Christmas Cheer in June

Posted By on March 28, 2014

If you’ve been following along the progress of our rigging fund, you’ll have seen that one of the ways we’re saying thank you to donors is with an invitation to a special party being held at her launching and commissioning celebration. (June 14th, at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont!)

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The Christmas pudding, soaking in brandy and tightly sealed up to age for a few months until perfect.

Since I’m an overachiever at heart, I’m starting the preparations for that now. When you think of the edible symbols of celebration, maybe you think of birthday cakes or the holiday turkey. Two hundred years ago, one of the major dishes served at holidays such as Christmas was a fruit pudding aged in brandy. They’re a wonderfully comforting treat that has sadly degenerated into today’s theoretically edible yet ageless fruitcake speckled with artificially colored bits of God knows what.

The original 18th century recipes were nothing like that sketchy fruitcake doorstop that’s been being circulated from relative to relative since about 1982. A properly made Christmas pudding is sweet-but-not-cloyingly-so, dense and spicy and filled with fruit and nuts. And, of course, the all important brandy it’s been soaking in for at least a few months and preferably a year or more. They’re boiled for hours on end and then sealed up while hot with enough brandy to keep it preserved for the aging process. The long aging period lets all the flavors mellow and blend together. To serve, you heat it up and serve with (surprise!) more brandy. I’m pretty sure that it’s delicious all on its own, but to be honest all the brandy involved makes it even better – as far as I can remember, anyways.

There are a bunch of recipe variants for boiled fruit puddings in 18th century cookbooks. I turned to my trusty secondary source Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, which seems to have in turn been inspired by Elizabeth Hammond’s Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book from 1819. Fortunately, plagiarism appears to have been rife in early modern culinary circles and it’s not uncommon to see entire chapters copied and pasted from older books into new.

Christmas Pudding Recipe from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, p35-36.

1 cup flour
2 cups soft, fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup dried currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1/3 cup candied orange peel, chopped
1/3 cup candied citron, chopped
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 lb suet, finely grated
3 eggs
3/4 cup brandy

 

 

 

 

 

All the ingredients, ready to go.

All the ingredients, ready to go.

Combine flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Stir in the fruit and nuts. Mix in the suet, then add eggs and 1/2 cup of the brandy. Work the mixture with your hands

Scrape the batter into a greased 6-cup pudding basin. Tie a well-floured cloth over the pudding, leaving room for expansion. Place the pudding in a pot of boiling water, cover, and steam for 5 hours or more. Add more boiling water as the level drops – make sure it’s boiling when added or the cooking will be delayed.

Take the pudding out of the water and let it cool. Remove the cloth, then add the rest of the brandy. Cover tightly and store somewhere cool for at least three weeks. These things will keep for months if not years unrefrigerated.

To serve, tie it back up in a floured cloth and steam for at least two hours. Remove from the pot, take off the cloth, and place on a serving dish. Serve with flaming brandy sauce.

Elizabeth Hammond’s recipe, Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book.

Elizabeth Hammond’s recipe has a lot more suet and eggs, which leads me to suspect that her recipe would be a lot softer and possibly like a quaking pudding in consistency.

Boiled plum or Christmas pudding.
Cut a pound of beef-suet extremely fine, to which add a pound of raisins well stoned, half a pound of currants, picked, cleaned, and dried, some nutmeg, two spoonsful of brandy, two ounces of candied lemon-peel, and one ounce of candied orange-peel shred fine, six well beaten eggs, a gill of cream, and seven or eight table-spoonsful of flour, mix them well, and boil it four hours; when done, serve with melted butter and grated sugar.

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The pudding is now resting quietly in its brandy bath. If you’d like to try a piece, come visit us at the launch celebration on June 14th!

About the author

I’m a museum professional with an MA in Museum Studies and Atlantic History. A lot of my research has been in colonial and maritime history, as well as material culture of the 16th – 19th centuries. I’ve held a lot of weird jobs covering everything from beekeeper to tall ship deckhand. I currently live with my partner on the Canadian border in Vermont.

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