Friday, December 05, 2008

Pudding with Cheese.

When I was a child in Yorkshire, our Christmas cake was always served with slices of cheese on the side – Wensleydale, if I remember correctly. I have never, ever, heard or read of cheese being an accompaniment to hot Christmas pudding, have you? A French visitor was served with it this way in 1658 and was singularly unimpressed. 
The visitor Laurent Chevalier d'Arvieux (1635-1702), a traveller, linguist, and diplomat. He said:
“Their pudding was detestable. It is a compound of scraped biscuit, as flour, suet, currants, salt, and pepper, which are made into a paste, wrapped in a cloth, and boiled in a pot of broth; it is then taken out of the cloth, and put in a plate, and some old cheese is grated over it, which gives it an unbearable smell. Leaving out the cheese, the thing is not too bad.”
Not having heard of cheese on hot Christmas pudding before, I did wonder if it was some sort of hard sauce made with less than fresh butter that graced the top of his serving, and he mistakenly took it for cheese. I wonder when hard sauce was developed?
His countryman Francois Maximilien Misson visited England in 1698, and felt completely differently about English puddings, and although he seemed to be referring to puddings in general, surely he did not exclude the Christmas version when he said:
“They bake them in the oven, they boil them with meat, they make them fifty different ways. Blessed be he that invented the pudding - to come in pudding time is to come to the most lucky moment in the world.”
M. Misson also clearly enjoyed the Christmas pie of Olde England, a genuine mincemeat pie, before the meat was lost to us.
“Every family against Christmas makes a famous Pye, which they call Christmas Pye. It is a great Nostrum the Composition of this Pasty. It is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spices etc.”
The other sort of Christmas pie popular in the land of pies was the huge pastry coffin filled with a learned mixture of all sorts of titbits of meat, birds, and other goodies, such as the famous Yorkshire Christmas Pie, a recipe for which can be found in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.
It is always interesting to see how visitors react to the food in the country they are visiting, and also how one country interprets the cuisine of another. A famous cookbook of the seventeenth century was The Accomplish’t Cook: or the Art and Mystery of Cookery, by Robert May, first published in 1660. This is his take on French pudding.
To make a French Pudding.
Take half a pound of raisins of the sun, a penny white loaf pared and cut into dice-work, half a pound of beef-suet finely minced, three ounces of sugar, eight slic't dates, a grain of musk, twelve or sixteen lumps of marrow, salt, half a pint of cream, three eggs beaten with it, and poured on the pudding, cloves, mace, nutmeg, salt, and a pome-water, or a pippin or two pared, slic't, and put in the bottom of the dish before you bake the pudding.
Quotation for the Day …
He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. 
Roy L. Smith


Anonymous said...

speaking as an American, as the child of immigrants from the Third World, and as someone of fairly recent vintage, I must say that Christmas cake and Christmas pudding are both confusing desserts that I have read about many times but have never encountered for myself. I thank Nigel Slater for describing the annual mixing of the Christmas cake in his childhood home and finally giving me a sense of all the associations people have with the cake, not to mention a list of ingredients that allowed me to mentally recreate the taste.

with all the citrus peels, spices, preserved fruits and nuts and so on they seem like very old-fashioned foods. I remember an old Canadian woman telling me when I was very young how much she used to look forward to plum pudding at Christmas as a little girl; I was utterly baffled. why would any sensible six-year-old enjoy something studded with raisins -- raisins! horrors! -- and steamed -- and made with suet? we rarely had sweets after eating our meals in my house, but desserts to me meant chocolate cakes, cookies, ice cream, custards, pies. there was no cultural crossover between she and me. I thought the only possible reason she could have loved such a frightening sweet is that she grew up at a time when chocolate and ice cream were not in everyone's cupboard.

likewise with mincemeat pies, which while not uncommon in the US are still not something a lot of us ever encounter.

a few years back my mother suddenly began buying brandy-soaked, glazed, nut-covered fruitcakes at Christmastime because she and her brother remembered having eaten them with tea as children; I still remember how totally alien seemed the first thin slice she cut for me to taste. then after a few bites, very carefully considered, I began to understand.

cheese, though, with Christmas cakes or puddings, is an entirely new idea to me. I only learned a couple years ago that it used to be common to serve cheese with apple pie. and the idea of old-style "wedding cake" with citron and plums and nuts as was once made and understood to always be "wedding cake." never saw such a thing. how many of these long traditions will flicker out like Christmas candle flames as the years go by?

have really been enjoying your posts over the last month, Foodie, particularly the pie ones. am looking forward to the emergence of your book next year. happy holidays to you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Michigan...two things: First, do you know the Wallace and Gromit movies out of the UK that were done by animator Nick Park? Legend has it that he singlehandedly saved sales of Wensleydale cheese by mentioning it in several of his animated specials. Demand soared, the story goes. They're wonderful short films--later he had his moment of fame with "Curse of the Wererabbit," but if you get the chance to see them, they're wonderful.

Secondly, anyone want to recommend a good mail-order Christmas pudding? My family has no such tradition, preferring various cookies for the season. Email at

Thank you again, Old Foodie, for your lovely work!

M. in MI