Three years ago I heard an NPR piece about figgy pudding, Christmas pudding. Curious about the carol’s lyric “bring us some figgy pudding,” the host prepared the pudding with cookbook author Dorie Greenspan. The link still works: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17356371)
The NPR piece included a little history – plum pudding might date back to Shakespeare’s time, and for sure it was around in the 1600s when the English Puritans banned it (along with Christmas). Beliefs held that “fruits, spices, and spirits inflamed passions.”
Listening, I kept seeing the cover of our old copy of “A Christmas Carol” – Tiny Tim on his father’s shoulders with what looks to be a figgy pudding tin in his hand.
So a day or so before Christmas that year, I bought a tin just like Tiny Tim’s – fluted with a lid, shiny silver – and made sure I had all the ingredients. The instructions recommended everyone take a turn with the stirring – that’s considered to bring good luck.
The Christmas pudding promised to cook for hours “filling the house with fragrance,” so I wanted to make it Christmas day. Beyond contributions to Christmas dinner we had no tradition of cooking special food on Christmas day, but I always loved (and missed when we moved), the Christmas Day offerings of friends. My painter friend made tiny cinnamon rolls in a wreath shape I will forever associate with little children and early Christmas mornings – a sleepy sugar buzz – pre-Christmas tension finally broken by Santa’s visit.
The first year of pudding preparation my enthusiastic invitation to share in the mixing wasn’t well received, my saying it was a tradition was met with: “Whose tradition?” I persevered and last year got a little help – who can resist simply stirring to bring good luck for the new year?
Dried figs are snipped and cooked with water. You add cognac or brandy, rum and raisins, and then set the alcohol afire (carefully). Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg are mixed with breadcrumbs, flour, and sugar, dried cherries and cranberries to make a thick batter.
The pudding pan, nestled in a big pot surrounded by boiling water, rattles gently as it cooks for two hours or so, and the fragrance of spices fills the house.
This year we will show our visitor from Thailand some Christmas traditions – cutting and frosting shaped cookies, stockings hung by the chimney (including a pink one for her), Christmas Eve dinner by the fire, gift opening in the morning, a walk in the woods, and a drive to Bainbridge for Christmas dinner (taking the figgy pudding along in the hot water).
The pudding really is delicious – cake-like, fruity, fragrant and still warm and cut in generous pieces (or it will fall apart). Someone will find the lucky token (wrapped in wax paper) tucked into the batter. By last year we got good at flaming the pudding for presentation – the trick is to warm the brandy – the pudding flames a festive blue and gold glow.
A renewed tradition – some figgy pudding to wish you a Merry Christmas!