The Christmas Pudding

Of course, no traditional English Christmas dinner would be complete without the flaming plum pudding...also known as the Christmas pudding, figgy pudding or "hackin" due to its many ingredients. This pudding is a once-a-year treat and customary end to the Christmas meal. However, the modern day delicious dessert began as something very different. It originated as a Fourteenth Century porridge known as "frumenty," which was made by boiling beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. More often than not, "frumenty" would be eaten as a soup served as a fasting dish in preparation for the Christmas festivities.

By 1595, "frumenty" began to evolve into the modern day plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs and dried fruit...the meat ingredient was also removed and the pudding was given more flavor by the addition of ale and spirits. However, in 1664, the Puritans banned its consumption as being "lewd," describing the pudding's rich ingredients as "unfit for God-fearing people." George I, having tasted and enjoyed plum pudding, reestablished the custom as part of the royal Christmas feast in 1714, despite objections voiced by the Quakers who regarded it as "the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon." However, the Christmas pudding tradition did not not become firmly established until the Victorian Era, largely due to the influence of Prince Albert, consort of the Queen, and by that time had evolved into something which looked very similar to the puddings consumed today.

Over the years, many superstitions have surrounded this popular seasonal dessert (which, incidentally, does not get its name from plums, but from the process of "plumming," which means to plump-up raisins and currants with warm brandy and then mold the result with suet and a small amount of batter). It is said that puddings should be made by the 25th Sunday after Trinity (or the last Sunday prior to Advent, also known as "Stir-Up Sunday"), prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and his Disciples, and that every member of the family should take turns in stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon from east to west (in honor of the Three Kings), while making a wish at the same time. Some customs are associated with the prelude to Christ's death. When the brandy (or other favored alcoholic beverage with which the pudding is drenched) is set alight, the flame is said to represent Christ's passion, while a decorative sprig of holly is a reminder of the "Crown of Thorns." A silver coin within the pudding is another ancient custom which is believed to bring wealth and happiness to whoever finds it. Other items have been put into the mixture over the years...rings to symbolize marriage within the coming year, thimbles and buttons which predict that the finders will remain unmarried, and a sixpence which grants the wish of the above-mentioned stirrer of the mixture, for example.

Matthew Walker is Britain's largest producer of Christmas puddings and it is estimated that over 40 million people who reside in the United Kingdom annually finish their yuletide festive meal with a serving of this delicious dessert. It has been suggested that the modern Christmas fruit cake is a derivative of the traditional Christmas pudding.

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