Monday, December 05, 2016

Innovative Ideas for Christmas Pudding (1863)

For a brief while in the mid-nineteenth century, the London Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times carried a series of “Culinary Monographs” by a Maître Jacques in its section on “Household Economy and Domestic Science.” The monograph in the edition of January 10, 1863 was on “Christmas Fare,” so is very pertinent to the encroaching season. Maître Jacques included his instructions for cooking the turkey, but I have not included this today.


Upon reflection I withdraw the Monograph upon Plumb Puddings. Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle, and the single item of plum-pudding is scarcely important enough to have an entire paper devoted to it. A few notes may, however, be acceptable, and I may contrive to eke them out possibly with something about other Christmas fare.

In the first place, it is a misnomer to speak of plum-pudding as an “old English dish,” or as in any way belonging to “Old English fare.” None of the olden books contain any mention of it: indeed, I very much doubt whether plum-pudding,” in any thing like its present form, can claim a greater antiquity than a hundred years. Our forefathers of old had, indeed “plum-porridge” and “furmenty,” with plums and spices put into them: but these did not bear so close a resemblance to the genuine article as did the mixture of the Chinese cook, who made the pudding strictly according to the recipe, but omitted the cloth, and served up the well-boiled mess, like thin mash, in a tureen.

The following recipe for “plumb porridge” may serve to give the reader an idea of what our ancestors delighted in. It is extracted from “A Collection of Receipts in Cookery,” published at the King’s Head, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, in 1746.

“Boil a large leg of beef to rags, and make as much broth as will jelly when cold; when ‘tis enough, strain it: let it stand to be cold, that you may take off all the fat, then put it over the fire again; and to every gallon of broth put near a pound of currants, and half-a-pound of raisins, clean wash’d and pick’d: stew also two pounds of prunes, and when they are plump’d, take out the fairest to put in whole, and pulp the rest thro’ a cullender, an wash the stone and skins clean with some of the broth: take also the crumbs of a penny white loaf grated, to every gallon: and to four gallons you may put about two nutmegs, the weight of that in cloves and mace, and the weight of all in cinnamon: let all the spice be finely beat and grated: add salt and sugar to your taste: when the fruit is plump ‘tis enough; but just before you take it from the fire, squeeze in the juice of four or five lemons, and throw in the peel of two: four gallons will require a quart of claret, and a pint of sack, which must be put in with the fruit.”

It must, indeed, be obvious to anyone who has paid the slightest attention to the schools of cookery, that plum-pudding is not even purely an English dish; but that it is one of the results of that system of mixing a large number of ingredients which our cooks have taken from foreign parts. Beauvilliers, and more recently, “le grand Carème,” give recipes which, if not exactly plum-pudding, bear a very strong genetic likeness to it. Carème gives what looks like a capital recipe of this kind, in which he includes apricot jam: and I am not prepared to say that this is not a wrinkle worth having.

I have seen perhaps hundreds of recipes for plum puddings, varying from the shouting puddings of the workhouses (so called from the fact that the plums are so far apart that they have to shout at each other to be heard) up to the “very rich plum-pudding” of Miss Acton and “Meg Dodds,” and I have experimented a little in this way myself, introducing innovations which are not, as far as I am aware, to be found anywhere in print: some at the suggestion of experienced and inquiring friends, and others at my own suggestion.

One of these is the introduction of vanilla into the pudding. This was hinted at to me by a friend, an eminent chemist. It is a real discovery, and cannot, of course, be found in any of the old books: for the delicious flavour of the capsule of the vanilla orchid, has not been long known to cooks. My chemical friend extracted the flavour by steeping the pod in pure alcohol, and he found the extract very useful in flavouring creams, chocolate, &c; but he confessed to me that when he tried it in plum-pudding, the flavour, somehow or other, nearly, if not quite, disappeared. I went another way about this year (as will be seen by the subjoined recipe) and I am happy to say I succeeded perfectly. My chemical friend happened to be present at the eating of the pudding and his strictly logical mind accepting that event as proof of the fact, he roared out, after the first mouthful, “Why, you have managed to keep the vanilla in!”

Another novelty (as I take it to be) was an adaptation of a suggestion by Carème. I refer to the substitution of biscuit-powder for bread-crumbs.


1 lb. best muscatel raisins carefully stoned and chopped a little on the board; 1 lb. currants washed and picked; ¼ lb. candied lemon-peel: ¼ lb. candied citron; ¼ lb. sweet almonds blanched and chopped fine; 1 lb. suet, picked and chopped fine; ½ lb. biscuit powder; 1 ¼ lb. of sugar; nutmeg and mixed spices to taste; half a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda; 8 eggs well beaten; a gill of old ale. Then take a little milk in a saucepan and put into it half a pod of vanille [sic]. Let it simmer on the hob with the lid closed until the pod is quite soft. Take out the pod and mince it small with a sharp knife, and put it into a mortar with a little of the milk and bray it until reduced to a paste, which return to the milk and pour into the pudding. Just before putting the pudding on, give it a good stir and mix in a full quartern of  good brandy. Boil if for eight hours.


Anonymous said...

I just stumbled on your blog, I could spend hours here! So fun to read the old thoughts and expressions, and ideas about food. I started with the one about how to de-astingentize (is that a word?) persimmons from a comment posted by a reader after your helpful post on the fruit... having just learned the hard way that a half-ripe persimmon is a half-awful persimmon! Hoping his vodka trick works. Since then poked around a dozen or more other posts and am only logging out because it's far past my bedtime! Thanks for your work, hope to check in again soon. And maybe to make one of the recipes, can't choose just one yet!

Elise Fleming/Alys K. said...

You might be interested in two blogs by Ivan Day that mention plum pudding. In the first one, ( he writes, "George I had four more years to reign when John Nott published the above recipe in 1723 in The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary." Ivan gives Nott's recipe.

In the second blog (, Ivan writes about the history of plum pudding: "So far, the earliest reference we know that firmly associates plum pudding with Christmas is in the diary of Henry Teonge, a British naval chaplain who served on board a number of Charles II's ships. On Christmas Day 1675, somewhere off the west coast of Crete on board His Majesty's Ship Assistance, he wrote in his journal,

'Our Captaine had all his officers and gentlemen to dinner with him, where wee had excellent good fayre: a ribb of beife, plumb-puddings, minct pyes, &c. and plenty of good wines of severall sorts; dranke healths to the King, our wives and friends; and ended the day with much civill myrth.'"

Ivan mentions that plum pudding seems to have been "reinvented in the early decades of the twentieth century for a variety of political reasons, including the emergence of its role as an imperial symbol." You and readers might find these blogs interesting.