Figgy & Plum Pudding Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring it right here!"
~ We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Traditional (West Country, England)
The sweet plum and figgy puddings of Christmas hail from meatier dishes, and interestingly, rarely contained actual plums or figs! In 14th century Britain, beef and mutton were mixed with raisins and prunes, wines and spices as a soup-like dish. When grains were added to make it a thicker porridge, it was known as “frumenty.” For early preparation for Christmas meals in Elizabethan times, raisins, currants, and prunes (which had come into vogue) were added to the mix and stored like huge sausages in animal stomachs and intestines to be served months during the holidays. By this time, the terms "plum" became a term for all dried fruits, with "figgy" being a synonym for raisins as well.
Shake the Pudding Down
"For the uninitiated, Christmas puddings are eyed with skepticism befitting a dish that can be accurately described as a cross between a fruitcake and a haggis, set on fire."
The traditional Christmas plum pudding has its roots in medieval English sausages, when fat, spices and fruits were mixed with meats, grains and vegetables and packed into animal stomachs and intestines so they would keep as long as possible. The first records of plum puddings date to the early 15th century, when “plum pottage,” a savory concoction including meat and root vegetables, was served at the start of a meal. Then as now, the “plum” in plum pudding was a generic term for any dried fruit, most commonly raisins and currants, with prunes or other preserved or candied fruit added when available. By the end of the 16th century, dried fruit was more plentiful in England and plum pudding made the shift from savory to sweet.
By the mid 1600s, plum pudding was sufficiently associated with Christmas that when Oliver Cromwell came to power in 1647 he had it banned, along with Yule logs, carol-singing and nativity scenes!
In 1660 the Puritans were deposed and Christmas pudding, along with the English monarchy, was restored. Fifty years later, England’s first German-born ruler, George I, was styled the “pudding king” after rumors surfaced of his request to serve plum pudding at his first English Christmas banquet.
By the 19th century the ingredients were more or less standardized to suet, brown sugar, raisins and currants, candied orange peel, eggs, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and plenty of alcohol.
The game of “snap dragons,” in which children compete to pluck raisins from the flaming brandy, is often part of the serving of the holiday plum pudding. For more about this classic game, click the picture by Arthur John Elsley, "Snapdragon," c. 1894.
And for a traditional Scottish version of the recipe complete with a "rum butter" hard sauce and a whisky flambé, click the painting of the plum pudding being served.
Or should you be adventurous and decide to search out new recipes, here are two additional traditional versions and a quick emergency version of a bread pudding with traditional flavors with many fans: