I also immediately knew when I would want to serve this. Twice a year I spend a weekend with college friends - we call it "Crafting Weekend", but the amount of crafting that gets done is variable. It's a gathering of 8 girls who are all fun, adventurous, and clever, and they all indulge my love of the 19th century. I knew they would be up for trying this out with me at our get-together the weekend after the new year. And I knew they would let me light it on fire.
But more on that later.
One of the key components in a plum pudding is suet. Real suet is very hard to find in the US and I mentioned this to the Gentleman Friend. Lo and behold, he knew of a meat market where real, actual-factual suet could be found. And then he acquired it for me. Be still, my heart.
The final piece that came together: my parents gave me a pudding mold for Christmas! Any bowl that can withstand the steam bath can be used for steaming the pudding, but having a mold with a lid was really, really handy.
So now, I just had to make it. And light in on fire.
The Challenge: Celebratory Foods
The Recipe: "Plum Pudding" from Every Woman Her Own Housekeeper
The Date/Year and Region: 1796, London.
How Did You Make It?: First, I rendered the suet. It wasn't specified in the recipe, but I wanted better control over the product and was worried about not knowing how much processing had happened at the meat processors. I melted it on low heat on the stove, strained out the solids, poured it into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper, and let it cool. Once it was hard, I cut it into pieces, weighed it, and divided it into half-pounds for storing.
I made the pudding exactly as described in the recipe - mixed up the flour, eggs fat, fruit and spices with enough milk to make it goopy but not liquid. I then put it in the buttered mold, and placed the mold in a stockpot with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Then I boiled it
Then it was time to light it up.
Firing the pudding is a British tradition that was described in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, during the Cratchit family's Christmas dinner:
"Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witnesses – to take the pudding up and bring it in... Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."To fire the brandy, we heated up some brandy to get it fuming, which makes it easier to ignite. Once the brandy is lit on fire, it is poured over the pudding. It's traditional to have a sprig of holly stuck into the top of the pudding, but I could not find food-safe holly and decided to skip it. The alcohol burns off, and the pudding can then be sliced up and eaten with hard sauce or brandy butter. We used a simple hard sauce recipe provided by a friend's grandmother
Time to Complete: Six hours, not including rendering the suet.
Total Cost: About $6. The biggest expense was the raisins and currants - the suet was pretty cheap.
How Successful Was It?: The firing was pretty fantastic! I owe large debt of gratitude to my friend/our hostess, Jenny, for standing by with a fire extinguisher and allowing us to light things on fire in her house. The pudding itself was really, really good. It had no added sugar, just the sweetness from the dried fruits, and I was impressed with the flavors. It was moist and chewy, and the suet gave it a very silky mouthfeel, more like butter than lard or shortening. In the future, I might adjust the amount of suet - by the time I was done with my little bit, I felt like my mouth was coated. I can definitely understand why this would be a winter treat - it's very decadent and rich!
The reactions from the assembled were mixed. The general consensus was that the pudding itself was good, but that some people were not fond of puddings in general. There were a lot of currants and raisins as well, and for those not fond of raisins/dried fruits, it was a lot.
How Accurate Was It?: Modern stove, non-heritage ingredients, and I added the step of rendering the lard, otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter.