- A Victorian family gather to stir the Christmas pudding for luck. Christmas card of 1871 or 1872. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Of all the bountiful fare that graces the festive board at Xmas time, surely this pudding of all puddings receives the most enthusiastic welcome. Here comes the plum pudding !! Watch the eager anticipation of every member of the family – and is it not more than justified – could there possibly be anything more richly flavoured than the delectable richness of the cunningly mixed fruits and spices.
(Practical Cookery for All by Blanche Anding et al, c.1946)
November the twenty-sixth really sees the start of the preparation for Christmas in the New Forest. For that is the traditional date on which the Gypsies are allowed to start picking holly to sell at local markets and to make wreaths. Already they have filled their sacks with moss gathered from the boggy paths on the side of the hill above Abbots Well. This moss is used in foundations of wreaths…..On Christmas Eve the kitchen is very busy place. Although the cake and puddings have been made for several weeks there are still the mince pies to make, the chestnut stuffing to mix, vegetables to prepare, the trifle to make and the cake to decorate.
(A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (pp, 20-23))
The countdown to Christmas has begun. For some, that statement will induce feelings of anxiety, for others, pure excitement and joy. For me, it is a mixture of both. However, now is the time to start getting organised in the kitchen, preparing menus, stockpiling your store cupboard, making your Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat. It is also a good time to keep an eye out for bargains at your local supermarket, come 1st December, prices start to rise.
- A Victorian family being served a huge flaming plum pudding at the end of their Christmas dinner. Illustration from “Eight Happy Holidays” published by E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1882.
In Britain this year, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ took place on the 23rd November and in 2015 it will be 22nd November. Panic not if you forgot to prepare your cake and pudding on the 23rd because you have still about a week to get organised. Don’t leave making these Christmas staples until the last minute, dried fruit needs time to absorb the alcohol which is what gives both cake and pudding that lovely rich taste and moist texture. Your Christmas cake will need to be topped-up with alcohol (known as ‘feeding your cake’) on a weekly basis until the big day.
I was recently approached by Spun Gold tv who make the popular weekly cookery show, Weekend Kitchen With Waitrose, for Channel 4 (Saturdays, 9am). Spun Gold asked me to help them with research for a forthcoming segment they were running on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. It was very good timing, I had been researching forgotten Christmas foods and customs for quite a few months. In addition, I also lent the production team a selection of vintage cookery cookbooks from my collection.
The full episode (Series 2, Show 10, 22.11.14), can be viewed here and more details about the items featured in the segment, including replica silver pudding charms, can be found here. The episode is also be repeated on the UK Good Food Channel, Saturday 29th November, 11am and 4pm, more information here.
I am delighted with the finished segment, the production and presenting team (Lisa Snowdon, Steve Jones and Angellica Bell) did a fabulous job. Frumenty (see below) certainly divided the presenters! A special mention must also go to Weekend Kitchen’s excellent Assistant Producer Claire Paine who coordinated the research with myself. Claire has just started-up the excellent food blog, ‘Claire-en-Croute’ (http://claire-en-croute.com/), do have a look, it is very good.
I have reprinted below a selection of the best Christmas pudding, cake and mince pie recipes taken from my collection of vintage cookbooks. You will find recipes from the Victorian era right through to the 1960s. Hope you find a recipe that catches your eye. Don’t forget to send me images of your retro recreations or Tweet me @emmahistorian.
- Vintage engraving from 1868 after the painting by Thomas Webster (1800-1886) a Victorian family sit down for their Christmas Dinner.
The origins of ‘Stir-up Sunday’ date back to the sixteenth century. In the Book of Common Prayer (1549), the following passage would be read-out to Anglican congregations on the last Sunday before Advent (or the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity):
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.
Traditionally, stir-up Sunday is a communal event when family come together to help stir both pudding and cake mixture. Prince Albert (1819-1861) is thought to have encouraged the family element of stir-up Sunday, during the Victorian era. There should be thirteen ingredients in a Christmas pudding, the number represents Christ and his twelve disciples. The mixture should be stirred from east to west in honour of The Three Wise Men. The sprig of holly placed on the top of the pudding represents the crown of thorns on Christ’s head.
