Christmas Pudding – A British Christmas Tradition

The following is a guest post.

If you come to my house on Christmas Day you can expect a very traditional English Christmas. As much as I like to embrace the culture of where I am living, there are some traditions from home that are essential to remember, especially at Christmas.

From crackers (which, thank goodness, are more readily available in the US now), to wearing the paper hat that comes out of the cracker at the dinner table, no matter how silly you look, to the turkey (yes, I know Thanksgiving was only a month ago, but turkey is the tradition), to sprouts and parsnips. And, of course, no Christmas would be complete without the Christmas pudding. For more on puddings see my blog . . .

As the steaming pudding is turned out onto a plate, all heads turn as brandy is poured over the fruity dome and lit with a match. The kids love this spectacle as the flames dance around the pudding then slowly subside. The wonderful, once-a-year flavors of the fermented fruit, spices, beer and brandy cannot be beat. Especially when you dollop piping hot brandy sauce over it!

I haven’t made my own pudding in quite some time, going for the store bought variety instead. But my mum was visiting us in November and I thought it was time we should give it a crack. The pudding is traditionally made about five weeks before Christmas on “Stir Up Sunday” when the family gathers and each person takes a turn making stir the pudding whilst making a wish.

We were a bit ahead of this schedule, but that’s the great thing with the pudding is that it can be made well in advance so that the flavors can truly develop. Taking my dog-eared Delia Smith’s Christmas book (my go-to for the whole Christmas meal, in fact), we got started.

The most difficult part of the process seemed to be gathering the ingredients. All the fruits, spices, beer and brandy should make a sweet, dense pudding. Historically the pudding should have at least 13 ingredients (to represent Christ and his 12 disciples). As with mince pies (blog), the Christmas pudding originally had meat in as was made as a way to preserve the meat over the winter with the fruit acting as the preserving agent. Over the last century or so it has evolved into the sweet desert it is today.

We found most of the ingredients for the more modern version at the local supermarket, but I had trouble finding the suet (I could have ordered some Atora suet on Amazon, but the shipping cost would have made for one very expensive pudding!). I did some research online and there were several forums that agreed that you could put a stick of butter in the freezer and then grate it into the mixture in place of the suet. Well, as they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one on Boxing Day!

With a large bowl and a sturdy wooden spoon we got to work weighing all the different items that would go into the pudding. We used a can of Guinness for the stout and sloshed in some brandy to finish it all off. One by one we then took turns giving the mixture a stir and made a wish!

Then, as tradition also dictates, we put a coin in the mixture; the myth being that whoever finds the coin on Christmas day will be bestowed with wealth and happiness. What a joy to share this tradition with three generations of our family.

So that was it – pretty simple really. Now just to pour it into the bowl, make a nice lid out of greaseproof paper and foil and steam it – for 8 hours! That is what actually takes all the time. All afternoon and evening we had the wonderful aroma of the steaming pudding wafting through the house; really gets you in the festive spirit.

The pudding is now safely stored in a cool part of the basement, ready to be unveiled and set fire to on Christmas day! Let’s hope the American guests like it!

Lucinda Sears is a British expat living in Massachusetts. She and her friend Donna started a business selling British items called The Bees Knees British Imports. Read her guest posts here.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m sure they will love it! So few people make their own pudding these days, which is a shame because it’s such an old tradition.

  2. says

    Hope your pudding is delicious!
    I’m not a big fan – I might eat just a teaspoonful – so I certainly don’t make it, but usually grab one from Harrods at Heathrow at some point during the year. It seems to be the only place which reliably stocks them year round, and I love that by shopping after my suitcase is checked in, the extra weight doesn’t count against me!
    And yes, hooray for crackers creeping in to US shops!

  3. British American says

    Good for you for making your pudding. I’m a British expat too and have been making mine for the past several years. I found a slow cooker recipe, so I steam it in there. :) This year I added a (plastic) button to the pudding, after my Mum told me that they used to have them in hers when she was a child. :) I’ve never done the flaming brandy thing though – maybe I should try that. I really want to buy some holly for the decoration this year too.

