What is a traditional English Christmas pudding
Joe Moostletoe can't remember exactly why they came up with Christmas pudding back then. It's been 25 years since he and a couple of friends had the brilliant idea of organizing a slightly crazy charity race in the run-up to Christmas. "The point of the exercise was of course from the start to make a fool of yourself," says Moostletoe, and one cannot deny that he still adheres to this maxim today.
A t-shirt stretches like a sausage skin over his plump torso, which looks like it could house a multitude of Christmas goodies, and on top of his head he has an oversized green felt hat that makes him look like a leprechaun, an Irish forest rascal should.
Now, the British don't generally mind being ridiculous, especially if it's for a good cause. And that's what the annual Covent Garden Christmas Pudding Race, invented by Joe Moostletoe and his comrades at the time, is all about raising money for cancer research. Last year we raised a whopping £ 20,000, and this year it should be even more.
Bounces like a rubber ball
Dozens of masked children, but also of adult men and women, came on this bitterly cold December day to stumble across a course of diabolical obstacles in the shadow of the Royal Opera House and the legendary market halls where George Bernard Shaw had his Eliza Doolittle flowers sold . And to make things even more difficult, you have to balance a plate with a heavy waiter-style Christmas pudding in your hand at shoulder height.
As soon as the runners have taken the first hairpin, it becomes clear why the organizers opted for Christmas puddings. In the unheated state, the brown mass is practically indestructible. Indeed: the dough, reminiscent of small molehills with a sprig of holly on the tip, has the consistency of well-kneaded rubber.
When they slip off the plate and fall onto the pavement, at first glance it sometimes seems as if they are jumping up again like a rubber ball. They don't do the runners this favor; but at least the puddings can be picked up again without losing a single crumb.
Mockers may object that this traditional British Christmas feast, better known in Germany as Plumpudding, even when cooked, is reminiscent of the crumbled remains of a tattered car tire; Moreover, an impression that tends to intensify rather than weaken during the arduous digestive process. But that doesn’t change the fact that 40 million Christmas puddings will be eaten again in the UK this year - in restaurants, hotels, canteens, but above all at home as the culmination of an already substantial turkey feast.
Pudding is a must
"The pudding is an absolute must, whether you like it or not," says Toni Gill. She should know, after all, she does the public relations work for the family business Matthew Walker, which has been in business since 1899 and today, as the largest manufacturer, has a significant share in the many puddings consumed.
If you calculate that almost 60 million people live in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that every pudding is cut into several slices, then you can only gauge the full truth of Toni Gill's statement: Nobody, not a toddler, not a lonely lighthouse keeper and no sheep farmer on a remote Shetland island escapes the pudding. But not everyone chokes it down in disgust, assures Toni Gill: "Most people would feel cheated if there was no pudding for dessert."
At this point, an explanation may be necessary: The English pudding has nothing in common with those desserts that are usually associated with the name Doctor Oetker in Germany and that are creamy and soft with a spoon from a bowl. British pudding is more of a type of cake, but it doesn't always have to be sweet.
The Yorkshire Pudding, for example, is a light pastry that is served as an accompaniment to roast beef with gravy, and the Black Pudding is not a chocolate treat for those with a sweet tooth, but simply the German black pudding. And when a member of the English upper class asks for a pudding, he generally means a dessert. Viewed in this way, a pudding can also be a fruit salad or even a continental chocolate pudding with vanilla sauce.
The ancestor of the Christmas pudding had little to do with today's Christmas delicacy. In the 14th century, not known for its culinary highlights, the British ate a type of plump soup during Lent before Christmas. This mixture called "frumenty" was obtained by cooking beef and mutton together with raisins, prunes, wine and all kinds of spices in the traditional English way until all the ingredients were frayed.
By the end of the 16th century, eggs, breadcrumbs, beer and other alcoholic beverages had been added to this porridge to such an extent that it was more reminiscent of the later plum pudding. Its name was derived from the dried plums, which are supposed to give the pudding a fruity taste.
But as soon as the calorie, carbohydrate and cholesterol bomb began to establish itself as an integral part of Christmas, the pudding was banned. The Puritans, who established their strict regiment under Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, forbade the consumption of the "sinfully rich" dish as an "indecent custom". And the morally strict sect of the Quakers, whose only contribution to the world culinary heritage is the modest oatmeal, even saw the brown doughball "an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon".
Presumably the prudish food contemptors met the high alcohol content of the Christmas puddings. In addition to the usual ingredients - kidney fat, flour, sugar, breadcrumbs, raisins, sultanas, almonds, eggs, cinnamon, ginger and cloves - large amounts of alcohol must be stirred in. This is mostly brandy or rum, but it can also be Guinness or another type of beer.
The pudding manufacturer Coles even has a variant on offer where just reading the ingredients makes you dizzy: rum, brandy, port wine, kirsch and amaretto. If you add that the pudding has to be flambéed with cognac and smeared with cognac butter, you know why excessive cake consumption can lead to the loss of your driving license.
Fear of EU bureaucrats
Perhaps it was this property of the plump pudding that King George I allowed so well when he was served the delicacy after his arrival from Hanover for his first English Christmas party. George, who ruled England from 1717 to 1724 before literally gobbling it up and dropping dead - albeit not on Christmas cookies - made pudding socially acceptable in England. Charles Dickens bestowed the higher literary ordinations on him in his Christmas story.
Today the pudding is less of a threat from the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, as some Britons had paranoidly assumed. They believed that the European Union wanted to ban the custom of hiding silver coins in Christmas pudding because unsuspecting eaters (likely continental Europeans) could choke on it. But the rumor turned out to be baseless.
It is more problematic, of course, to attract the next generation to the rich dish. For figure and fitness conscious people there is now a wide range of fruit and diet variants. The biggest challenge, of course, is the children, as Matthew Walker's Toni Gill freely admits. "It's going to be a real struggle to get new generations to like the pudding," she sighs.
Toni Gill believes that he has already identified the reason for the abstinence. "It's the raisins." But without raisins, a plum pudding wouldn't be Christmas pudding. And if it fell off the plate at the Christmas Pudding Race, it would crumble it. Literally.
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