Monday, November 15, 2010

Countdown to the Holidays: Pudding Time!

If you're from an English or Irish family, perhaps you've had traditional Plum Pudding served to you at Christmas or New Years dinner. You know, the rounded one with the holly in flames at the top. But does your family still make Pudding from scratch?

Mine does. Every year.

The recipe came over to New York City from England with the Taylor family in 1900. It was a prized and coveted family recipe - so coveted, in fact, that my Great Grandmother and Great Aunt tore the recipe in half and each kept only one half in her recipe box, so that thieves wouldn't be able to steal the whole recipe.

When my own Grandmother was dying and gave the recipe to my mother, she and her sister and sister-in-law decided to continue the tradition, and each fall get together to make the puddings. It's a pretty involved process, but many hands make light(er) work.

The yuckiest job is "picking the fat." Yes, big chunks of thick, white lard are purchased from the butcher, but then need to be picked lean of hard bits and veins. Aunt Marcie got stuck doing the whole thing by herself this year. (Hey, I was busy taking photos!)

The saying the "proof is in the pudding" refers to the amount of alcohol that goes into it to preserve and kill the germs. Good pudding needs lots of alcohol to keep it moist so it doesn't crack when you turn it out, and to keep the bacteria levels in check. Rye whiskey is used when stirring it together, added by the oldest member present. Either brandy or some other high-proof alcohol is used to light the pudding on Christmas, creating that blue flame we all get to wish upon.
While the last of the ingredients are being mixed together, the boiling bowls need to be prepped. This is one of the jobs that gets pawned off on the youngest helpers - adding that layer of Crisco to the insides of the Pyrex bowls. My Great Aunt Zoe is usually the chief bowl inspector, but couldn't make the trip to Virginia this year. I was a poor substitute as my kids didn't want to listen to me ... well, in their defense, it was close to midnight at this point. They weren't listening to much of anything.
When the bowls are prepped and the secret ingredients are all stirred together, it's time to fill the bowls and finish the process. Squares of new clean muslin are cut and soaked in water. Each bowl is placed in its own square, and then topped off with a thick layer of flour on top, before being tied up tightly with string. Each bowl needs to then be boiled for several hours (depending on the size of the bowl) and then allowed to sit quietly all tied up until Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, we'll get our puddings out of the closet, and boil them again for several more hours. When they're boiled enough, you finally get to cut the string, unwrap the muslin and scoop the remaining crust of hardened flour from the bowl. Then you "turn out the pudding" onto your serving plate. If it turns out without any cracks, it bodes well for the coming year.

The family recipe makes a lot of puddings. Each person takes several home to distribute to friends and colleagues - most of whom are of English or Irish descent. My publisher at CapeWomenOnline loves the pudding I give her each year for Christmas, which is probably the only reason she wasn't annoyed that I was going away the weekend we're trying to launch the Holiday Issue! Not many people eat plum pudding - my own kids prefer Pumpkin Pie!

So why continue the tradition? For one thing, it's a Holiday tradition. It's an opportunity for the extended family to gather with a purpose, but really just an excuse to get together and catch up before the Holiday Madness descends.

What traditions does your family observe? What brings the generations together at your house?


  1. that's awesome katie!

  2. Kristie - I'll always remember making the Ukranian-style Easter eggs at your house in the spring, with that black wax and the etching tools. Your mom was such a great artist with those! Do you still keep up with that family tradition with your kids?


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