Stockings are empty and the wrapping paper is plied high in the corner and no one wants to throw it away. There is one last Christmas tradition to feast upon, dessert. The roast, ham, turkey or goose are are sitting on the counter waiting to be turned into leftovers. Ah, the dessert if you are an Anglophile, like desserts or just plain English it’s the Christmas pudding.
The traditional steamed pudding. Not just any pudding but THE Christmas steamed pudding. A figgy pudding. Songs have been written and sung about it. Charles Dickens made the pudding immortal as the whole Crathit family, eyes open wide with excitement as the pudding is brought to the table.
“Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had her doubts about the quantity of flour.” (Dickens, 1843)
The traditional pudding was brought to the table aflame and with the traditional sprig of holly. I can understand her trepidation of presenting her pudding to the family. I wanted to bring the perfect pudding, but unlike Mrs. Cratchit, I’ve never made one. Oh, I’ve made my share of fruitcakes, cookies and cakes over the years but never a steamed pudding.
The quest for the perfect Dickens A Christmas Carol Pudding was on. My vintage and antique cookbooks were combed for the recipe that would have been used in good ole’ Victorian London.
In my search I discovered not only a recipe, but the history to the seemingly plain and humble dessert. And it all starts on Stir up day. Stir up day falls on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. The ingredients are 13 to represent Jesus and his Disciples. The pudding is “stirred” in an east to west direction representing the journey of the Three Wise Men. Everyone takes a turn stirring and makes a wish for the season. The ingredients are poured into a mold or a crock and steamed for 2-6 hours depending on the recipe.
The search took me all over the Victorian world. From recipes from the BBC, famous British bakers and cookbook authors to my work. My employment just so happens to have a fabulous rare book collection and in it, a recipe from the book that James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, has a recipe for a steamed pudding. But after a long search I decided to use a recipe for Steamed Christmas Fig Pudding from a book in my own collection. The Good Housekeeping Cook Book the 1944 7th edition. The spine is well worn and it has its share of stains and it came with handwritten and typed up recipes, I assume by one of the owners of the book.
I wanted a recipe that would be as close to Mrs. Cratchit’s as possible. This recipe is not for the vegetarian or vegan, it contains beef suet. But i am not sure that oranges would have afforded by a large family surviving on 15 shillings a week. But maybe she squirted a few half pennies a week to be able to afford the ingredients and a goose!
Fortunately today we don’t have to steam it over the wash bin. And on the gas cooktop my pudding steamed for two hours checking it once in a while to make sure there was plenty of water. After it cooled and a fresh parchment and foil covering and it was tucked away in the back of the refrigerator until it it’s big reveal to the family. In reality I unmolded it a couple of days before Christmas. I was too nervous to reveal it at Christmas dinner, if was going to be a flop. Unlike fruitcake this has no alcohol so I wasn’t sure what to expect when revealed.
I brought it temperature and steamed it for two hours and then the magic reveal! With a sprig of holly I presented to the family. You could smell the spices and the orange, oh the orange! The whole house smelled just like Christmas. I guess I worried needlessly, and just like Mrs. Cratchit my family loved it and raved about it.
Most of the ingredients are easily found and you can substitute the beef suet. It is a shame it isn’t that popular these days. I think that this might become a staple on our Christmas dinner menu, so bring us some figgy pudding and we won’t go until we get some! Glad tidings we bring to you and your kin; Glad tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.
STEAMED CHRISTMAS FIG PUDDING
3/4 lb. chopped dried whole figs
1 1/2 cup of milk or 3/4 cup of evaporated milk and 3/4 cup of water
1 1/3 cup of beef suet ground fine
1 1/2 cups of soft bread crumbs
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c of sifted all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of Nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoon grated orange rind
Cook the figs with the milk in a double boiler for 20 minutes. Combine the suet, breadcrumbs, and the eggs. Add the cooked fig mixture with the sifted dry ingredients and the orange rind, and mix well. Pour into a 2 quart greased or oiled covered pudding mold. Steam on top of the range for 2 hours.
If desired the pudding can may be steamed several days ahead, then covered cooled and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Then put it back on range to reheat by steaming about 1 hour. I did not take my pudding out of the original crock it was steamed in and I did not serve it with a hard sauce. Next time and yes there will be a next time.