The Englishman's Plum Pudding

Maggie Black completes her history of the year in food, with a look at the history of a festive favourite

How did the glossy, currant-speckled cannon-ball on Victorian-style Christmas cards come to be the centrepiece of the Englishman's Christmas dinner – and of no one else's? Decked with a holly sprig, blue flames licking round it, a plum pudding with brandy butter symbolises our Christmas. But why?

The British Christmas pudding has two sources, both dating back to 1430 or earlier. First, there were standing 'pyes' or 'cof fyns' of tough flour paste, containing meat or fish, fat and dried fruit from Spain or the Levant. Rich men's fare, they were popular for two reasons. First, meat, poultry and fish which went off quickly could be preserved for some time in a case which contained plenty of sugary dried fruit and was filled with butter. Second, the dried fruit replaced to some extent the sweetness of costly honey and sugar.

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