- Cast of Love Lies, Gaiety Theatre Making A Christmas Pudding (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
- Medieval Christmas feast – illustration by Birket Foster, 1872. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
History of The Christmas/Plum Pudding
The solid Christmas pudding, that we recognise today, would have once been a liquid porridge made from wheat flour. In Medieval England, frumenty was a classic grain pottage, made with almond milk, boiled beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, spices and wine. Other variations on this recipe include: chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge and rabbit, sugar apples, raisins candied oranges and lemons. The fourteenth century, cookbook Forme of Cury , written c.1390 by chief master cooks of King Richard II, (1367-1400), contains a recipe for frumenty with porpoise (‘furmente with porpays’).
- Christmas pudding ceremony at Greenwich Spaman’s Hospital, London, they are aboard a model of a hospital ship, ‘dreadnought’, Lady Stonehaven, Father Christmas and Father Neptune stir the pudding. 1931, 10th December. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that this liquid dish evolved into a pudding thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and flavoured with ale and spirits. In 1664, Puritans banned this type of pudding, along with mince pies, considering it to be a lewd custom, packed full of far too rich ingredients that could over stimulate the senses. It also contained alcohol, which of course for the puritans was a big ‘no no’. In 1714, King George I (1660-1727) re-introduced the pudding as part of the Christmas festive meal. As the eighteenth century progressed, meat was gradually replaced by all sweet ingredients.
- A vintage colour Christmas greeting featuring a couple offering ‘Every Good Wish’, published c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Christmas pudding is sometimes referred to as ‘plum pudding’. However, before the Victorian era, plum was actually the culinary term for raisins. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, plum pudding was also called ‘plum porridge’ and was the first course at Christmas dinner. Similar to frumenty, plum porridge was made with boiled beef or mutton and when the meat was half-cooked, the broth was thickened with brown bread. Then currants, raisins, ginger, mace, prunes and cloves were added and the mixture then returned to the boil.
This porridge was sent to the table with the meat and eaten with it. Before the nineteenth century, wealthy families also ate a boar’s head which was in fact the first dish brought in for Christmas dinner. This stunning centrepiece was adorned with garlands, a lemon stuffed in its mouth and had its tusks left on. The boar’s entrance was pure theatre.
- British comedians Eric Morecambe (1926 – 1984), left, and Ernie Wise stir up a Christmas pudding with actor Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000) outside a mock-up of the doorway to Number 10 Downing Street, at Thames Television’s Teddington Studios during the making of their Christmas show. Original Publication: People Disc – HK0409 (Photo by Wesley/Getty Images)
- Historian Ruth Goodman shows how to make an authentic Victorian Christmas pudding. Uploaded to You Tube 26.11.2011.
The ‘pudding cloth’ or ‘clout’ was first introduced in the seventeenth century. The cloth (usually muslin) contained the wet ingredients in a round bundle securely tied around the top and boiled in the family cauldron (see Ruth Goodman’s demonstration above). Writer, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) describes the practice of using a wooden bowl as well as a pudding cloth. This bundle was boiled upside down in the steaming pot:
..put a linen cloth or handkerchiefs over the mouth of the dish [wooden bowl] and reverse the mouth downwards, so that you may tie the napkin close with two knots; by the corners cross or with a strong thread, upon the bottom of the dish then turned upwards all which is, that the matter may not get out, and yet the boiling water get through the line upon it on one side enough to bake the pudding sufficiently. The faster it boils, the better it will be. The dish will turn and rowl up and down in the water, as it gallopeth in boiling. An hour’s boiling is sufficient.
In Scotland, a variation on the Christmas pudding is the ‘clootie dumpling’. A wet mixture consisting of flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, sugar, suet, spice and milk is then wrapped in a floured cloth and boiled in a large saucepan.
I must not forget to tell you, Eloise, that any of the above sort of puddings, no matter what made of, if sweet or savoury, is preferable made in a basin to being put in a cloth, which is often very dirty in appearance; while, if boiled in a basin, the paste receives all the nutriment of the meat, which, if boiled in a cloth, would evaporate in the water, if by neglect it ceases boiling. If you wish to turn it well out, thoroughly grease the inside of your basin when making. On pudding cloths: A pudding cloth, however coarse, ought never to be washed with soap; it should be dried as quickly as possible, and kept dry and free from dust, and in a drawer or cupboard free from smell.
