Christmas feature

The old Christmas pudding

The Puritans described its rich ingredients as "unfit for
God-fearing people". The Quakers referred to it as "the invention
of the scarlet whore of Babylon ". Who would have thought that the
humble Christmas pudding could evoke such strong feelings?

The traditional dessert that started off as plain old plum pudding had established itself on the Christmas dinner table as early as the mid 17 th Century. The modern recipe, which has not changed significantly since the 19 th Century, doesn't actually include a plum.

Nonetheless, chemically speaking, the festive pudding is not that different from wine: they both contain grapes (sultanas and raisins for the pudding) and they both contain alcohol. Hence the myth about an older pud being a better pud: the maturation of a pudding and the Bordeaux in the wine rack run along the same lines.

During the aging process, the many compounds in the pudding begin to break down, releasing new compounds, like aldehydes and esters, which are associated with sweet, fruity flavours and aromas.

This chemistry has long captured attention: for example, as the focus of a research article published in The Lancet in 1903.

"In a few days millions of people will be consuming this triumph of culinary craft, which for several days must form no small part of the diet of the empire,"​ wrote Mr. Edwy Clayton in The Lancet.

His chemical analysis of two different puddings revealed their composition as 35 per cent water, 23 per cent sugar, and 11 per cent starch. "It appears, that, although most agreeable as an article of food, plum-pudding is not so concentrated a form of diet as had been supposed,"​ he remarked.

Three years later, in another article in The Lancet, "The digestibility of Christmas pudding"​, an anonymous scientist came to the entirely opposite conclusion.

"It is hardly possible to conceive of a more complete food than the Christmas pudding, for a glance at the ingredients shows at once that all classes of food material are abundantly represented."

He also noted, and one detects with a hint of delight, "flavour is occasionally augmented by the addition of brandy or of sherry and it is just possible that the pudding may be slightly alcoholic."

That said, the antique version of the pudding was significantly richer. The 19 th century cookbook author, Eliza Acton, wrote a recipe that included two kg of dried fruit and candied peel, 16 eggs, 900 g of beef suet, and a liver-embalming 570 ml of brandy (that's one pint of brandy).

The traditional preparation of the pudding has also been firmly rooted in superstition. 'Stir-up Sunday', the last Sunday before Advent, was considered the last day that the pudding could be made so that it was properly matured before Christmas. The whole family were expected to participate; each member stirred the mix in a clockwise direction and, with eyes closed, made a wish.

In sum, the British love affair with its pud cannot be under-estimated. The world's oldest and largest manufacturer of Christmas puddings, Matthew Walker, predicts more than 40 million puds will be gobbled up this Christmas.

Even Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, gets into the festive spirit. In 1999 she spent £9,000 on Christmas puddings for her household staff, having managed to knock £2,000 off the bill.

Tesco, the British supermarket chain, was delighted Her Majesty chose to shop with them. The Sun newspaper claimed she had missed out on a fortune of loyalty card points.

Decision News Media wishes you a Royal Christmas!

By Stephen Daniells, Food Science Reporter

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