The Tyranny of the Christmas Pudding

Updated on 23 October 2019 | 0 Comments

The pudding itself I love - the fruit, the crumb, the booze and the butter; it is a fine specimen. The problem is that it always arrives at that very moment when you'd rather do anything other than eat more.

A good menu requires planning. You can’t just bung together a collection of dishes you enjoy and expect them to cohere because, more often than not, they won’t. Cooking is like any art; you need a balance of light and dark, loud and quiet, soft and hard. So why, after eating what is the vastest, heaviest main course of the year, do we then insist on piling into a dessert that is so dense, so cloddish, that you could use it to block a burst water mains?

The pudding itself I love – the fruit, the crumb, the booze and the butter; it is a fine specimen. The problem is that it always arrives at that very moment when you’d rather do anything other than eat more. I have a theory that the practice of setting the Christmas pudding ablaze was started by a glutted hostess who couldn’t face another mouthful, and so attempted arson on the brutish thing. Who could blame her?

To foreign palates and habits, our obsession with eating this fruity cannon ball after Christmas lunch is unfathomable. “It’s always struck me as a little bizarre, to be frank,” says food writer Signe Johansen. “I can see the logic of making Christmas puddings, and I understand the historical trajectory of the mighty British pud, but I fail to see any reason to eat the damn thing after a meal of dry turkey and combustible vegetables.”

As far as I can see, the only reason we eat a plum pudding after Christmas lunch is because that’s what we’ve always done. We feel beholden to tradition and so lovelessly wade through its cloying heft like a rambler through a swamp. It would make much more sense, as Johansen points out, to eat something like a sorbet at this point. Norwegians eat riskrem, a cold rice pudding served with a red berry sauce, or karamellpudding, a crème caramel of sorts. These, her father reckons, “will knock the socks off sticky, sweet English pudding that stays on the roof of your mouth for a week.”

Heston Blumenthal’s famously exorbitant version goes some way to lightening the pudding, its orange centre mitigating some of the stodge, but it’s still a big thing to take on after turkey and trimmings.

Considering they’re not in a great hurry to go off, Christmas puds are perhaps best eaten when not seasoned with resentment and bile. Slices of the pudding fried in goose fat and eaten with Stilton are a magnificent treat on a chilly day. Jamie Oliver has a terrific recipe for a festive strudel , while love food haste waste has a delicious-sounding one for Christmas pudding ice cream.

Ultimately it’s a shame that a luscious and atavistic pudding arrives at the table with such a feeling of dread. The fact that someone – in our house it’s Grannie – has taken the time to cook the blessed thing makes it even worse. We ought to celebrate the Christmas pudding when it is meet and right, eating it because we want to, not because we feel we should.


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