Friday, December 21, 2007

The Traditions of Christmas - Christmas Pudding

Flaming Christmas PuddingThis 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.

Christmas 1989.

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


Lorraine said...

I made a plum pudding once. Flamed it and everything. It was nasty. Thank heaven for hard sauce.

Obviously had the wrong recipe.

Anonymous said...

HAH! Do not, under any condition, flame up the panetone! That is hilarious to me. Also, "it was the custom for each family member to have a stir so the luck would be evenly distributed to one and all" - how great a tradition is that?

evilganome said...

My late friend Stephen who hosted a number of highly bibulous and enjoyable Xmas's was an old New England Yank and we always had plum pudding with hard sauce at the end of dinner. It was wonderful, though by that point we had all drunk so much champagne, that I suspect sawdust would have tasted good.

Willym said...

Lorraine: I'll try and find my recipe and send it to you. It was actually one of the few I really liked. Pax EG - many I've tried have actually tasted like sawdust.

Hat: I can just picture it now a flaming panetone that then sets fire to the centre piece which leads to the table cloth which catches on to guests' clothing. I've always fantasized about those Roman fireman but that's probably not the way to get them over here for what I want. Scratch the flames!

EG: As I said to Lorraine - eaten the sawdust and flour paste puddings a few times in my life - god love her amongst my mother's many talents cooking was not one. But in self-defence my father learned to make a really good hard sauce - lots of rum!

Doralong said...

How about Bananas Foster? Not traditional, I grant you- but you do get the major flaming effect ;)

evilganome said...

Doralong, I suspect that Willym, like so many of us doesn't need any advice on "flaming" (okay, I can't believe no one has made a remark already) And for the record Willym, the quality of the plum pudding as well as the company and champagne, (Veuve Cliquot) was always excellent.

Willym said...

Doralong: Actually just going to go with the Chestnut Syllabub this year. Little thing I first whipped up when I bought a can of sweetened Chestnut puree at a specialty shop. The only flaming this year will be, as EG so sagely observes, by the two confirmed bachelors at the table (that would be us.)

EG: Sorry Tony, didn't meant ot imply otherwise. I've no doubt it was - any time I've had bad Christmas Pudding was when my family used the Black and Crosswell commercial variety.

Doralong said...

Figured someone would get the gag eventually.. OK, wasn't that funny, never mind.

Wow, I feel most dull.. all y'all are getting at my house is pecan pie. Guess I can soak it in bourbon and toss a match at it.

evilganome said...

Doralong, a good pecan pie is a thing of beauty. Willym, the Cross and Blackwell pudding sounds like the fruit cake I grew up with which could also be used as a blunt instrument. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I was finally convinced that there WAS such a thing as a good fruitcake.

Willym said...

Doralong: How about bringing over the pecan pie cause I'm with EG on that one. We could have your pie, the chestnut syllabub, some non-flaming panatone, a few ainse seed cookies from Calabria, a glass or two of grappa. Sounds like the end to a great meal to me.

EG: Ah Fruitcakes. At the end of his Christmas speical PeeWee builds an addition to the Playhouse with all the fruit cakes he's been given. There have only been two fruit cakes I've ever enjoyed - my father's and our friend John's.

Idea for using fruit cake: crumple up some fruit cake and soak it in brandy/rum/flavoured liquer. In a tall glass dripple a bit of the alchol of choice, the a scoop of egg nog/chestnut/vanilla ice cream, a healthy sprinkling of fruit cake, then ice cream, then fruit cake, more ice cream, a ver light sprinkling of fruit cake then a dollop of whipped cream, a piece of candied something or other and eccola - Fruit Cake Parfait.