Christmas pudding (or Plum Pudding) first originated in Britain in the Fourteenth century. Rather than being baked in the solid oval or circular form we recognise today, the earliest version of Christmas pudding was a thick porridge or soup-like mixture called frumenty.
Frumenty was made with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices, which were mixed with tiny pieces of beef and mutton. The pudding was eaten before Christmas and was a meal to use up any foodstuffs before fasting in preparation for the religious festivities.
It wasn’t until the late Sixteenth century that the original frumenty began to change into today’s Christmas pudding. Thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs and dried fruit, the mixture was given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits. By c.1650 it was established as the customary Christmas dessert we know today. However, the custom was short lived, for in 1664 the Puritans banned it, along with many other seasonal festivities.
King George I re-established the Christmas Pudding as part of the Christmas meal in 1714. During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds in the shapes of towers or castles. Outside of the aristocracy, people made their puddings in tins shaped like cannonballs or china basins.
Many superstitions surround Christmas Puddings. One says that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples, while another tradition says that when the pudding is made, every member of the family should take turns to stir the mixture. Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another popular custom that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. Traditionally, in the UK the silver ‘six pence’ was used (now the five pence). Sometimes silver tokens where used instead of coins, some of which had special meanings. For example, if a hidden bachelor’s button was found in the pudding by a single man, it meant that they would be a bachelor for all the following year. If a silver ring was found, it would mean you’d be rich, or be getting married, before the following Christmas!
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.