect in the Book of Common Prayer 1549:
“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.”
This would serve as a reminder to get the pudding made this very Sunday in late November, allowing time for it to mature in flavour. But there was also an inherent belief built into the message that the pudding would give God’s blessing to all who ate it – as long as the pudding was made on the special ‘stir-up’ day. All the family traditionally got involved in the stirring of the pudding, each person making a secret wish as they stirred. The stirring had to be done in an anti-clockwise direction so as not to invoke the work of the devil. This was also a tribute to the Three Kings who visited Bethlehem: stirring east to west because they travelled from the east to find the infant Jesus.
English poet and author Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) wrote this poem about the celebrated Christmas pudding:
Stirring the Pudding
Stem the currants
Stone the raisins
Chop the peel as fine as fine
Beat the eggs and shred the sweet
Grate the crumbs (no flour in mine)
Freely shake, to make it nice,
All the virtue of the spice
Pour the brandy liberally
Stir and wish, then, three times three.
Christmas Pudding Recipes
We love Nigella’s “Ultimate Christmas Pudding”, using Pedro Ximenez sherry – which is a sweet, dark and sticky sherry with a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle. You’ll find the recipe on Pages 137 to 139 of the book “Nigella Christmas”. We also treasure the tried and trusted recipe from Delia Smith.
Christmas Puddings We Love
figgys.co.uk – Figgy’s is a small award-winning company run by husband and wife team Richie and Jo Evans in Devon, who make their puddings by hand and don’t mass-produce them. This means getting your order in early for Christmas or risk missing out.
fortnumandmason.com – Fortnum & Mason’s “Christmas Pudding – No Gluten-Containing Ingredients” ensures most everyone can enjoy the pleasures of Christmas pudding. This version is made with no gluten-containing ingredients, is generously infused with Fortnum’s Cognac and Pusser’s Rum and made with crunchy almonds, sharp lemon zest and delicious spices.
bettys.co.uk – We delight in the old world charm of Betty’s tea rooms and shops and the scrumptious goods on offer there. The moreish Christmas puddings are no exception.
thecarvedangel.com – The Carved Angel: quirky name, delicious puddings. You can try Irish Cream Christmas Puddings, Rich Chocolate and Ginger Christmas Pudding, Double Chocolate Cherry Christmas Pudding with Kirsch and White Chocolate and Cranberry Christmas Pudding. There’s surely something there to suit almost any palate.
Elf Helper: Interested in Christmas Pudding Charms? You can purchase sets of sterling silver charms from Not on the High Street and other stockists. Vivi Celebrations have a traditional set of six. The charms are a horseshoe, a sixpence, a thimble, a wishbone and a bachelor’s button. Vivi also have a luxury set of six charms that are larger and more detailed and also sets of nine luxury charms.