Search This Blog

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Proof is in the Pudding…

plum puddin'“Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Ebenezer Scrooge

  A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The Ripple’s previous post brought up the subject of holiday traditions and their importance in rounding out any given holiday. Our household quests for anything that might evolve into a new tradition, especially at Christmas time. Two years ago the Christmas feast featured roast goose, a tradition that withered quickly on the vine in part because the roasting pan residue looked like the aftermath of a liposuction session. Only two family members dared tackle the goose: both concurred turkey dark meat was not only comparable to goose flesh but in fact surpassed it in quantity, if not in flavor. Christmas past highlighted a leg of lamb swimming among vegetables in a slow cooker. Once again only two stalwart family members leaped, so to speak, into the fold and partook of the lambkin. Consensus: lamb for two @$65 a leg would be worth the value only if one of the pair was a comely lass whose favor and affection you sought. Thus a second would-be tradition quickly left the rails.ready for flambe'

This Christmas, inspired by Mrs. Cratchit’s ceremonial flaming presentation in Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol, I thought I would introduce the traditional English plum pudding to the household. A new tradition, perhaps? One that might stick? A little research turned up the fact that the main ingredient missing in “plum puddings” were the plums. At one time raisins, according to the research, were called plums, and all the pudding recipes called for a liberal amount of them. Yes, pudding recipes. And they were numerous, I discovered. I narrowed them down to two: the first, a tried and true recipe in England for fifty years, I discovered online; the second I found in our Joy of Cooking cookbook we’ve had since the mid-1960’s (p. 704). The J of C recipe called for twice as many eggs as the former, so I chose it (more is always better in the kitchen arena—unless it be cooks, of course). The J of C recipe follows:

1 cup flour

Prepare and dredge lightly with part of the flour:

1 lb. chopped suet (2 cups)

1 lb. seeded raisins (I used half regular raisins and the other half golden raisins)

1 lb. currants

1/2 lb. chopped citron (I added 4 oz. of glazed orange peel)

Resift the remaining flour with:

1 grated nutmeg (mind your knuckles!)

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 Tbsp. mace

1 tsp. salt

6 Tbsp. sugar or 1/2 cup brown sugar (I chose the white sugar but not without giving serious consideration to the brown). Combine the dredged and sifted ingredients.


7 egg yolks

1/4 cup cream

1/2 cup brandy or sherry (my spirit of choice was brandy)

3 cups grated (crushed) bread crumbs, white or rye (Rye? I think not.)

The latter helps make the pudding light. Place on a platter and whip until stiff:

7 egg whites

Fold them lightly into the raisin mixture. Pour the batter into a greased, covered gallon mold and steam for six hours.

A few days before I did battle with the recipe, I called Kelso’s Meats in Snohomish, had them reserve me a pound of suet. (Butter may be used as a substitute if you don’t have access to a Kelso’s.) As with any first attempts there are bound to be issues. My first: where to find a one gallon pudding mold? Maybe in the kitchens of Julia Childs or Rachel Rey. But aside from a casserole dish or two, a variety of cookie sheets, and serving bowls, I was at a loss for a plum pudding container. This dilemma led me to the kitchenware section of Freddies where I happened upon a five quart stainless steel mixing bowl ($9.99, but a bargain at 30% off). This bowl seemed destined to be a pudding mold.

In no time at all the ingredients went together (I had grated the whole nutmeg the night before). The “batter” was formidable in quantity and I had doubts the five quart bowl would hold it all. Directions specified filling the mold only two-thirds full which, to my relief, was the result after I tamped the mixture tightly. Issue number two. In my haste to see if all would fit, I forgot to grease the inside of the mold liberally and then coat the grease with sugar. (The pudding was an hour into its steaming before I remembered this step, leaving me to worry that if after all my work the pudding would not release. All that suet, I thought… surely that would be lubrication enough.)

When the vents of the canner spouted steam, I covered the bowl with a cotton cloth and bound it tightly with twine beneath the lip of the mold. I set the oven timer for one hour and into the steam bath went the pudding.ready for the steamer

Each hour I added two pints of water to the canner so it wouldn’t run dry. Seven hours later (one additional hour to insure the suet saturated the flour and bread crumbs) I removed the steamer from the heat and set it aside to cool for a half hour or so.

The unveiling had me nervous. seven hours laterWould I be able to remove the pudding  from the mold or have to enlist the help of a chisel? Would it be cooked through and through? The fatty suet did the trick for me; I ran a frosting spatula around the bowl and that was sufficient to release the payload.

I inverted the bowl and with a thud out plopped the pudding.Release the Puddin' Four days until Christmas. The pudding slumbered in the WELL-GREASED bowl (butter this time) in the cool garage.

The traditional English plum pudding included a few silver coins mixed into the batter before cooking. Those who found the coins in their serving were richer not only in calories, but also in silver. This tradition went away when silver coins, because of the rising value of silver, ceased to be minted. I decided to meet the ritual halfway by tossing in one silver coin, a 1961 Roosevelt dime, 90% silver, 10% copper. It was the best I could do. Whoever found the dime would be $1.45 richer (melt value as of 12/25/2013--barring a broken tooth).

Presentation: ah, this is the glory of the traditional plum pudding. The dessert should be brought to the feast table aflame, garnished with a sprig of holly (the latter I snipped from the neighbor’s holly tree, an eight inch twig with a festive cluster of plump, red berries…). The combustible I used was brandy, 80 proof. It is customary for the feasters to applaud the presentation of the pudding, but our guests proved to be pyrophobes, wary and poised to spring into action should the kitchen catch fire. My recipe omitted the flambe’ stage of the ritual; all I had to go by was Mrs. Cratchit’s portion of spirits: “…half of half-a-quartern of blazing brandy.”Knowing no equivalent for a “half-a-quartern,” I substituted a half cup of the 80 proof which proved insufficient fuel to make the short trip to the table ablaze but proved fire enough to broil the holly berries. But the pudding did burst forth in a momentary blaze of glory and proved sufficient entertainment for all.


The hot pudding was served with a chilled lemon hard sauce. All present gave the dessert favorable reviews which, I boast, bodes well  for plum pudding becoming a family Christmas tradtion. I did forget to mention, however, that the recipe yields twenty-four servings which proved far too great a challenge for our company of seven. leftovers

The dime, by the way, has yet to be found.

Print this post


  1. I loved everything about this!! The effort, the presentation and the taste! Now, I just wish I'd taken some home to increase my odds of getting that silver coin!!

    1. There's a chance yet. Dishing up a "twenty-four serving" pudding to seven guests means about two-thirds leftovers.Currently, I'm the only one in the household who is a plum pudding fan and have served myself three wedges since Christmas. Although I've sifted my three servings with tongue and tooth, the silver is still buried in pudding somewhere. Maybe the dime will reveal itself in tonight's serving? Thanks for the comment. TMJ (Dad)

  2. How sad that no one in the family appreciated either the lamb or the goose. Personally, I love roast goose and would have one for Christmas every year if I could. I'm very impressed with your extraordinary efforts to make a genuine plum pudding. I would love to try it if there is any left. Well done. (exclamation point omitted in deference to your punctuation preferences)

    1. Jim, if I had it to do all over again, I will. Of all the "off the wall" holiday fare I've tried so far, the plum pudding has been the only real hit. Now that I have my pudding mold plus the steam canner, I foresee a Christmas tradition emerging. As for the silver coins,obtaining small ones is problematic. I do have several liberty half dollars, but I'm afraid they may pose either a serious choking problem or a dentition debacle.Thanks for the comment...and for reading The Ripple. TMJ