A classic English Christmas dinner would be tragically incomplete without Christmas pudding.
Also known as plum pudding or figgy pudding, this stodgy treat is considered a national symbol of Britain. For many, it’s impossible to resist the heavy-handed combination of dried fruit, warm spices and burning liquor after a long day of festive merriment.
Christmas pudding has a long and somewhat debated history. At the very least, it dates back to a 16th-century dish known as ‘plum pottage’. This version of Christmas pudding contained meat broth to bind all of the ingredients together. However, some trace back the origins of the Christmas pudding as far as the 14th century. This earlier rendition more closely resembled porridge and didn’t contain any meat.
You might be a Christmas pudding lover. Or maybe you’re a conscientious objector to pud’. Perhaps you’ve only heard about this festive dessert from classic Christmas songs and tales like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Whichever it is, you will definitely be surprised to learn these intriguing Christmas pudding facts.
British Christmas Pudding
It’s only fitting to start with the original and the best, as the Brits would argue.
Stuffing baked goods with inedible items is, strangely enough, a very common occurrence across Great Britain and beyond. At Samhain, the Irish stuff Barmbrack (a dense fruitcake) with fortuitous tokens like rings, rags and sticks. To celebrate Saturnalia or Christmas, the Spanish insert one lucky dry bean into their Roscon de Reyes (also a type of fruit cake). It should be no surprise then to learn that the English add a silver sixpence (coin) into their Christmas pudding. Whoever finds the silver sixpence in their slice of Christmas pudding is said to be granted good luck for a year. However, if they have to get a filling from the dentist after crunching down on said sixpence, that luck might be a bit unreliable.
It’s no secret that a good British Christmas pudding is loaded with liquor. Booze is an essential aspect of the pudding’s flavour profile. But it also contributes to the longevity of the Christmas pudding, preventing it from going off for multiple months. Liquor is first added into the Christmas pudding mixture approximately five weeks before Christmas. This day is known as ‘Stir-up Sunday’ because it generally takes place on the last Sunday before advent. Each family member takes a turn at stirring the liquor into the Christmas pudding mixture. As they do so, they may make a wish. In the days after Stir-up Sunday, leading up to Christmas Day, the Christmas pudding mixture is gradually filled with more and more alcohol.
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The religious significance of British Christmas pudding is closely tied with elements of Christianity. However, the symbolism doesn’t explicitly reference the Nativity (the birth of Jesus Christ). It is believed that a Christmas pudding must contain thirteen ingredients. These ingredients each represent Jesus and each of his twelve disciples. Traditionally, brandy is poured over the Christmas pudding and set aflame before serving. The flames are believed to represent Christ’s passion.
This is where the Christmas pudding facts get weird. In the 16th century, Thomas Cromwell, infamous lawyer, statesman, and tyrant, had the audacity to ban Christmas pudding in Britain. It’s easy to see why, at the time, he was one of the nation’s most hated public figures. With a snap of his treasonous fingers, Cromwell declared Christmas to be a day of fasting instead of feasting. In one fell swoop, he eliminated all forms of Christmas festivity and merriment; this included drinking alcohol, singing carols and, of course, eating Christmas pudding.
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To meat or not to meat?
The spicy, fruity filling of a British Christmas pudding is very confusingly referred to as “mincemeat”. It will be a relief to many to learn that modern Christmas puddings don’t contain actual minced meat as one would commonly find in dishes like bolognese. But, as established, in centuries past, Christmas pudding recipes did contain meat broth. Due to the historic inclusion of this key ingredient combined with the fine, mince-like chop of the ingredients, we still use the term mincemeat. However, that doesn’t mean that modern Christmas puddings are free from all forms of meat. One vital ingredient still in use is suet, which is the hard fat of beef or mutton. But it’s best not to sweat about the suet; it’s very similar to cooking with lard or butter.
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Though Christmas pudding originated in Britain, it’s not the only country to cook this classic dessert at Christmas. So let’s take a look at Christmas pudding around the world!
Australian Christmas pudding
Australian Christmas pudding is very similar to British Christmas pudding. However, a couple of crucial differences have developed since Christmas pudding was first introduced to Australia centuries ago.
Australians don’t typically use brandy in their Christmas pudding as the British do. Instead, the use of port and sherry is much more common. This change occurred in the early 20th century when Australians were encouraged to cook with and consume lighter varieties of alcohol.
Initially, Australians kept up with the tradition of placing a lucky silver coin into Christmas pudding. However, this tradition was forced to a sad end in 1966 when the currency was changed. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the new coins would turn green inside the pudding. Worse, they gave the pudding a strange, off-putting flavour. Ever since, Australian Christmas pudding has been made without the fortuitous addition of a silver coin. Have Aussies been significantly more unlucky since this tragic occurrence? Perhaps.
Christmas pudding is not nearly as popular in Australia as it is in Britain. Instead, many Australians opt for lighter desserts like pavlova or trifle, which incorporate fresh, seasonal fruit. Some even serve panettone, a traditional Italian sweet bread.
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Canadian Christmas Pudding
We follow Christmas pudding around the world again to friendly Canada. Here, Christmas pudding takes just three hours (rather than five weeks) to cook, and most of the time, it’s done so in a big tin can.
Yes, you read that right. Vegetables. This might not shock you after reading that British Christmas pudding has had a long and tangled relationship with meat. However, the addition of vegetables, specifically potatoes and carrots, in Canadian Christmas pudding is unusual. To thank for this strange occurrence is WWII. At the time, soldiers were encouraged to eat more affordable and available foods, like potatoes and carrots, because fruit and spices were in short supply.
On the flip side, one of Canada’s more ingenious changes to Christmas pudding has to be the sauce. British Christmas pudding is traditionally served with brandy sauce or brandy butter. But Canadians reject this practice and instead finish their Christmas pudding with a hot toffee sauce. The addition of this sticky, caramel flavoured goodness is almost enough to forget about the potatoes!
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Which fact did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments below! Or, if you’re still looking for festive inspiration and Christmas food facts, head to our website to discover more about Christmas all over the world and how you can experience it for yourself with Trafalgar!