Stirring Up a Regency Christmas Pudding

Period illustration of plum pudding

Period image of a flaming plum pudding. Image credit: cyberphysics.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

Hope you enjoyed Stir Up Sunday. Like all good Austen fans, I was weighing, measuring and stirring away all day preparing my Christmas pudding.

What’s that? You missed it?

Well, no worries, you still have time to get your Christmas pudding stirred, baked and fed before Advent begins on December 2.

Still no go? Ah. Allow me to explain.

The last Sunday before Advent, this year November 25, was traditionally known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’ or ‘Christmas Pudding Day.’ It was considered the last day to ‘stir up’ your Christmas pudding so it would have time to mature before its star turn on the day.1

The pudding would spend the intervening weeks reposing in a cool dark place, being ‘fed’ every week or so with a stiff drink of brandy or rum, and mellowing into moist, rich perfection. Another spell of an hour or so of boiling heated the pudding before serving.

Everyone in the household took a turn stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon while making a wish. The pudding was to be stirred from east to west in honor of the Wise Men who visited the infant Christ. Children of the household often recited a rhyme based on the 1549 Book of Common Prayer collect for the day:

‘Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot;And when we get home, we’ll eat the lot.’2

A silver sixpence was slipped into the batter, to bring wealth to the finder. Other additions might be a button or bell for a lucky life, a ring to foretell marriage, or even a thimble to warn of impending spinsterhood!3,8

By the time of the elegant Regency era, many of the old Christmas traditions were considered ‘rustic’ and people of ‘good society’ avoided them.4

In Persuasion, we view the countrified Musgraves’s celebrations through the sophisticated sensibilities of Anne Elliott and Lady Russell. The “riotous boys holding high revel” over a table “groaning” with Christmas food treats, the “chattering girls cutting up silk and gold paper” to the background of a “roaring Christmas fire” hold little charm for the ladies. Lady Russell resolves “in future not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holiday.”5

Fortunately the Christmas pudding, the sturdy descendant of the medieval boiled ‘frumenty’ porridge, was a survivor of Regency minimalism.

Later developments included sultanas, currants and dried plums, hence the name Plum Pudding.6

Of course, for Americans the term ‘pudding’ can cause confusion. In simple terms, a Christmas pudding is a fruitcake that is steamed rather than baked. To be most correct, it should be brought to the table flamed with a tot of brandy and decorated with a sprig of holly, and is served with a custard or brandy ‘hard’ sauce.

Ready to make your own Regency Christmas pudding? 1811’s The London Art of Cookery by John Farley offers this recipe:

“Plum Pudding boiled.

Cut a pound of suet into little pieces, but not too fine, a

pound of currants washed clean, a pound of raisins stoned,

eight yolks of eggs, and four whites, half a nutmeg grated,

a tea-spoonful of beaten ginger, a pound of flour, and a pint of

milk. Beat the eggs first, then put to them half the milk,

and beat them together, and by degrees stir in the flour, then

the suet, spice, and fruit, as much milk as will mix it well

together very thick. It will take five hours boiling.”7

The storage and aging of puddings was so well known and used that Farley did not need to give directions. For modern cooks, this simple procedure involves allowing the pudding to cool completely. Wrap the pudding in a clean kitchen towel soaked in brandy or white rum. Store the pudding in a covered tin and keep in a cool, dark place for at least two to four weeks before serving, refreshing the wrapping with additional liquor weekly.8

Modernized recipes are readily available. Christmas or Plum pudding is a simple and sturdy dessert that requires little of a cook, even a novice, except a bit of time. Cider can be substituted for the liquor.

Why not try making one, at least once? You might stir up a new Christmas tradition for your family.

References:

1 http://projectbritain.com/Xmas/stirup.htm

2 ibid

3 http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/Xmas/christmaspudding.html

4 http://jobev.com/xmasarticle.html

4 ibid

5 Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Chapter 14

6 http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/Xmas/christmaspudding.html

7http://books.google.com/books?id=jfgqAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

8 http://www.mahalo.com/how-to-make-plum-pudding/

Comment... 2 I'd love to hear your thoughts.

One Comment

  1. Posted September 21, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s actually a nice and useful piece of info.
    I’m happy that you simply shared this useful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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    […] week we discussed ‘Stir Up Sunday,’November 25, the last Sunday before Advent and the traditional deadline for mixing up your […]

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