Little Green Space
by Penny Bunting
A Christmas pudding – flaming with brandy and crowned with a sprig of holly – is the classic finale to a British Christmas dinner. With its concoction of warming spices, dried fruit, and sherry, port or cider, the smell of a pudding steaming in the kitchen must be one of the most evocative scents of Christmas.
Christmas puddings originated in the 14th century, firstly as “frumenty” – a kind of stew or porridge made with wheat, meats, dried fruits, honey and spices, that was eaten before the Christmas celebrations began.
Over time – and with the addition of eggs, breadcrumbs and alcohol – the pudding gradually evolved into its more familiar form. During the 17th and 18th centuries, people began to include the puddings at the end of the Christmas meal.
It’s often referred to as 'plum pudding' but this refers to the dried fruits in the recipe – whether dates, prunes, sultanas, raisins or currants – rather than fresh plums.
The Victorians enjoyed Christmas puddings that were very similar to those we know and love today – and by the turn of the 20th century, the dessert was extremely popular and widely established as part of the seasonal festivities. Good luck There are a number of customs and superstitions surrounding Christmas puddings. Some people believe that they should be made with 13 ingredients – to represent Jesus and the twelve Disciples. The decorative sprig of holly that adorns the top of the pudding is said to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns – and holly was also believed to bring good luck and to have healing and protective powers.
It’s common to douse the pudding in brandy and set it alight. Christians believe this represents Christ’s passion – it could also be a nod to Pagan winter celebrations involving fire. Either way it undoubtedly creates a spectacular display as the pudding is ceremoniously carried to the Christmas dining table.
When making the Christmas pudding, it was traditional to include a silver sixpence in the mixture. Whoever found the coin in their own serving on Christmas Day expected to enjoy good luck and wealth the following year.
Sometimes other items, or favours, were also added. Finding a button or thimble in the pudding meant you would remain single for another year, while discovering a ring promised marriage or wealth.
For even more good luck, each member of the family took a turn to mix the pudding, making a wish as they did so – and making sure to stir from East to West, in honour of the Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus.
Christmas puddings were traditionally made on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent – although most people these days tend to buy a pudding. A piece of cake Many people still choose to make their own Christmas cakes, though – and this is another festive treat that many households couldn’t do without at this time of year.
Christmas cake originates from the amalgamation of two dishes that were historically eaten around the festive period hundreds of years ago. Plum pottage was a rich stew of meat, bread, dried fruit, sugar and spices that dates back to the 16th century (or earlier) and was eaten on Christmas Eve.
Twelfth Cake is another Christmas delicacy that’s been around for centuries – originally a spiced plum cake made with yeast and eaten on Twelfth Night to celebrate the feast of Epiphany.
By the early 1800s the Twelfth Cake had become an elaborate affair, decorated with fancy icing – and during the 19th Century it became more common to eat this festive cake on Christmas Day, a tradition that is still enjoyed to this day.
You can buy Christmas cakes that are decorated with marzipan and icing and ready to eat, but it’s easy to make one at home – and all the family can be involved in stirring it and wishing for good luck!
EASY CHRISTMAS CAKE
200g raisins Juice and grated rind of 1 orange
8 tablespoons brandy (or whisky or rum), plus extra for ‘feeding’ the cake
220g butter, softened
220g caster sugar
340g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
100g ground almonds
4 tablespoons milk
150g glace cherries, halved
Marzipan and icing to decorate.
In a large container, mix together the currants, raisins, sultanas, brandy, orange juice and rind. Cover and leave to soak for a few hours, or overnight.
Cream the butter and sugar together. In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, spice and ground almonds. Whisk the eggs with the milk.
Stir a little of the flour mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, then add some of the egg mixture and mix well. Repeat until all the mixtures are combined.
Add the dried fruit mix, and the glace cherries. Put the mixture into a lined 20cm cake tin and bake for about three hours at 140°C. After about an hour into the cooking time (when the top of the cake has reached the desired colour) place a circle of greaseproof paper over the cake – this will prevent the top from burning.
To test if the cake is cooked, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. If not, bake for a little longer.
When the cake is ready, remove it from the oven. If you want to add more alcohol, ‘feed’ the cake by poking holes all over the top, using a skewer. Then spoon two tablespoons brandy (or other spirit) all over it.
Leave the cake in the tin until it’s completely cool, then turn out and store in an airtight container. If you want (and if you have made the cake far enough in advance), you can then add even more alcohol by ‘feeding’ the cake every week with one tablespoon of your chosen spirit.
A week before Christmas, warm a couple of tablespoons of apricot jam in a small saucepan then push it through a sieve to produce a smooth, thick syrup. Spread this all over the top and sides of the cake before decorating with marzipan and icing.