Stir Up Christmas
The traditional Christmas dinner is usually finished off with a portion of Christmas pudding. Writer, Emma Brereton delves into the history of this spherical dessert to learn more about its origins and how it’s remained a feature on many a festive table
If you don’t over indulge during the main food event, you might be lucky enough to have room for a small portion of Christmas pudding. I am not usually this lucky but I always buy one every year to satisfy any sweet cravings after such a savoury feast.
My first memories of Christmas pudding are from a Shirley Hughes book called Lucy and Tom’s Christmas where the two children take turns in making the seasonal pudding, stirring up the ingredients and taking part in all the superstitions that are associated with the ritual.
I’d not really given it much thought before being asked to write this piece and after some Googling, I found several interesting and very religious facts about the pudding, which first appeared in the 14th century as a porridge called frumenty.
At this time, it was made from beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and spices – nothing like what we see on the supermarket shelves today. It was more like a soup and was actually eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
It wasn’t until the 16th century that it started to morph into a plum pudding after eggs, breadcrumbs and dried fruit were added to give it more flavour and thicken it to allow the formation of the spherical shape we recognise today. Once established, it became the customary Christmas dessert until 1664 when the Puritans banned it and wasn’t reinstated until 1714 when King George I came to the throne.
There are also quite a few superstitions that are associated with the canon ball pud. One suggests that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and his Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west in honour of the wise men.
This is usually done on Stir up Sunday, which will be on Sunday 26th November this year, the last Sunday before Advent. This originates from the opening words of the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 which says: “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The other traditions that come with a Christmas pudding are the sprig of holly on the top to signify the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head during the crucifixion, whilst the alcohol which is poured over and set on fire at the dinner table, is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.
Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another age-old custom that is said to bring luck to the person who finds it. The coin traditionally used was a silver six pence.
You might also get other items (sometimes called ‘tokens’ or ‘favours’) placed in the Christmas pudding which have special meanings:
• Bachelor’s button: If a single man found it, they would be a bachelor for the following year.
• Spinster’s/old maid’s thimble: If a single woman found it, they would be single for the following year.
• A ring: If a single person found this, it meant they might get married in the following year, but it can also mean they could be rich for the following year.
So, if you’re inclined to dig out the mixing bowl, source 13 ingredients and gather the family to stir east to west, then Sunday 26th November is the day to do it. Alternatively, you can purchase one from a supermarket or from a specialist company like The Ultimate Plum Pudding Company in Cumbria.
The official supplier to Fortnum & Mason, it made a range of puddings for the famous store in 2012 and since 2013 have been making its iconic Christmas puddings and produced its amazing Magnificent Christmas Pudding which has a melting heart of gold-flecked brandy butter – now that’s decadent!
The company has an online shop, so you can buy just for yourself or send as gifts to friends and family.
After all this research and typing, I think I might make the effort this year and make my own. Merry Christmas.