(Soyer’s Shilling Cookery For The People by Alexis Soyer, 1860, p.103)
Christmas Pudding Charms
In the 1850s, particularly in Germany, tiny silver pudding charms were added to the mixture before cooking. There were usually six charms: boot (travel); wishbone (granting of a wish); thimble (bad luck, predicting spinsterhood); horseshoe (good luck); bell and bachelor’s button (lucky for a man). Depending on which charm you found in your pudding portion this would indicate whether you would be ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ the following year.
It is sometimes possible to pick-up Victorian pudding charms in antique markets or on e-bay etc and reproductions are widely available on the internet. All these items come with the usual modern-day health and safety precautions. Old-fashioned replica Christmas pudding charms can be brought from Vivi Celebrations or The Charmworks.
- Two Belgian soldiers having a Christmas meal in a dry corner of a flooded trench on the Western Front during World War One, circa December 1915. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Ingredients: ½ lb each of: beef suet, sultanas, currants, seeded raisins, breadcrumbs (white), ¼ lb each of: flour, chopped candied peel, blanched almonds and brown sugar. Grated rind of 1 lemon, ½ gill of brandy or rum, 6 eggs, ½ a grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoonful mixed spice, ½ teaspoonful salt. Method: Clean and pick the fruit and chop the almonds. Sift the flour, salt, and spices together. Add the finely shredded suet and rub it into the flour. Add the fruit and other ingredients. Mix all well together. Add the brandy. Tie in a greased and floured pudding cloth or basin, and boil for 6 hours. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Ingredients: ½ lb of flour, suet, sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, carrot (raw and grated), brown sugar, peeled raw potato (grated). 1 teaspoonful each of: mixed spice, grated nutmeg and cinnamon, grated rind of lemon. ¼ lb of shelled, coarsely chopped, almonds. 1 large wineglass of rum or brandy or sherry. Method: Mix all ingredients together, put into basins. Steam eight hours, and use as required. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) An old family recipe about 1713.
Ingredients: 1 lb shredded Atora suet, 2 lb raisins, 1 lb currants, 1 lb sultanas, ½ lb candied peel, ¾ lb sugar, 2 teaspoonfuls baking powder, ¾ lb flour, 2 ozs sweet almonds. Rind and juice of 1 lemon. 6 eggs. 1 lb breadcrumbs. ½ nutmeg. 1 eggspoonful of salt, milk, sufficient to make right consistency. ¼ pint rum. Methods: Clean currants, stone raisins, put all the dry ingredients into a basin, blanch and chop almonds, add eggs, well beaten, grated rind of lemon, and the juice strained. Mix all thoroughly, put into greased pudding basins, cover with greased paper and steam 6 hours. Sufficient mixture for 4 puddings. The Recipe Book of Atora: The Good Beef Suet (1932)
(Plum Pudding) Ingredients: 12 oz flour, 1 lb beef suet, 1lb stoned raisins, 1 lb Tate & Lyle’s caster sugar, ¾ lb breadcrumbs, ½ lb tart apples, ¼ lb almonds, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon ground mace, ¾ pint old ale, 2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup, ½ lb picked sultanas, ½ lb cleaned currants, ½ lb minced candied peel, 6 eggs, ½ nutmeg, 1 orange, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Method: Prepare the fruit. Put apples, peeled and cored, through a mincer with the peel and raisins. Blanch and chop almonds. Sift flour with spices and salt. Remove gristle and skin from suet and put suet through mincer with 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to prevent it sticking. Mix all the dry ingredients in a basin. Stir in the grated lemon and orange rind. Make a hollow in centre. Add syrup, well-beaten eggs, and strained fruit juice. Lastly stir in ale, or substitute 1 glass of sherry and a glass of rum for ale. Cover pudding mixture. Stand 24 hours to ripen. Pack into well-buttered pudding basis. Cover with buttered papers and then with a pudding cloth. Plunge into boiling water, coming almost half way up the sides. Steam for 7 or 8 hours, keeping saucepan replenished with boiling water when necessary. To serve pudding, remove from pan, stand for 4 minutes, remove coverings and turn gently on to a hot dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate with a spring or two of holly. Pour over a glass of brandy or rum, and set fire to it. Serve with brandy butter or brandy custard. More Every-Day Dishes Edited by Elizabeth Craig (1930s)
One dish of crushed whole wheat, sugar, spice, and raisins and skimmed new milk, simmered in a jar in the oven, or at the back of the stove overnight. It can be eaten hot or cold. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.23)
- Colour lithographic illustration advertising the Centenary of Atmore’s mince meat plum pudding, Philadelphia, PA, 1876. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Crusader’s Pie! The mince pie dates from the days of the Crusaders. It used to be called the ‘Christ’s Cradle’ and was oblong in shape instead of round. The Crusaders said the spices put into it represented the gifts of the Wise Men to the Holy Child, and the crust represented the cradle.
