Christmas (or Plum) Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is not what it was originally like!
Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits. It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it as a bad custom.
In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.
Although Christmas Puddings are eaten at Christmas, some customs associated with the pudding are about Easter! The decorative sprig of holly on the top of the pudding is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. Brandy or another alcoholic drink is sometimes poured over the pudding and lit at the table to make a spectacular display. This is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.
In the Middle Ages, holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers. It was often planted near houses in the belief that it protected the inhabitants.
During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds (like jelly ones). These were often in the shapes of towers or castles. Normal people just had puddings in the shape of balls. If the pudding was a bit heavy, they were called cannonballs!
Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another age-old custom that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. In the UK the coin traditionally used was a silver ‘six pence’. The closest coin to that now is a five pence piece!
You might also get other items (sometimes called ‘tokens’ or ‘favours’) placed in the Christmas Pudding which also meant to have special meanings:
- Bachelor’s Button: If a single man found it, they would be a bachelor for the following year.
- Spinster’s/Old Maid’s Thimble: If a single woman found it, they would be a bachelor for the following year.
- A Ring: If a single person found this, it meant you will get married in the following year! It can also mean you will be rich for the following year.
Mince Pies, like Christmas Puddings, were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than a dried fruit mix as they are today. They were also first made in an oval shape to represent the manger that Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top representing his swaddling clothes.
During the Stuart and Georgian times, in the UK, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas! Very rich people liked to show off at their Christmas parties by having pies made is different shapes (like stars, crescents, hearts, tears, & flowers); they fancy shaped pies could often fit together a bit like a jigsaw! They also looked like the ‘knot gardens’ that were popular during those periods. Having pies like this meant you were rich and could afford to employ the best, and most expensive, pastry cooks!
Now they are normally made in a round shape and are eaten hot or cold. I like mine hot with some ice cream!
A custom from the middle ages says that if you eat a mince pie on every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night (6th January) you will have happiness for the next 12 months!
On Christmas Eve, children in the UK often leave out mince pies with brandy or some similar drink for Father Christmas, and a carrot for the reindeer. Oh, we just gave Santa some milk. Sorry Santa~