When I was a child, growing up in the wilds of Brooklyn, pudding was synonymous with My*T*Fine Pudding; since 1918, the “premium cook-n-serve pudding” for many Americans. Directions: stir 4 cups of milk into the mix, heat on a medium flame until the mixture thickens, pour the bubbly brew into serving dishes, allow to cool and you’re done.
In England, pudding is a big event, built on an even bigger process and richer tradition. My*T*Fine’s appearance would truly raise a few eyebrows over there and be dismissed as a concoction more befitting a hasty snack (or candy) than anything even resembling a pudding…let alone a Christmas Pudding.
Whereas My*T*Fine’s traditions are circa 1918, English pudding’s origins are set in the Middle Ages. It contained a hearty array of ingredients such as chopped poultry and rabbit; later on, sugar, raisins and candied apples and oranges were added. In the 14th century, a variation on this pudding called porridge emerged that included beef, mutton, raisins, currents, prunes, wine and mixed spices. This was served as an appetizer to the Christmas feast and not as an entrée or dessert. In 1595, it became plum pudding with the addition of spirits, dried fruit, eggs and breadcrumbs.
In 1664, the Puritans (always the “life” of any party) banned plum pudding as being epicurean and unfit for a God-fearing people. However, in 1741, King George I resurrected a modified pudding that replaced meat with more sweets, usually sprinkled with brandy and set aflame. This pudding eventually became an established tradition under Prince Albert during the Victorian Age: the traditional English pudding known to us today.
Cooking times vary, but the strictly traditional Christmas Pudding involves a whole lot of time and preparation. Over eight hours to cook (or steam) the pudding itself, but days (even weeks) are required to marinade the various fruits in brandy, cider, or both.
Steffie, my English wife and nymph of my daily orisons, has a collection of fruits and nuts marinading in various brews that are true around our apartment. We’re currently listening to Handel‘s Messiah; and as these solemn Christmastime chorales descant, the scents of marinaded lemons and oranges and such do the same.
The festive atmosphere, quite tenuous in these cynical and uncertain days, becomes more durable in imagination and more pleasurable in spirit as days of Christmas tradition and of Christmas’ fanciful moments of childhood are recalled. This will ultimately sing in the copper on Christmas Eve when the Christmas Pudding is ready. Also, our supply of My*T*Fine (chocolate) pudding will be there for the kid in me and, indeed, for the kid in both of us…which is, after all, what Christmas is all about and deserving of a song and a good pudding.