“Oh bring us some figgy pudding, Oh bring us some figgy pudding, Oh bring us some figgy pudding, And bring it right here!” We’ve all sung those words around Christmas time – they’re the lyrics to the classic song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – but there’s also a lot of history behind the famous pudding!
Figgy pudding is also known as plum pudding or Christmas pudding. It’s actually a cake (not a pudding!) and is packed full of dried fruit, covered with a bourbon sauce, and set on fire – the perfect end to a classic British holiday dinner!
The History of Christmas Pudding
The very first version of Christmas pudding occurred in the 14th century with, oddly enough, meat! The British made a porridge they called “frumenty” that had beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wines, and spices. It had a lot of liquid and was eaten like soup as a part of fasting ahead of Christmas.
At the end of the 16th century, dried fruit became more available and the pudding slowly shifted from savory to sweet. By 1650, Christmas pudding was the staple dessert of holiday meals.
But Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan beliefs came to power in England right around that time and banned all things he associated with “pagan celebrations”, including yule logs, Christmas pudding, and carols. In 1660, the Puritans were overthrown and Christmas pudding was restored!
Fun fact: Though it’s called plum pudding, it actually contains no plums. This is due to the Victorian practice of substituting dried plums with other dried fruits, such as raisins, but retaining the name.
Christmas pudding has been used in a variety of literature and pop culture applications, making it even more widely known! In fact, Charles Dickens incorporated it into “A Christmas Carol”, writing:
“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half a half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas Holly stuck into the top. Oh, what a wonderful pudding!”
Over time, the recipe for Christmas pudding has been simplified and was made lighter. While Christmas pudding was originally formed into a sphere and steamed in a cloth, it was eventually steamed in molds, which is what we continue to do today. And, of course, we’ve made the process of setting the brandy sauce on fire a lot safer than it used to be!
But figgy pudding still plays a big role in Christmas culture, both in England and other parts of the world. There’s even a race held every year in which runners navigate obstacles while holding a tray of the dessert!
Christmas Pudding Traditions
The Victorian tradition was to serve Christmas pudding for “stir-up Sunday”, which was the fifth Sunday before Christmas. Each family member would take a turn stirring the pudding from East to West in order to honor the journey that the Magi took to meet baby Jesus. Families also thought that it would bring luck for the year to come.
Hiding things in the plum pudding is also a common tradition! They used to hide a six pence coin inside and whoever found it was “king” or “queen” for the night. Other hidden objects include:
• A button – If a single man finds the “bachelor’s button”, he is said to stay single for the following year. • A thimble – If a single woman finds the “old maid thimble”, she is said to stay single for the following year. • A ring – If a single person finds this, he or she is said to get married in the next year! • An anchor – If someone finds this, they’re to have a safe year, protected from danger. • A wishbone – If someone finds this, they’ll have good luck for the year.
Now, we often hide food-safe items and even grocery stores will sometimes hide a silver-colored coin inside the Christmas puddings that they sell each year.
Traditional Christmas Pudding Recipe
So how do you make Christmas pudding? We’ve shared a very traditional recipe below from Genuis Kitchen. Let us know how it turns out!
- 1 lb raisins
- 8 ounces currants
- 8 ounces sultanas
- 2 ounces prunes, pitted and chopped
- 2 ounces citrus peels, finely chopped
- 2 ounces sliced almonds
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 ounces ground almonds
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces fresh breadcrumbs or 12 ounces cake crumbs
- 4 ounces soft brown sugar
- 1 lb butter, softened
- 6 large eggs, beaten
- 4 tablespoons brandy or 4 tablespoons rum
- 8 fluid ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
- Mix all the dried fruit together, and then add the citrus peel, flaked almonds, spices, ground almonds and salt - blend thoroughly.
- Work in the breadcrumbs, sugar and softened butter, mixing well.
- Stir the beaten eggs into the mixture and then gradually add the brandy or rum and the stout. Mix thoroughly until a soft dropping consistency has bee- hieved.
- Butter two large (2 pint) pudding bowls and spoon half the mixture into each bowl - smoothing down the surface slightly.
- Cover with greaseproof paper and muslin pudding cloths or aluminum foil, and tie them down around the rims, making a loop for a handle to lift th- dding basins out of the steamer later!
- Boil the puddings in an open pan or in a steamer for 6 hours - making sure that the water is topped up when necessary.
- You can also steam these puddings in a pressure cooker - please follow your manufacturer's instructions.
- Remove the greaseproof paper, cloths/ aluminum foil and cover with fresh greaseproof paper and a clean pudding cloth or foil.
- Store in a cool place for up to 2 months, although I have kept these puddings for nearly a year!
- On Christmas day, boil or steam for a further 4 hours.
To flame the puddings: Turn out the puddings onto a plate. Heat up a tablespoon or two of brandy in a small saucepan until it is warm but NOT boiling, and then pour the hot brandy into a ladle - take the pudding to the table with the ladle and light the ladle with a match - BE CAREFUL! Pour the burning brandy over the pudding and remember to turn the lights out for maximum ooohs and ahhhhs!
Serve with Brandy Butter, Rum Sauce, Custard or Cream. Don't forget the sprig of holly too!