Ingredients: 1lb of cooking apples, 1lb of currants, 1lb of sultanas, 1lb of raisins, 1lb of chopped or shredded suet, 1lb of soft brown sugar, 1/4 lb of minced candied peel, 4 ozs of finely minced blanched almonds, 1/4 a level teaspoonful of mixed spice, 1/2 a level teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/2 a lemon, 1 large wineglass full of brandy. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.25)
How To Make Mincepies
- British magazine advertisement for mincemeat c.1930. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Method: When the paste (pastry) has had the necessary number of turns, roll it out to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness, and line some large-sized patty-pans with it. Fill with mincemeat, cover with paste (pastry), brush over lightly with cold water, and dredge with castor sugar. Bake in a moderately hot oven from 25 to 30 minutes, and serve either hot or cold. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.
Method: Make 8 oz flaky pastry, and roll it out to ½ inch in thickness. Cut the required number of rounds to make lids for the patty tins to be used. Fold up the trimmings, roll 1/8 inch thick and cut out rounds to line the tins, making the rounds a size larger than the tins to allow for the depth. Line the tins, fill with mincemeat, damp the edges and put on the pastry lids. Decorate the edges with tiny flutes, make a hole with a skewer in the top of each and glaze with egg white and sugar. Bake in a hot oven (450F, mark 8) for 20-30 minutes.
Ingredients: 1 large apple (minced finely), 2 ozs each sultanas, seeded raisins, currants, and sugar, grated rind and juice of 1 lemon – more if liked. 1 oz candied peel, finely chopped. ½ teaspoonful cinnamon, ¼ teaspoonful mixed spice, 1 teaspoonful melted butter, 1oz chopped nuts, 1 tablespoonful sherry or brandy. Method: Mix all the ingredients well together. NB if brandy is used the mince will keep well. Line patty tins with pastry; fill with mince; brush round edges with water. Cover with pastry. Decorate edges with a fork. Brush over with beaten egg. Bake at No. 6 (gas) for short crust, No. 7 (gas) for rough puff pastry. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Vintage Advice On The Culinary Countdown To Christmas
Mrs Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey (1947):
- Before the end of November make the Christmas cake and puddings.
- During the first week in December make mincemeat.
- During the second week in December ice and decorate the Christmas cake.
- Make some plain good keeping cakes such as Madeira, Parkins or gingerbread, a few dishes with no fruit in are acceptable at Christmas time.
- December 22nd and 23rd, make flaky pastry and set aside in a cool place. Make such things as biscuits, sponge cakes, jam rolls and flans, cheese straws buns.
- December 24th make mince pies and sausage rolls and other pastries. Make cold supper dishes both sweet and savoury. Boil tongue or ham, make hard sauce for pudding, stew giblets, prepare bread sauce and stuffing. Singe, stuff, and truss the bird and put it in the roasting tin, prick sausages and cook these to be served cold on Boxing Day.
- December 25th, put pudding on to boil early. Heat oven and put bird in. Head bread sauce and put under a cosy till wanted. Prepare vegetables, parboil potatoes and put under a cosy or round the bird, cook greens, skim giblet stock, remove the bird ¼ hour before serving and pour off dripping, then boil up the giblet stock in the pan for gravy it will not need any thickening, but strain it into a tureen or jug and keep hot till wanted. Dish up, and serve – carving will be speeded up considerably if it is begun in the kitchen, by cutting several slices from the breast and removing wing, leg and thigh from one side of the bird, the uncut side should be carried “right side out” and if possible kept to make a second dinner on Boxing Day.
Good Housekeeping’s Modern Hostess (1959):
- The following time-table may be used as a guide is based on preparing a 14 lb turkey for dinner at one o’clock. 8.45am Light oven and set to moderate heat (350F, mark 4). 9am Put in turkey. Allow 15 minutes per 1lb (dressed weight) up to 14 lb; 10 minutes per lb for a heavier bird. Baste every ½ hour. If aluminium foil is used, remove it ½ hour before the end of the cooking time, in order to brown the bird. An alternative way of roasting a turkey is by the long, slow method. Cook in a very slow (250F mark ½), for the following times: 6-12 lbs 20 mins. Per lb and 1 hour 20 mins. Over 13-20 lbs. 14 mins. Per lb and 2 ¼ hours over.
