By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs
For many, many years, our holiday interpretation of Henry House has included the making of the Christmas Pudding, a tradition of the Victorians, and one that has continued for many people to this day. My grandmother every year makes a Christmas Pudding and insists we sing ‘Now bring us some figgy pudding’ as it is carried through to the dinner table, a brilliantly blue flame encircling the rich pudding.
In Henry House, the recipe we use appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator in 1860, Mrs. Wagstaff’s Christmas Pudding. It is a fairly standard pudding recipe, calling for flour, bread crumbs, spices, eggs, milk, sugar, candied citrus peel (or ‘sweetmeats’), raisins, currants, and suet. What exactly is suet? Well, it’s raw beef fat… doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious in your Christmas dessert?!
This year, we decided to give this recipe a try. The recipe calls for boiling the pudding for 4 hours; we have very limited kitchen capabilities at the Museum, but we can boil water! We mixed the ingredients together and tied it in a cheesecloth. Trick we picked up after making it a number of times: tie the cheesecloth TIGHTLY around the pudding, otherwise it will not keep its shape when boiling. As well, the recipe calls for boiling for 4 hours, then boiling again for another 6. I found that a lot of the fruit flavour was lost on that second boil. Boiling it for 4 hours was sufficient.
So, after stirring and boiling, how did the Plum Pudding turn out? It was surprisingly raisin-y and currant-y. Those were the dominant flavours that came through. We did not have our pudding sit and ‘get drunk’ in brandy, as most puddings do in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is the alcohol that burns off when the pudding is set on fire, and the alcohol, of course, brings new flavours to the pudding which ours didn’t have. We also found out that boiling something which contains suet brought, well, a whole new sensory experience to this traditional dessert. It was not one that is easy on the nose… Ultimately, it looked good, and tasted good and we were excited and proud to say that we were able to successfully bring a recipe from 1860 to life in 2013!
“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol