How to make Christmas puddings Edwardian and Victorian style
By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002
When I was a child in the early 1900s, there were no ready-meals in the shops, and no fridges, so families had to make their own Christmas puddings. A lot had to be done and preparations began some weeks beforehand. We were an ordinary family and had no servants.
My brothers and I had to help my mother by preparing the ingredients.
We had to stone the raisins, for which we needed a basin of hot water. Then with a finger and thumb we would open a raisin onto a large plate, pick out the stone and rinse it off in the hot water. Then we would go on to the next raisin.
Shelling and skinning almonds
We had to shell the almonds using nutcrackers and then take the skins off. This was called blanching them. It involved putting the almonds into a bowl and pouring on boiling water. After a few minutes, the skin would just slide off between our fingers.
If the water was too hot, we burnt our fingers, but if we let it cool too much, the skins wouldn't slide off.
Slicing candied fruit and peel
We also had to slice the candied fruit and candied peel.
It came from the shop as halves of candied oranges, lemons and grapefruit which had thick coatings of sugar on the outside and lumps of sugar in the centres that we loved to eat.
Alcohol in the Christmas puddings
I never heard of anyone putting brandy into Christmas puddings, which seems to be the thing to do these days. Perhaps it was too expensive. The puddings were mixed with porter which was a kind of beer.
Silver threepenny bits in the Christmas puddings
A few silver threepenny pieces were added with the dried fruit. These were made of silver, so supposedly didn't taint the pudding, but you could jar your teeth badly on them if you weren't careful.
How the Christmas puddings were made
When my mother had mixed all the ingredients for the Christmas pudding together, everyone in the family had a stir for luck. This was a convention followed by all the families I knew.
My mother would then let the mixed ingredients stand overnight to blend the flavours.
Then next morning she put the mixture into china basins, covered them and boiled them in a large pan for eight hours. She had to top up the pan with water from time to time to prevent it from boiling dry.
History books are not always right!
Although my mother specifically states that the Christmas puddings were boiled in china basins in a large pan, magazines and TV programmes invariably say that they were tied in cloth and boiled in the copper. I suspect that both practices may have been in use, as my mother has never yet been proved wrong in her recollections. However I certainly can't imagine her own mother wanting to contaminate her clothes wash with a copper that had had greasy cooking water in it. Coppers could not easily be washed out like today's basins as only a very few had a drain.
Similarly the accepted wisdom seems to be that brandy was mixed into the pudding, although my mother specifically states that porter beer was used by all the people she knew. Perhaps this was a difference between life in the grand houses and the working classes.
Why several Christmas puddings
My mother always made three Christmas puddings because they would keep for months and they took so much effort to make. She said that this was also what her own mother used to do in Victorian times. One pudding was specifically for my father's birthday in July.
As she needed a very large mixing bowl, she used the basin from our decorated china jug and basin set. This was intended for hot water for guests who washed upstairs, but most people, including guests, washed downstairs in the scullery. My father used the jug for making his homemade wine.