Early Christmas pudding Recipes
The seventeenth century diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that he ate ‘…… mess of brave plum-porridge’[i] as part of his Christmas dinner in 1662. Its less festive name was Barley Gruel, which was a mixture of:
50g (2oz) pearl barley, 25g (1oz) currents, 25g (1oz) raisins, 2.5ml (half teaspoon) ground mace Stirred into 1.1 lt (2 pints) water and cooked until the barley is tender, then add: 30ml (2 tablespoons) sugar, 50ml (2 fl oz) white wine, and serve[ii].
By early eighteenth century, a more diverse range of foods were available and well within the price range of the growing ‘Middling Sort’; professionals, tradesmen and those who needed to earn at least a portion of their income to which the van Aken brothers belonged. If they wished there was a richer version called ‘Plum Pottage’ that sounds more like today’s Christmas pudding . For this recipe:
Simmer a shin of beef for two hours in water to create 850ml (1 ½ pints) of broth. Add 125g (4oz) of fresh white breadcrumbs to soak for an hour then stir in 200g (70z) of mixed dried fruits, pinches of grated nutmeg, ground mace, cloves, cinnamon and salt then bring all to the boil.
Add 75ml (3 fl oz) of both sherry and port and simmer until the dried fruits are plump. Serve hot in bowls with the juice of a Seville orange or lemon divided between the servings[iii]. The meat from the boiled shin of beef would be served separately.
Foodstuffs such as ‘Fairings’ were given as gifts. Fairings were a form of biscuits, usually ginger for Christmas but there were many other regional variations of flavorings[iv]. The day was more about bringing family and friends together than exchanging gifts in the eighteenth century.
[ii] Jennifer Stead, Georgian Cookery, Revised edition 2003, English Heritage, Swindon, receipe adapted from Hannah Glasse cookery book published in 1747, The art of cookery made plain and simple. Hannah Glasse’s book was written for the instruction of young maids that would be required to cook in a small household with little specific knowledge of cooking.
[iii] Ibid; Page 14-15, recipe from John Nott’s book, The cook’s and confectioner’s dictionary, published in 1726.