CHRISTMAS PUDDING WARS

Pudding-TallerThe current craze for Christmas Pudding started with Heston Blumenthal, with his three Michelin stars and his celebrated Fat Duck restaurant in Bray near Eton.  In 2010 he created a stampede for the supermarkets.  Thus began the Christmas Puddings War.  Heston’s Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding become that season’s sensation.  Within only two weeks the entire production of 35,000 puddings sold out.  Not even Heston had a chance to buy one.

Waitrose was selling one every 19 seconds during the rush.  Pudding sales tripled.  This means Blumenthal joined the ranks of such Christmas best sellers as Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson, who caused runs on goose fat and cranberries in past yuletides.  Having championed the likes of snail porridge and sardine ice cream, Blumenthal’s Christmas Pudding was rather traditional.  His £14 plum pudding was unique only in having a pickled orange at its centre.  This means that the orange peel infuses its essence during cooking, giving the pudding the delicious aroma of oranges. Then Jamie Oliver entered the fray.  He  invented a Christmas pudding bombe which combined panettone, ice cream and glacé fruit, causing a similar rush to the supermarkets.  Sainsbury’s said glacé cherries were selling out and vanilla ice cream was up 150%. The history of Christmas pudding often repeats the myth that Oliver Cromwell banned the dish.  It’s true that in 1644 the Long Parliament decreed that Christmas should be a fast day instead of a feast day, but Cromwell played no part in this legislation. In 1656 fanatical Puritans sought to make celebrating Christmas itself illegal. But this bill got no further than its first reading, and the fast law lapsed under the Restoration. When George I proudly enjoyed “Christmas pottage” in 1714, the Quakers claimed that the dish was “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon”. George officially sanctioned the pudding, and Prince Albert gave us the Christmas tree.  Thus we can thank Germans for two of “our” proudest Christmas traditions. In the 1700s meat, except for suet, vanished from the pudding. Eliza Acton published the first recipe for “Christmas pudding” in 1830, and the dish has looked similar ever since. “Stir-up Sunday”, the first Sunday before Advent, was traditionally the correct time to make it, and people stirred the mix from east to west to symbolize the journey of the Magi. A garnish of holly represented the crown of thorns and the flaming brandy came to mean the Passion. Most recipes included 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the apostles, and some families dropped silver coins in to represent luck, wishbones for wealth, a thimble for thrift, a ring for marriage and an anchor for safe harbouring. I love Christmas pudding. It’s a connection with a vanished past, with a great tradition and our culture. We applaud it when it comes to the table, and then we cover it in booze and set fire to it. It’s a very English way to show one’s affection.

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