    I’ve used lard in place of suet in the past and that worked well. Last year my Mum brought me over some Atora suet – but she didn’t want to this year, as she figured you probably aren’t officially allowed to import a meat product. This year I found an actual hunk of lard in the meat dept of a large local supermarket – Woodmans. So I bought it and froze it and grated it. It’s the genuine article! :) Hoping it tastes good on Christmas Day.

    I’m completely with you on the meal of turkey and sprouts and parsnips too. Don’t forget the bread sauce! I love to do a British Christmas. I’m hoping my half Brit – half American children will continue on the tradition one day.

  4. MerAngel says

    My great great grandmother came over from York. My first job making the pudding was cleaning the suet. I don’t recall if my nan ever did the flaming brandy, but pudding and hot toddys were the only things alcohol was ever allowed in the house for. Might have to try lighting it this year!

  5. Stacey Burnaroos says

    Oh wow!! That looks good! I can smell it from here, all that boozy goodness! I Too have resorted to the Cross and Blackwell store bought Christmas Pudd, but i’m the only one in my house that likes it. My Welsh borne Mum used to make two or three every year, two for our big family(6 kids) and one for her best friend also a brit, but not sucha good cook. lol. Thanks for the fabuluous pictorial article reminds me of my Mom, and I miss her and my Dad, also a proud Welshman. Oh and the silver coin A MUST!!! Happy Christmas!!!

  6. says

    Thanks for reading my post, Pauline! It was definitely fun to make. Luckily where I live we really have good access to lots of British food items now. So I don’t have too many yearnings – and can keep my kids in Hula Hoops!

  7. says

    Thanks for reading my post! I am certainly wondering how it will turn out with the butter – we’ll see. And yes to the bread sauce! Love it. I also make Delia’s recipe and it tastes great. I’ve converted a few Americans to that too!

  8. says

    Thanks for reading my post, Merangel! You should definitely try the flaming brandy. Turn the pudding out onto a plate. Bring it to the table with the brandy and matches ready. Pour some brandy over and light it. It will burn for just a few seconds but is lots of fun! Good luck.

  9. says

    Thanks for reading my post, Stacey! Glad you liked it! It’s fun making something like this and taking pictures at the same time! Makes it all take a little longer, but oh well :) Glad I was able to rekindle some memories. Happy Christmas to you too.

  10. Christine says

    I grew up with a grandmother who would staunchly serve plum pudding every Christmas (her mother was born in northern Ireland). When we were stationed at RAF Lakenheath nearly 30 years ago I finally got my hands on a cookbook that had a recipe for Christmas pudding, which I didn’t even attempt to make until I was back in the states (easier to buy the thing at Tesco’s). Can’t imagine the holidays without this & the hard sauce!

  11. peggy kearsey says

    I’d love to make this to represent my mother’s English heritage – from Cambridge – as a surprise to her and to celebrate our trip last year. Not to be a stupid American but how do you go about the steaming bit? Put the bowl in a big pan of water? Sorry to be silly but I have never attempted anything like this. And how long can it be in storage? Or how to store? So many questions but really would like to try.

  12. says

    Hi Peggy, Thanks for reading! You can certainly make the pudding right now! It will be fine until Christmas. I’m not sure officially how long you can keep it but I know it can be months. You should definitely do it, it’s not difficult. As for steaming, I put the bowl, as you see it above with the parchment and foil, in the top half of a double steamer. Do you know these? Put water in the bottom pan and place the bowl in the top one that has holes in. You may have to top up the water as it steams for a while but works like a charm. Do hope this works. I then stored it with the foil etc on in part of my unfinished basement! Hope this helps. Good luck!

  13. Donna says

    I’m determined to start a tradition of making a Christmas Pudding in honor of my British mother. How did it come out with the use of butter instead of suet? (And I love your Emma B pudding basin!)