This will be the first year in over 40 years that there will be no plum pudding on the table as a climax to Christmas dinner. Even last year in Hong Kong our darling Diane arranged to have one especially for us. It was set aflame at the table and then enjoyed with great dollops of Custard Sauce.
There was a time when I would make my own and perhaps had I thought about it this year I could and should have. But that’s all in the conditional so no point dwelling. In fact there was a time I made Christmas Pudding as gifts – a change from Christmas Cakes but we always left those for our friend John to provide.
In amongst all the silly papers we’ve kept and brought with us to Rome I found the following letter that went with the puddings in 1989.
This pudding is based on a recipe favored by King George VI and still used at Windsor Castle today. Just think you are eating the same pudding as the Queen and all the little royals. Boiled Pudding has been enjoyed in England since the early 16th century but only became the traditional end to Christmas dinner in the late 18th century.
There are several traditions concerning the making of a Christmas Pudding. It is always prepared on “Stir Up” Sunday. That is the Sunday when the English Book of Common Prayer “stirs up” the people to renew their zealous faith in God. It is also the Sunday when the pudding is “stirred up”; always I might add stirring clockwise for good luck. Also it was the custom for each family member to have a stir so the luck would be evenly distributed to one and all. Because I was alone when I “stirred up” this pudding, I thought of each of you with a stir.
The pudding must then be steamed over boiling water for nine hours. This was one tradition that I upheld for many years, much to the delight of our local Hydro company. This year I have followed a microwave method suggested by Madame Benoit.* I did not use a Panasonic or Frigo-seal but I did use PAM. So I hope that Jehan, as she prepares her tortière for the angels, is smiling on me; and me, I’m laughing at the Hydro company.
Another tradition, a legacy of Queen Victoria, was the placing of a bean or trinket in the pudding. The person finding the treasure was said to have good luck in the coming new year. My own experience with this tradition has been that a guest either swallows the bean or thinks it got there by mistake and quietly hides it on their saucer. An incident involving the bean and a choking aunt convinced me that this tradition could go by the wayside.
One tradition that should always be followed is the flaming of the pudding as it is brought to the table. Though this too has led to several incendiary events in my own kitchen I am sure that you will find that this is one tradition that is worth the odd singed eyebrow. The final tradition is to serve the pudding with hard sauce or custard sauce. I’ve always been partial to the former myself but along with the pudding I’ve included recipes for both, courtesy of Martha Stewart.
When speaking with Laurent in Cairo at 4 o’clock this morning I was reminded of one other tradition which was instituted in our household in Mexico several years ago: the eating of cold pudding for breakfast on Boxing Day. I find this a rather revolting tradition but Laurent assures me he enjoys it immensely.
Finally we hope that each one of you has a wonderful Christmas and that you think of us and ours. In Cairo we’ll lift a glass to you and yours. And for us that is what Christmas is all about: traditions and remembrance.
Reading it made me wish I have bothered to “stir up” a pudding for our table this year. But in its place I guess panetone will be brought to the table at the end of the Christmas meal – I’m just not sure how well it will flame!
*Jehane Benoit (1904-was a Canadian treasure. She began her life as a cook using a wood stove and ended up writing one of the definitive books on Microwave cooking. In between she wrote cookbooks, had her own TV programme (in French and English) and was spokesperson for Panasonic and Frigo-seal.
21 decembre – San Pietro Canisio