Nothing says more about an English Christmas meal than a flaming plum pud adorned by a sprig of holly. Plum pudding or, as we now know it, Christmas pudding, has been part of our Yuletide festivities since the 15th Century.
It was the Victorians who brought the pudding to us in its current form, but its origins stem from a very different kind of pudding.
With shortages in winter fodder, surplus livestock would be slaughtered in the autumn, giving rise to a corresponding surplus of meat which then needed preserving. This meat would be wrapped in pastry cases, along with dried fruits, which would help preserve it. These large ‘mince pies’ were thus available during the darkest days of winter, when they would be brought out to feed hungry friends and relatives. However, the ancestor of the Christmas pudding took the form of a pottage originating in Roman times, made with meat and vegetables. The pottage would be slow cooked with fruits, sugar and spices to make a sloppy porridge.
Over time, the dish became less savoury as the meat element diminished. The mince pie kept its name, and the pottage became known as plum pudding. By the 1830s plum pudding had become a cannonball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices and was an established part of traditional Christmas fare. At around this time, it became normal to make the pudding around 5 weeks before Christmas (pre-advent), and the whole family would get involved in its making, taking turns to give it a stir and make a wish. Silver coins and charms were added, which could be kept by whoever received it in their portion.
While many families still enjoy the traditions involved in making their Christmas puddings, not everybody these days has the time, or the inclination, to go to all that trouble, so it’s a good job Taunton Farmers Market have several excellent bakers and confectioners who bring their handmade puddings to market at this time of year. Come and visit us this Thursday. We even have a vegan version at From Nature, for those who avoid animal, egg or milk products.
Christmas puddings have a marmite-effect – people either love them or hate them, but if you need a pudding, or anything else, for Christmas, we have just what you’re looking for.