Traditional Plum Pudding for Christmas

Two Christmas puddings, one steamed in a mold, the other in a bowl, ready for the holidyas.

Two Christmas puddings, one steamed in a mold, the other in a bowl, ready for the holidyas.

Toby and I have made our Christmas puddings, and I thought perhaps you might enjoy them, too. They are much better if you make them well in advance of the holiday – say October or early November – but they will taste just fine if you make them this week.

My recipe is a magical one that comes from my island neighbor Sharon Daley’s husband Tom’s family. Tom is descended from a Cornish family from near Penzance, England. His Cornish grandmother, Mabel Hocking, made this pudding at Christmas time, even after the family came to Boston in the 1920s. Tom remembers Nana making the puddings in big earthenware bowls. The puds sat, magnificent and mysterious, covered with cheese cloth, on the top shelf of her pantry. As a child, Tom and his cousins ate their servings warm with sugar sprinkled on them, though the grown-ups had theirs with more rum dribbled on them.

I have taken to halving the recipe, which calls for three cups each of seven main ingredients to produce two generously sized puddings, about four pounds. Those are magic numbers: seven and three, but I am doing one and a half and seven. Feel free to use more generous amounts of spice. I generally double the spice. If you use dry bread crumbs use the entire cup of milk; if you use fresh bread crumbs add only enough milk to make a stuff batter.

Muslin is good for covering pudding bowls, but a tin mold with a lid is perfect. Cut the cloth so it covers the bowl generously, and have string ready to tie it on. Heat a deep roasting pan of water to put the puddings in as soon as they are mixed, and keep a kettle of hot water ready to add more water to it as it steams away. You can put the roasting pan and puddings in the oven at 350 degrees, too, if you don’t want to do it on the top of the stove.

To serve the plum pudding, I warm it in a steamer or wrap it in tin foil in the oven. Be sure to flame it with more rum or brandy. Turn out the lights, and take it to the dinner table with blue fire flickering around it. Serve hard sauce alongside, which will turn sweetly creamy on the warm pudding.

If you have insufficient stove top space for the steaming process, you can use an oven at 350 degrees. Set water to boil in the pans in which you will steam the puddings while you mix them and keep a kettle of hot water on hand to add to the pan as the water level drops. Grease and flour the molds or bowls you use.

Plum Pudding

3 cups flour

3 cups bread crumbs

3 cups sugar

3 cups raisins

3 cups suet, grated

3 cups currants

3 cups golden raisins

4 beaten eggs

rind of 2 lemons with juice of 1 lemon

½ lb. of mixed candied peel

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1 pint rum

1 cup milk (less if you use fresh bread crumbs)

Mix together the flour, crumbs, sugar, raisins, suet, currants, and golden raisins. Then add and mix in eggs, lemon juice peel, baking powder salt and all spices. Add the rum, and gradually the milk, stirring until you have a stiff batter.

Distribute among molds, filling each two-thirds full. Dip the cloth in hot water, then tie it over the top of the moulds, a little puckered so there is room to swell. Place in pans with water halfway up molds. Steam for an hour, checking small ones after an hour, and allowing larger ones another half hour. They will look like a damp cake, and a skewer inserted will come out clean.

When they are done, take them from the pans, and when cool enough to handle turn out on racks. Wrap puddings in the cloth you tied over the moulds, or in muslin, and put them in a large container (I use my enamel canner) and douse them generously with rum.

Keep for months, but check once in a while, and add more rum to keep them damp and sticky.

Makes four pounds of pudding.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.