Having lived in Denmark for over 40 years, there are fewer and fewer things that still make me feel truly British. However, one such event is coming around shortly – no, not Halloween nor Guy Fawkes Night, but the annual Christmas Pudding making weekend.
In the Gadd kitchen, the last weekend of October becomes “some corner of a foreign field [or Søborg at least!] that is forever England”.
The late October date was chosen largely because it is close to my daughter’s birthday. When she still lived at home, making the pudding was a great excuse for a bit of serious father-daughter bonding. It also allowed enough time for the pudding to mature before the great day.
Like Marmite, Christmas Pudding really divides the waters: you either love it or you hate it. Last year, the Evening Standard in Britain reported that “sales of Christmas Puddings are said to have declined in recent years – with millennials apparently displaying a preference for panettone”. This may change post-Brexit of course, as any true Brexiteer should resolutely turn their back on this upstart foreign import.
Anyway back to chez Gadd, where Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a large helping of that dark, rich, spicy, aromatic, boozy fruit overload – a sceptred isle swimming in a sea of almond-flavoured sweet white sauce.
From coffin to cannonball
There is some doubt about the history of the Christmas Pudding, but it is fairly safe to say the all-fruit version we know today has its origins in a pastry ‘coffin’ containing minced meat as well as fruit – and another dish known as a plum pottage. Recipes for the latter date back to the 17th century.
In ‘The Cookery of England’, Elizabeth Ayrton cites a recipe from Edinburgh from around 1700, which is rather like the modern pudding. Eliza Acton specifically calls a round pudding comprised of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices topped with holly a Christmas Pudding in her 1845 book ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families’.
Part of ‘plugging into my roots’ is to use a recipe my mum used and got from her mother. The first year I used it I hadn’t realised it made two puddings, so we had one ready for the following year as well.
When Mum died, I also inherited her steamer. This formidable three-tier Victorian steel affair is now a rich mahogany-colour through use. It was also owned by my grandmother and was second-hand when she bought it, so it must be around 150 years old.
Full steam ahead
The whole process takes two days – mixing the ingredients on day one before leaving it overnight, and then steaming the pudding for seven hours the next day.
Before the mixture goes into basins, everyone in the household (including the cats!) stirs it and makes a wish. Unfortunately, we’ve had to dispense with the silver coins and lucky charms I remember from my childhood – apart from the risk to our guests’ teeth, silver coins are not easy to come by anymore.
Now that my daughter has a family of her own, I’m hoping that one day she will carry on the Christmas Pudding tradition in her own home, using the same recipe and vintage steamer. I’m sure it would make her great-grandmother proud.