Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Caro has long wanted to make a Plum Pudding, for not one of us has ever even tasted the old-fashioned treat.   We SAW an enormous one once, piped in on the shoulders of four hearty minstrels dressed in satins and lace, at the Madrigal Feast at the University years ago.

It came in on a great sedan-chair to much pompous circumstance, flaming into the darkened room with the gravity and hauteur of a royal personage, and making its fragrant way up to the table where sat King and Queen and courtiers.    That thing would have filled a bushel basket, and must have been doused in a gallon of spirits, for the flame lasted for the entire slow, elaborate progress of piper, heralds, attendants, and four stalwart carriers keeping it level and proud for the entire length of the banquet hall.

We were all primed for a taste of such a beautiful, historical dessert, but then the waitstaff set down a pretty platter with one of those rolled Yule-Log cakes---like foot-long Little Debbie Swiss rolls---before us and handed a sharp knife to one lady at each table.   I was the one chosen for ours, and I assumed it was like the honor of being asked to “be Mother” and Pour Out, so I cut and served to all our ten-at-table.   It was chocolate, with whipped-cream swirls inside, and not at all what we were expecting.

The Buttered Basin (I've ALWAYS wanted to call one that)

So now we have one---with chopped dates and prunes and sultanas and currants, and just for the elegance and custom of the thing, a few of the long-hoarded candied figs sent by our dear Ben and Lil last year, from their own fig trees.  Tawny Port and sherry and eggs and crumbs, along with the crumbly rich sweetness of Demarara sugar and spices I cannot remember went in as well. 

Terrible picture---in all that stirring and leaning over the batter with the camera, I must have inhaled too many Port and Sherry fumes.

And I think Caro enjoyed ordering a pound of suet from the butcher---Mrs. Beeton would have been proud.  We took turns stirring, per the custom---Sweetpea was not present, so I took a small turn with one of her tiny doll-tea spoons, just for luck.   The batter went into a well-buttered specially-ordered-from-away Pudding Basin, was covered in a neatly-creased chapeau of parchment paper, tied with red-and-green kitchen twine, the shining cap clamped on, and it was steamed for six hours.   Just knowing it was bubbling away in there, on that cold afternoon in November, lent a luster of anticipation to the still-in-Fall-colours house, and tipped the holiday spirit into Christmas mode.

It sits in a cool place upstairs, awaiting a further two hours in the simmery bath on Christmas Eve, when it will be unmolded onto a platter, garnished with holly and ivy, baptised with more port, and ceremoniously lit and sung to.   A little boat of crème Anglaise, for the import of the thing, and I’ll bet that neither chiding nor tradition will keep Chris from running wild around the table with the Redi Whip can.    

Perhaps in addition to a place set for the Christmas Angel, there’ll be one for Little Jack Horner this year, as well.


GSL said...

That plum pudding made an entrance fit for a haggis during a Burns Supper. Nobody makes vittles sound more delish than you dear Rachel....'What a good boy am I'!!!

W. Latane Barton said...

What a charming post. I loved reading about your plum pudding adventures and can't wait to hear how it tastes. Be sure to let us know.

Emily said...

I've always wanted to witness and taste the glory of a plum pudding. You and Caro would be just the perfect cooks to attempt such a culinary masterpiece. I can't wait to hear how it all turns out. Gran flaming entrance and all!

I just adore you, Rachel. How I wish I could have had the honor and joy of sitting around your tea table the other night. A feast for all your adoring friends! Thank you for all the delightful words and images you share with all of us. xo

donna baker said...

Well then, it's a fruit cake. I looked for plums again then saw prunes. Love the tradition the most.

Kim S. said...

How lovely to see a proper pud! I’ve only ever had one. My English grandmother (Nanny) came over every year for a month in the summer and one year she brought her pudding basin to give to Momma. She made a pudding to store for that Christmas. I believe that the word ‘prodigious’ was penned just for Christmas pud. Our fruitcake is angel food compared to a real English steamed pudding. I’m looking forward to your reaction.