A Christmas meal in England is not complete without the classic Victorian Christmas pudding. For the most part pudding is a generic term for dessert yet is also used to mean a steamed cake. Reserved as a Christmas only dessert, the cake is made months, even up to a year in advance.
Ingredients include a combination of dried fruit (golden raisins, sultanas, currants), candied peel, diced apple, almonds, sugar, bread crumbs, mixed spice and suet. Before going any further suet is not bird seed, it is a cooking fat, specifically the hard fat around the kidneys or loin of lamb or mutton. Today vegetarian suet is predominantly used. Variations on fruit include figs or plums, shedding light on the famous carol line, “so bring us some figgy pudding!”
Christmas puddings are moistened with eggs and married with “enough brandy to slay a horse” as a friend of mine put it. The cake is then steamed in a domed shaped bowl or basin for 7 hours. Often small tokens or the traditional sixpence coin are cooked inside the cake to bring wealth and well wishes in the new year. Wrapped in muslin cloth the pudding is stored in the pantry to mature until Christmas Day when it is cooked for a second time. A fresh sprig of holly adorns the top to give the cake its finishing touch.
Before serving the lights are dimmed, a ladle of yet more brandy is set alight and poured over top of cake. Ceremoniously the cake is paraded to the table where it is greeted with cheers and applause.
We’re not finished yet … a generous slice of cake is served with lashings of either: brandy butter, brandy or rum sauce, cream or custard. And according to West Londoner Sarah Birtles,”The only reason worth eating Christmas pudding is the brandy butter.”