A Short History of Christmas Pudding

December 18, 2017

There are many symbols of Christmas, but few are as ubiquitous as the Christmas (a.k.a. plum) pudding. It is an iconic symbol of the holiday itself, but also of a traditional Christmas dinner, despite not everyone being a fan. Its’ status as a Christmas symbol has been firmly solidified in Christmas carols, literature, and on everything from t-shirts to ornaments. What’s more interesting is that the Christmas pudding we know and love today has evolved and changed from its original form dating back centuries.

Several sources cite that the origins of the Christmas pudding date back as far as Medieval England in the 14th century when it was called “frumenty,” which was made with beef and mutton, combined with raisins, currants, prunes, wine, and spices. In this form, it was more of a soup and was consumed as a fasting meal in anticipation of the upcoming Christmas festivities. Other sources cite the pudding’s early origins to Medieval English sausages where fruits, spices, and fat were combined with meats, vegetables, and grains, which were then stuffed into animal stomachs and intestines to delay spoiling for as long as possible.

Early records of plum puddings are said to date back to the early 15th century when “plum pottage,” a savoury mixture consisting largely of meat and root vegetables that was served at the beginning of a meal. The “plum” in the pudding pertained to any dried fruit used in the dish, which could be raisins and currants. Prunes and other dried, preserved, or candied fruits would be added based on their availability. The pudding moved from its savoury beginnings to a sweet dish by the end of the 16th century, as dried fruits were more plentiful in England. It’s also said that around this time with the emergence of the pudding cloth, a floured piece of fabric, which was capable of holding any size of pudding, helped to alleviate the dependence on animal products; however, suet remained an important ingredient, which continues to be used in many recipes today. There are sources which cite alcohol also being added to the dish from the late 16th century and into the 17th century. It has been said that recipes for plum pudding emerged in the 17th century and it became a traditional dessert associated with Christmas by the mid-1600s. It is also about this time that the dish begins to be prepared in advance and stored in earthernware pots. However, the pudding was banned by the Puritans around this time, as well as several other Christmas customs.

There are sources that attribute King George I with bringing back the plum pudding as a Christmas tradition since he enjoyed it himself and requested that it be served at his first English Christmas banquet. Following this, plum pudding in its standard form became firmly established during the Victorian era, as English journalists, political leaders, and novelists sought to establish and promote a vision of a traditional, family-centred English Christmas. It’s been said that it wasn’t until the 1830’s when the cannonball shape of the pudding, consisting of flour, fruits, suet, sugar, and spices, topped with holly (the classic image that we associate with Christmas pudding today) first appeared and increasingly became tied to Christmas.

Today, there are many recipes available for Christmas (or plum) pudding, but what hasn’t changed is its prominence at the Christmas dinner table and the joy it brings as a very special treat. It (along with many other symbols of Christmas) adds to the magic of the season and reminds us to extend goodwill and charity to everyone and especially to our fellow citizens who are less fortunate. As the Member of Parliament for Dufferin-Caledon, I wish you and your loved ones much peace and joy, as you celebrate your cherished holiday traditions together, whatever they may be. Merry Christmas!