We're fascinated by the origins of Christmas puddings and Christmas pudding traditions - and especially about the silver pudding coins put in them for luck. We've been busily packaging our deluxe silver Christmas pudding coins for the festive season and it seems like a good time to do a comprehensive rundown of Christmas pudding facts for you.
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About Christmas pudding:
Don't know what Christmas pudding is? Well Christmas pudding (also called plum pudding) is traditionally the main dessert served with Christmas dinner in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries, but it's origins are very much British.
Plum pudding is a very rich dessert which is boiled or steamed. It’s made of a heavy mixture of dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes suet is included in the recipe, which is a mixture of beef or mutton fat, something which harks back to the savoury origins of the dish.
Traditional Christmas pudding is very dark in colour and it’s often soaked with brandy or other alcohol, which is sometimes set alight when serving for extra drama.
My family’s Depression era quick and easy Christmas pudding recipe is quite a bit lighter than traditional plum pudding recipes - and it really is a lot easier to make. But it’s still rich and delicious.
Christmas pudding is often served with a sprig of holly on top and is eaten with brandy butter, rum butter, cream or custard. We always serve our Christmas pudding with a very delicious and indulgent brandy cream sauce, a recipe handed down by my grandmother.
History of Christmas pudding:
Origins of plum pudding
The origins of Christmas pudding were nothing like the fruity and sweet dessert we have today.
Instead the dish was a type of pottage (or porridge). It tended to be a soupy and savoury dish made with beef, mutton, prunes, raisins, spices and wine. In poorer households sometimes a thick version of this dish was eaten to fill stomachs before a meagre serving of meat, including at Christmas.
The dish started to become more like the dessert we know now by the end of the 16th century as it became sweeter and was thickened into something like a pudding.
Christmas dessert is banned
By the middle of the 17th century Christmas pudding had become the customary dessert as part of a Christmas meal. However, the Puritans in England attempted to ban it for a time from 1664 as they sought to turn Christmas from a feast day into a fast day.
It’s said that the Puritans considered Christmas pudding to be ‘sinfully rich’ and ‘unfit for God-fearing people’.
Christmas pudding back on the menu
Christmas pudding was (thankfully) re-established as part of Christmas celebrations by the early 18th century, with one of the earliest recorded plum pudding recipes appearing in a cookbook by Mary Kettilby in 1714.
Rumour has it that King George I insisted that plum pudding be featured in his royal Christmas feast from this time which added to its popularity, although some criticised his choice for being too decadent, so it was still considered controversial.
Victorian era Christmas pudding
A Christmas pudding recipe very similar to what we know it today was well established by the Victorian era.
At that time some wealthy households would have their puddings baked elaborate moulds shaped like towers or castles, while regular families would have the rounded 'canonball' type of plum pudding most of us would now be familiar with.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with their love of establishing and promoting Christmas traditions, helped to firmly establish Christmas pudding as an essential part of Christmas dinner, including with a ‘hard’ butter sauce (brandy butter or similar) and served with silver charms or Christmas pudding coins included in the pudding for good luck, something my own family still does every year.
Modern Christmas puddings
Christmas puddings are now a traditional part of Christmas dinner in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa, the tradition having been spread abroad by British colonists.
Today some families avoid making their own pudding as the traditional Christmas pudding recipe requires an extended time to prepare it and the recipe is considered too difficult.
Alternatively you could try making my family's very quick and easy Christmas pudding recipe, which is a recipe from the Great Depression and is generally made on Christmas eve or Christmas day. It can even easily be made into a vegan Christmas pudding recipe if needed as it's egg free.
Why is Christmas pudding also called plum pudding?
Plums are not one of the ingredients for a modern Christmas pudding, even though it is also commonly known as plum pudding.
Prunes were added to recipes which were precursors to Christmas pudding by the time of Elizabeth I. According to History Today, prunes - or dried plums - “were so popular that their name became a portmanteau label for all dried fruits”. From that time any goods containing dried fruits began to be referred to as 'plum cakes' or 'plum puddings'.
Today prunes are not typically included in Christmas pudding recipes and instead raisins are used. However, the name plum pudding continues to be used because of this history.
Christmas pudding traditions:
Stirring the pudding for luck
‘Stir up Sunday’ was traditionally the Sunday before Advent (4-5 weeks before Christmas) when the Christmas pudding was made. Everyone in the household was expected to give the pudding mixture a stir and to make a wish while stirring.
The quick and easy Christmas pudding recipe my family uses is generally mixed on Christmas eve or Christmas day, so in my family this is when whoever is home stirs the mixture, throws some Christmas coins in and makes a wish.
Silver Christmas pudding coins, charms or tokens
For a long time it's been common practice to include silver Christmas pudding coins, charms or tokens into Christmas pudding. Finding a Christmas coin in your slice of pudding is believed to bring good luck and especially wealth in the coming year.
This lovely tradition may date back as early as the 1300s when a dried pea or sometimes a small silver ring or crown was baked into a Twelfth Night Cake. The finder of the token was said to be king or queen for the night.
For a time just a single silver coin or token was adding to Christmas pudding so just one of the guests at Christmas dinner would be granted good luck, but eventually several coins were included to spread the luck around.
My grandmother used to go to some trouble to ensure every one of her Christmas dinner guests would find at least one Christmas pudding coin.
In more recent times sixpences or threepences were used in Christmas pudding and the finders of the coins would keep them. This changed with the introduction of base metal coins, which should never be added to food.
Some families hoarded their silver sixpences and threepences to continue the tradition, exchanging them for ‘real money’ to get them back again for next year.
We’ve created very high quality sets of large solid silver Christmas pudding coins (here) with vintage illustrations on them as a much better way to keep the tradition alive. The coins are large and easy to find and will make a perfect heirloom for your family to treasure. They can be exchanged for money each year so you can use the coins over and over again.
Holly and flaming brandy
Often Christmas puddings are served with a decorative sprig of holly on top. Like so many Christmas traditions, this usage stems from the Victorian era. However, the tradition actually harks back to when holly was used to decorate pagan households as it was seen as a fertility symbol and a good luck charm.
For Christians the garnish of holly came to represent the crown of thorns and the flaming brandy the Passion.
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