Christmas Pudding in Colonial Britain
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“Christmas Pudding Unveiled: A Global Culinary Journey from the British Empire”

My time as an American resident in 1990s Britain brought an unexpected introduction to Christmas pudding. Despite anticipating figs or plums, reminiscent of the festive carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” what awaited me was a blend of suet, flour, and dried fruits soaked in alcohol—a far cry from the custard-style dessert commonly dubbed as pudding by Americans.

The roots of Christmas pudding trace back to the fusion of two medieval dishes: “plum pottage,” a runny porridge preserving meats, dried fruits, and spices for winter celebrations, and “figgy pudding,” as immortalized in the carol.

The Victorian era witnessed the evolution of plum pudding into the cherished “Christmas pudding.” Charles Dickens, through “A Christmas Carol,” celebrated it as the focal point of festive feasts. The recipe endorsed by Queen Victoria’s chef in 1846, enriched with affordable ingredients like candied citrus, nutmeg, and currants, ensured its accessibility across socioeconomic strata.

Christmas pudding transcended geographical boundaries, making its way to the diverse colonies of the British Empire. In the 1920s, the British Women’s Patriotic League actively promoted it as the “Empire Pudding,” emphasizing ingredients sourced from Britain’s colonies and possessions. Even after decolonization, Christmas pudding retained its allure, evolving into a global tradition—from the bustling terminals of London’s airports to former settler colonies like Canada and Australia, resonating in parts of India.

In sync with contemporary tastes, culinary maestros like Jamie Oliver have reimagined recipes, infusing them with a blend of Anglo-American flavors. This culinary evolution underscores Christmas pudding’s enduring global impact, embodying a flavorful legacy rooted in the annals of the British Empire.

This Article Was Originally Published By Troy Bickham Professor of History, Texas A&M University, In The Conversation

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