In the spirit of traditional cooking and baking for Christmas, I searched for long-ago recipes made for the holiday feast. Plum pudding was often served at the meal. Though there were several recipes in an 1877 cookbook and one in an 1841 cookbook, they all had one thing in common—none of them used plums! No fresh plums, dried plums, or prunes were called for in any plum pudding. That surprised me.
The pudding was to be boiled in a “fine, close linen cloth.” I intended to use cheesecloth, which advertised steaming as one of its culinary uses. The paper-thin weave on the cloth gave me second thoughts. Since I had baked One-two-three-four Pudding in the oven and then steamed it, I decided to do that instead with this plum pudding.
In a large bowl, cream together ½ pound of butter (2 sticks) and ½ cup of sugar. (The 1841 recipe called for a half-pound of chopped suet—the hard white fat found on kidneys and loins of sheep or cattle—but this can be substituted for butter.) Beat 4 eggs separately and add to creamed mixture. Then add one teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground mace. Mix well.
Combine ½ cup flour, ½ cup bread crumbs, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a separate bowl. Add 1 cup of raisins to the dry mixture and coat them. (I used my hands instead of a spoon for this part.) Then add 1 cup of currants (these look like tiny raisins) and coat these as well.
Add a heaping tablespoon of candied lemon and a heaping tablespoon of candied citron to the dry mixture and stir to coat. (I forgot to add these until after baking, so I scattered them over the top before steaming. This worked fine, too.)
Use cooking spray on an 8×8 pan to bake the pudding at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I steamed the plum pudding over a kettle of boiling water for two hours. (I will use a glass baking dish next time and steam it in the oven. My goal is to learn how our early bakers prepared recipes.)
For pudding sauce, cream together 4 tablespoons of butter and ½ cup of sugar. Then stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract or use a ½ teaspoon of nutmeg if you prefer. Cook in a saucepan over medium heat until gently bubbling. Pour over individual servings.
With the candied fruit, it looked—and tasted!—a whole lot like those fruit cakes my dad used to purchase at Christmas. If you like fruit cakes, you will probably enjoy this plum pudding.
The sauce tasted delicious but those who don’t love vanilla as much as I do may prefer to use only a ½ teaspoon.
I’d love to hear if you try this recipe!
-Sandra Merville Hart
Hale, Sarah Josepha. Early American Cookery, Dover Publications, Applewood Books, 1996.