Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ladies Guide to Plum Pudding.

The final recipe for the year from "The Ladies Guide" in the London Illustrated of 1861 was for a plum pudding. I make no apologies for giving you yet another plum pudding recipe, because this one comes with copious notes on the tradition as seen through mid-Victorian eyes.

Plum Pudding
  • A pound of finely chopped suet - it must be extremely fresh and carefully picked from all skin
  • half a pound of flour
  • half a pound of bread crumbs
  • half a pound of moist sugar
  • one ounce of citron
  • one ounce of candied orange and lemon peel
  • half a nutmeg grated
  • a teaspoonful of salt
  • a pound of best currants carefully washed and dried on a cloth
  • a pound of raisins well picked and stoned
  • half an ounce of bitter almonds
  • one ounce of sweet almonds chopped
  • six eggs beaten yelks and whites together
  • a glass of brandy
Mix it up together, with as much milk as will make it too thick to be poured, but not thick enough to be handled as paste : it only wants mixing well together - no kneading, or beating, and must be made six hours before it is put into its mould; then line the bason or mould with a buttered paper, press in the pudding, lay a buttered paper on the top, tie a thick pudding - cloth closely over it, and boil for six hours : on Christmas day stick a pretty branch of holly with its red berries on the top, with a little frill of cut white paper where the stick goes in. Serve with sauce made of half a pint of very nice melted butter, a wineglassful of brandy, and sugar to the taste.
And so our double cycle of ceremonious dinners ends with a plum pudding. Where could we find a more appropriate climax for our English bills of fare, or so fit a dainty either to close the culinary year or to begin the next?
Are we not weary, dear reader, of our cookery - weary of contriving the best, easiest, and least wasteful ways of catering for fastidious appetites - weary, even, of settling how we shall most clearly describe the composition of our plum-pudding? Let us repose a moment and talk about it.
As to its history I am not very learned; but I know at least that we cannot assign to its existence any very high antiquity. In the compilation of receipts made by Richard the Second's “master cooks” we find no trace of it; nor is there any in that other manual of ancient cookery, dated A.D. 1381, which we have already alluded to.
Most of the materials were, however, at the cook's command at that period. They had spices and used them in profusion, also almonds and raysons of Corance, and they were beginning to use sugar to replace their honey ; there was almost everything - but the genius to combine them. Regretting, then, that our antiquarian researches will not help us to the knowledge of when plum-pudding came first to light, we may at least affirm that at whatever time it might have appeared in England, it is still virtually non-existent in foreign lands.
I look for it in vain in a German manual of cooking, whilst a French one only gives "plum-pouding " converted by the addition of milk into a sort of porridge, boiled in a cloth, and accompanied by an inexplicable sauce. The cloth, however, ought not to be quarrelled with, since it is a decided amelioration of the "poudins's" earlier treatment; for the first essay our neighbours made upon it was to collect all the materials, and throw them into a boiling pot without either cloth or mould. It would seem that, after breakfasting on ragouts and wine, their tastes are too delicate to accept anything so strong and coarse as an English plum-pudding, and therefore they disdain to do it justice ; however, we shall not desert it on that account, but rather treasure and admire it the more.
And truly a wonderful composition is this same plum-pudding! Let us forget for a moment all that is sentimental about its history - those remembrances of childish glee, and later soberer happiness, when at Christmas gatherings we have seen it in its glory - and consider it in itself as a marvellous product of modern civilization.
How few ever think that every quarter of the globe has contributed to the small conglomeration which they see upon their plates! Horace's supper, even if the wines had really come frorn Chios and all the exotic dainties had been genuine; or Monte Christo's dinner with its fishes from the mouths of the Volga and from the Italian lakes, and his wines from the Archipelago and the Cape, must have been commonplace in composition, compared with our chief Christmas dish.
Think of its materials - spices from India and every island of the Pacific, raisins from Asia Minor, currants from Corinth, almonds from Italy, citrons from Spain, oranges from St. Michaels, brandy from France, sugar from Jamaica: there remain only the flour and the eggs that can possibly belong to us; and we are not sure that the last has not travelled from France, and the first from America.
Yes, we forget: there is one ingredient, not the most refined, yet honestly home-produced - the suet, a genuine portion of the roast beef of Old England; and so, in spite of foreign contributions, we may call it a national dish, and a monument of the country's unrivalled commerce.
But national though it be, the plum-pudding may, in one sense, be called cosmopolitan ; for when Christmas comes round, it will be welcomed in India, in Canada, in Africa, and now even in China, as well as by friends (to some, dearer than any) in that especially English continent on the opposite face of the earth, who will honour it duly, not on our Christmas day, but on our Christmas night for they are banished, alas! half the clock-round away from us.
Everywhere the plum-pudding is at home: let us hope, in a parenthesis, that everywhere, it may be produced from a receipt as good as that which we have been discussing. But we have not traced yet all the haunts of our plum-pudding at home: it is not for the parlour only, but for all tables; for the noisy kitchen, and even - in a mitigated form of indigestibility - for the quiet nursery; for the cottage and the Workhouse. Let us delight to think that it is carried by kind hands also into the wretched tenements in squalid corners of this great city and all other cities of the Queen's dominions great and small. But this reminds us that we have yet work that must be done; so we must return to business.

Quotation for the Day.

Life is so brief that we should not glance either too far backwards or forwards…therefore study how to fix our happiness in our glass and in our plate.
Grimod de la Reynière

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