Ask the Past: Christmas pudding

I was thinking about hiding under the duvet and pretending that Christmas wasn't happening this year, but now I have family coming to visit and I feel a bit bad about doing that. Can you give me a cheap and easy recipe for a Christmas cake or a pudding? I want to enter into the holiday spirit, but not too much.

Unfortunately, it's probably a little late to be entering into the Christmas spirit with either cake or pudding. Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia says that the right date to be making a Christmas cake is the second week of November, and says that a pudding "improves so much with keeping that it is generally made weeks, or even months in advance. Some even make it one year to use it the next." I suppose you could get into the spirit of next Christmas preemptively even if you're too late for this Christmas, or, if you're happy to have a pudding that hasn't improved with keeping, you can make a slightly disappointing one for eating now. Before I get to the recipes, though, a few hints from Harmsworth:

With regard to the ingredients, fresh beef suet is the best; if unobtainable, one of the prepared kinds, but a little less of it, will do, or a little beef dripping. Bottled lime juice could be substituted for lemon. Grated raw carrots, potatoes, and apples are frequently added to make a plain and inexpensive pudding.

This recipe for Poorman's Christmas Pudding from The Red Cross War-time Rationing Cookbook (the recipe for December 2, so even by their less exacting standards for pudding ageing, you're a couple of weeks late) sounds suspiciously fancy by Harmsworth's standards, because it doesn't contain any grated vegetables at all. It may be that the economy here is all in the boiling time, because this only requires you to crank your stove in the middle of summer for three hours instead of the 8-12 that some other recipes call for:

1 cup flour, 1 cup raisins, 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 cup currants, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon mixed spice, 1 cup suet, 4 oz. chopped almonds, 1 small teaspoon Edmonds Baking Powder, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, milk to mix. Sift flour and baking powder together, add other dry ingredients, eggs beaten, and lastly milk. Boil in buttered baisin 3 hours. Serve with Edmonds Custard Sauce.

365 Puddings has eight recipes to choose from, and one of them (although not their Economy Christmas Pudding) does contain carrots. They also have a recipe for Special Christmas Pudding that you may just about be able to start now and have ready for Christmas:

1 cup chopped beef suet, 1 cup currants, 1 cup chopped almonds, 3 cups raisins, 2 cups breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup each citron, orange, and lemon peel. Mix these ingredients and allow them to stand a few days. The day before Christmas add the yolks of 4 well beaten eggs, 1 cup warmed milk, 1/2 cup sherry, 1/2 cup brandy. Steam or boil 4 hours. On Christmas Day steam 1 hour. Serve with brandy sauce.

Although it's not strictly called a Christmas pudding, this recipe for Plum Pudding from Farmhouse Fare is in their Christmas section, and it does contain both potatoes and carrots, which means that with this and a roast chicken you will probably have all your dietary bases covered:

Bake 1 1/2 lbs. each of potatoes and carrots boiled and weighed when cold; rub through a colander, or put through a mincing machine; 1 1/2 lbs each of raisins, currants, flour and suet; 1 lb. moist brown sugar, 1 nutmeg, 1/2 lb. candied peel, 1 lemon (juice and grated rind), 6 tablespoonfuls of treacle. Mix together and boil 6 hours. Boil for another 4 hours before using.

Mrs Tuxford's Cookery for the Middle Classes is obviously not concerned with economy, but if the thought of eating a pudding full of beef fat is sending a shiver down your spine, she does provide a recipe for a vegetarian pudding which also doesn't sound like it requires months of storage before eating:

1 1/4 lbs. breadcrumbs, 1 teacupful wheatmeal flour, 1 lb. Valencia raisins, 4 ozs. butter, 2 ozs. vegetable butter, 1/2 lb. pine kernels, 6 ozs. ground almonds, 1 lb. sultanas, 1 lb. currants, 1/4 lb. glace cherries, 1 lb.sugar, 1/2 lb. mixed peel, 1/2 teaspoonful mixed spice, little salt, rind and juice 2 lemons, rind and juice 1 orange, 7 or 8 eggs.

Clean fruit, chop cherries and peel, grind nuts, and mix all together, adding breadcrumbs, salt, flour, melted butters, spice, sugar, rind and juice lemons and oranges, and eggs. Leave overnight if possible. Steam large pudding 4 hours.

It should be noted that although her recipe doesn't contain carrots, it is printed immediately after her recipe for carrot jam.

If you want to enter into the true spirit of Christmas, then you can hit the right notes of social climbing and the somewhat problematic by serving this Empire Christmas pudding, which appeared in a number of NZ newspapers in 1927 (after a number of articles in 1926 talking about an Empire Christmas pudding being delivered to the king, so I am assuming his chef stole the recipe and recycled it to the papers the following year), but since the 27 October 1927 edition of the Manawatu Herald also printed the letter that came with the recipe, that's the one I'm including here:

Dear Sir, —The King’s Chef, Mr. Cedard, with their Majesties’ gracious consent, has supplied to the Empire Marketing Board a recipe for an Empire Christmas Pudding. This recipe is being inserted by the Empire Marketing Board in all the principal newspapers of this country. It will appear in good time before Christmas so that people may be able to make their puddings of ingredients obtained exclusively from the Empire at home and overseas. I enclose, herewith, an advice copy of this recipe and hope that it may be of sufficient interest to be mentioned in your news columns. As you will see the King’s Chef includes in his ingredients 5 lbs. of New Zealand beef suet. —I am, etc., S. G. TALLENT. Secretary, Empire Marketing Board. London, September 20, 1927.

The recipe supplied by Mr. Cedard for the King’s Christmas Pudding is as follows: 5 lbs. of currants (Australia), 5 lbs. of sultanas (Australia), 5 lbs. of stoned raisins (South Africa), 1 1/2 lbs. of minced apple (Canada), 5 lbs. of bread crumbs (United Kingdom), 5 lbs. of beef suet (New Zealand), 2 lbs. of cut candied peel (South Africa), 2 1/2 lbs. of flour (United Kingdom), 2 1/1 lbs. of demerara sugar (West. Indies), 20 eggs (Irish Free State), 2 ozs. ground cinnamon (Ceylon), 1 1/2 ozs. ground cloves (Zanzibar), 1 1/2 ozs. ground nutmegs (Straits Settlements), 1 teaspoonful pudding spice (India), 1 gill brandy (Cyprus), 2 gills rum (Jamaica), 2 quarts of old beer (England).

Unfortunately, none of the versions have anything to say about mixing order, cooking time, or the length of time you're required to age it before eating, so I suppose you can just use your best judgement there.

And finally, although brandy sauce is the traditional sauce for Christmas puddings, I found a number of newspaper articles from Australia and NZ between about 1915 and 1935 that all mentioned that the royal Christmas pudding was served with sauce sublime. Sadly, I was unable to find a recipe for it anywhere, so if you do want to make a properly royal Christmas pudding, you will just need to serve it with whatever sauce you consider to be most sublime.

I'm sure that will help.

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