The proof of the (Christmas) pudding – a Great British tradition

Even the most ardent Christmas pudding fan knows it has no claim to being a health food, so it’s just as well this Great British favourite only makes its appearance once a year. We take a look at all things pudding, including traditions, origins and recipes.

Origins of the Christmas pudding

Image: Jay Springett via Creative Commons

Image: Jay Springett via Creative Commons

Our Christmas pudding has its roots in the 15th century. It started life as a savoury pie, a pastry case filled with, among other things, ground beef, dried fruit and butter. In the days before refrigerators, the sugar in the dried fruit helped to extend the shelf life of the dish without using up expensive sugar. Over the centuries, as sugar became cheaper, the dish split into two distinct options – savoury meat pies, and sweet recipes such as mince pies and puddings which contained only fruit. Christmas pudding also owes some of its origins to medieval ‘pottages’, or mixtures of foods boiled in a single pot or cauldron.

In Elizabethan times, adding prunes (dried plums) to the dish became so popular that it gave rise to the name of ‘plum pudding’. The new ‘plum puddings’ were always associated with festivals, but not necessarily for Christmas. Heavy and filling, they became a way of feeding a lot of people for a celebration. It wasn’t until the early Victorian era that the Christmas pudding as we know it really emerged, and contemporary illustrations of Christmas dinners show a perfectly round pudding, topped with a sprig of holly, as the centrepiece of the table.

Christmas pudding traditions

Traditionally, you should make your pudding on the last Sunday before advent, which falls at the end of November. This is known as ‘stir up Sunday’, and each member of the family should be invited to stir the batter and make a wish.

A tradition that’s now less widely practised is that of hiding a coin or charms in the pudding before cooking it. This could be because we’re all more careful of our teeth these days, or because fewer of us make our own puddings!

Finding the coin in your portion of pudding is said to bring luck for the year. You can still buy sets of silver pudding charms, which make lovely family heirlooms. Traditionally there are several to a set, which may include a bell, boot, button, thimble, ring, wishbone or horseshoe. A single man finding the button would stay a bachelor for the coming year, while a woman finding the thimble would also stay single. The ring meant an impending marriage, while the boot depicted travel and the wishbone a wish granted.

Christmas ice fountain, £2.50

Worried about ‘flaming’ your pudding with brandy? This Botanical Christmas Ice Fountain from Talking Tables will bring your Christmas pudding to life safely. Simply place it in the pud, light it and watch as flames spurt out.  £2.50, available from Cotswold Trading. 

Christmas pudding recipes

Such was the popularity of Christmas pudding that Mrs Beeton in her famous book of 1861 offered several recipes, including ‘a plain Christmas pudding for children’. Her ‘main’ recipe consists of dried fruit, eggs, suet, breadcrumbs and a ‘wineglassful of brandy’, all boiled for five or six hours.

Modern recipes tend to be on the lighter side, and use vegetable suet instead of animal fats. All traditional recipes feature dried fruit, spices and candied peel, though for the authentic taste of the season.

Paul Hollywood pudding steamer, £14.99

If you want to cook your pudding in the traditional way, try this Paul Hollywood pudding steamer, £14.99. It has an extra-strong carbon steel construction and an effective non-stick coating – simply pop it in a lidded saucepan with boiling water to cook your pudding. See the Kitchen Craft website for stockists.

Serving accessories

Alessi Christmas plate, £35

After all your hard work, why not show off your pudding in style with this hand-decorated Christmas spiral panettone plate by Alessi? It costs £35 from Black by Design

Christmas pudding paper napkins, £2.99

Serve your pudding in style with this pack of 20 Christmas pudding paper napkins, £2.99 from Ginger Ray.

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