Christmas Pudding is an essential part of the festivities in Britain. Its origins can be traced back to the 1420s, when it was not a dessert at all, but a way of preserving meat at the end of the season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resultant large “mince pies” could then be used to feed groups of people, particularly at the festive season.
The chief ancestor of the modern pudding, however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times. This was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added.
The earliest reference to the “standing pottage” dates to 1420s, a dish of preserved veal, mutton or chicken, thickened with bread, reddened with sandalwood and full of currants. By the time of Elizabeth I, prunes were added to this basic concoction. This became so popular that the dish was known from this point forward as Plum Pottage.
At the end of the English Civil War the victorious Puritans under Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas and the eating of plum pudding, mainly because of the richness of the ingredients. The Puritans described it as “unfit for God-fearing people”, while the Quakers, not to be outdone in the killjoy stakes, referred to it as “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon “! Despite the fact that this age of misery was septet aside with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Christmas Pudding never quite reached its former popularity again until King George I overturned the ban and ordered it to be served on Christmas Day in 1714.
By the eighteenth century, as techniques for meat preserving improved, the savoury element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. By the 1830s the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, makes a definite appearance, with the help of Prince Albert, who was a big fan.
Having said that, everyone has their own favourite recipe. Here’s the one I use:
Summer Lodge Christmas Pudding
Makes 8 ¼ pound Puddings
110g Shredded Suet
50g S R Flour
110g White Breadcrumbs
1tsp Mixed Spice
¼ tsp Fresh grated Nutmeg
½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
225g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
25g Mixed Peel
1 Apple (Peeled and Diced)
½ Orange Zested
½ Lemon Zested
11 tbsp Black Treacle
3 tbsp Brandy
3 tbsp Rum
Mix together the Sultanas, Raisin, Currants, Mixed Peel, Apple, and Zests with the Brandy, Rum, Treacle and Stout. Leave to macerate in the fridge for 2 days.
Mix together all the dry ingredients with the eggs and then mix into the fruit.
Cover and leave in the fridge for a further day, then spoon into the moulds. To serve, cover and steam for approx 2 hours.
You can vary the ingredients to suit your personal taste – if you like cherries and walnuts, or whatever, add them in!
If the ingredients look a little dry once you’ve mixed everything together don’t be shy about adding more alcohol – the more the merrier….
To serve, warm a spoon brandy or rum, pour over the pudding at, then set alight at the table. At Summer Lodge our pudding is accompanied by brandy sauce (a brandy custard) and brandy butter (whipped butter, icing sugar and brandy). Personally, however, I like my pudding with plain cream.
Christmas at Summer Lodge promises to be an extra special one this year – we’ve already had our first taste of the snow! For further details of all that we’ve got planned for guests contact the hotel on 01935 48 2000.