- 10am Put pudding on to steam. 11am Lay table with silver, cutlery, glasses, etc., arrange dessert, prepare wines, set out coffee tray, etc. 11.30am Boil potatoes for 3 minutes, and meanwhile heat some dripping in a tin. Put the drained potatoes in this and place in oven. Put onion to infuse in milk for bread sauce.
- 12.15pm Put sausages round bird and turn them occasionally to brown them. Put the plates to warm. 12.30pm Put on water for sprouts and cook them. 12.45pm Dish up bird. Put mince pies in oven to heat up. Make gravy. Prepare coffee. 12.50pm Finish bread sauce, dish up vegetables. 12.55pm Dish pudding and keep with basin over hot water. Turn out oven, dish up mince pies and leave in warm oven. 1pm Serve the dinner.
MORE VINTAGE SEASONAL RECIPES
Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Ingredients: 1 ½ pints wine jelly, 2 ozs walnuts, 1 tablespoonful rum, 2 ozs muscatels (seeded), 1 oz dates, 1 oz glace cherries, washed & dried. 3 ozs blanched dry almonds, 1 oz figs. Method: Make jelly, add rum, a few drops of lemon juice, an inch cinnamon stick. Chop roughly most of fruit and nuts. Pour a little jelly into bottom of wetted mould and set some fruit into patterns. When set pour in half-an-inch of jelly and allow to set. Fill in layers of fruit and jelly alternatively till the mould is full. Set in a cool place.
It was once the custom to celebrate the ‘Feast Of The Stars’ by holding a ‘Twelfth Night’ party. A special cake was baked for the occasion very rich and spicy. It was iced with a blue coloured icing to represent the sky and decorated with silver stars and twelve candles.
A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)
Twelfth Night Cake
Ingredients: 8 ozs of flour, 4 eggs, 8 ozs of sugar, 9 ozs of butter, 1 level dessertspoonful of mixed spice, 6 ozs of currants, 8 ozs of sultanas, 2 ozs of candied peel, 2 ozs of glace cherries and a little milk to mix. Method: Grease a cake tin and line with paper. Prepare the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar together, beat in each egg separately, stir in the sieved flour and spice, fruit, etc., alternately with the milk, adding a little of each at a time. Blend all the ingredients together, put into a prepared tin, and bake in a moderate oven of about 350F for two hours. When cold, ice with pale blue icing and decorate as suggested. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)
Ingredients: 8ozs plain flour, 1 level tsp baking powder, 5 ozs butter, 6 ozs soft brown sugar, 4 eggs, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mixed spice, 8 ozs raisins, 1lb currants, 8 ozs sultanas, 2 ozs glace cherries (halved), 4 ozs mixed peel (chopped), 2 ozs chopped almonds, 1 tablespoons grated lemon rind, 2 ozs rum or sherry. Method: Prepare the fruit. Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices. Warm the beater and bowl. Cream the butter and sugar on speed 2 for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Reduce to minimum speed and tip in the sift flour, then the fruit and lemon rind, switch off as soon as ingredients are incorporated. Turn into a greased tin which has been lined with greased paper and back on a low shelf for approximately 3 ½ hours at 300F. Allow to stand in tin on a rack until cool. Turn out and pour rum over the bottom of the cake and when quite cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. Kenwood Recipe Book (1967).
Eggless Christmas cake from World War Two. Ingredients: 4 ozs carrot (finely grated), 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 ozs sugar, 4 ozs margarine, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, vanilla essence, almond essence, 4-6 ozs dried fruit, 12 ozs self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 small teacup milk (slightly warmed). Method: Cook the grated carrot and syrup over a low heat for a few minutes. Cream the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the carrot and syrup mixture, then beat it into the sugar and margarine mixture, treating it as if it were an egg. Add a half a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond essence, and stir in with the dried fruit. Fold in the flour and cinnamon, and add the warmed milk to make a moist dough. Put the mixture into a greased cake tin. Smooth the top, and make a deep hole in the centre with a spoon, to stop the cake from rising too much during cooking. Put into a hot oven (gas regulo 7) then turn down to a very low heat (gas regulo 2) and bake for 3 hours.
- Christmas Cake preparation, Germany, 1957. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)