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A Christmas Pudding Recipe with a Victorian twist

Date: 06 December 2023

Author: Richard Fitch

Christmas may be just around the corner, but there's still time to spice up your festive dinner with a traditional Christmas pudding recipe from the history books.

Here, Richard Fitch, Historic Kitchens Manager at Historic Royal Palaces, reimagines a Victorian recipe that you can make at home just before Christmas day. 

The origins of Christmas puddings

Plum porridges and plum broths are the forerunners to the Christmas pudding, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the Christmas pudding came to be known as the ultimate indulgent festive dessert. A good selection of pudding recipes can be found in Eliza Acton’s book Modern Cookery In All Its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the use of private families.

Image: Plum pudding from ‘The Book of Household Management’ by Mrs Beeton, London, 1869. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library, Cookery Collection, Cookery A/BEE.

Illustration of a plum pudding from ‘The book of household management’ by Mrs Beeton, London, 1869. The plum pudding is shown on a plate, lit on fire, with the words 'Plum Pudding with Brandy lighted' below it.

Eliza’s book was one of the first to use a recipe format that would be recognizable to modern readers, with a description of the process, a list of ingredients, weights, measurements and cooking times. These recipes are still easy to follow and only require converting the measurements for ease of use.  

Image: The title page of Eliza Acton's recipe book. Public Domain, courtesy of The Internet Archive.

Modern cookery title page by Eliza Acton, a Victorian food journalist and writer. The title page is white with black text - the title of the book which reads: 'Modern cookery, in all its branches: reduced to a system of easy practice, for the use of private families. In a series of receipts, which have been strictly tested, and are given with the most minute exactness.'

Eliza Acton’s recipe

Cottage Christmas Pudding

A pound and a quarter of flour, fourteen ounces of suet, a pound and a quarter of stoned raisins, four ounces of currants, five of sugar, a quarter-pound of potatoes smoothly mashed, half a nutmeg, a quarter-teaspoonful of ginger, the same of salt, and of cloves in powder: mix these ingredients thoroughly, add four well-beaten eggs with a quarter-pint of milk, tie the pudding in a well-floured cloth, and boil it for four hours.

Flour, 1 1/4 lb. ; suet, 14ozs. ; raisins stoned, 20 ozs. ; currants, 4 ozs. ; sugar, 5 ozs. ; potatoes, 1/4 lb. ; 1/2 nutmeg ; ginger, salt, cloves, 1/4 teaspoonful each ; eggs, 4 ; milk, 1/2 pint: 4 hours.

Conversion to metric

Flour 566g, Suet 396g, Raisins 566g, Currants 113g, Sugar 141g, Potatoes 113g, Nutmeg ½, Ginger 1/4 tsp, Salt 1/4 tsp, Cloves 1/4 tsp, Eggs 4 medium, Milk 285ml, Flour for cloth a handful. 

The book of household management by Mrs Beeton, showing colourful illustrations of various Victorian desserts. At the top of the page, it reads 'modern mode of serving dishes.'

The dishes illustrated are described at the bottom of the page which include: raised pie, apples in custard, Vol-au-Vent, Christmas Plum Pudding in a mould, and Charlotte aux Pommes.

Puddings in the Victorian period were designed to be boiled within a pudding cloth, leading to the traditional spherical shape now associated with Christmas pudding. By cooking within a cloth and not a pudding bowl, the fat was free to drain out of the pudding into the water. This reduced the fat in the final pudding but left a light and flavoursome dish as a result.

Image: An illustration of Victorian desserts from 'The Book of Household Management by Mrs Beeton. Public Domain, courtesy of The Wellcome Collection.

The suet in Eliza’s recipe is raw suet, the fat from around the kidneys of cattle, that the cook would process themselves at home. To enjoy this recipe today, we have substituted a modern suet or vegetable suet at the same quantity.

Image: Illustration from the first edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, featuring a plum pudding in the foreground. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library, Cookery Collection, English M-61.1/DIC.

Depiction of Christmas Pudding in A Christmas Carol (published in 1843) is shown in this illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Present, a jolly figure dressed in green with a garland over his head, from the first edition.

Christmas Pudding with a Victorian twist: full recipe  

Step 1: Boil and mash the potatoes, making sure not to add seasoning, milk or butter.

Step 2: Mix all the dry ingredients together, including the suet and mashed potatoes, then add the beaten eggs and milk and combine into a stiff paste.

Step 3: Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. If required, divide the mix in half and reduce the cooking time by an hour.

Step 4: Take a clean pudding cloth and carefully scald with boiling water by either pouring boiling water over the cloth or dipping it into the saucepan of water.

Image: Ingredients for the recipe, displayed in the Great Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace. © Historic Royal Palaces.

Ingredients laid out on a table inside the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace, including eggs, potatoes, and spices.
Victorian Christmas Food demonstration in Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace. A member of the Historic Kitchens team recreates a victorian Christmas Pudding recipe by Eliza Acton.

Step 5: Wring out the excess water until the cloth is damp, being very careful not to scald your hands. A pair of clean rubber washing up gloves is suggested for this process.

Step 6: Next, spread your cloth onto a work surface and sprinkle liberally with flour. Shake off any excess flour, then place your pudding mix into the centre of the cloth. Gather up the corners and shape the mix into a ball keeping the cloth tight against the mixture.

Step 7: When happy with the pudding shape, tie it tightly with kitchen string and place the pudding into the saucepan of boiling water.

Step 8: Now boil for four hours, keeping a regular eye on the level of the water and topping up when needed to ensure that the pudding is fully submerged throughout.

Image: A member of the Historic Kitchens team placing the pudding into a saucepan. © Historic Royal Palaces.

Step 9: After four hours the pudding should be cooked. Test by inserting a skewer in through the gather in the cloth – the skewer should come out clean.

Step 10: Remove the pudding in its cloth from the water and leave it to drain and cool slightly. There will be a layer of fat floating on the surface of the water which will coat the outside of the cloth as you remove it. This is the suet that has leeched out of the pudding, which is a normal part of the process.

Step 11: Remove the pudding from the cloth to serve. Serve warm, direct from cooking or leave to mature for a day or two and eat cold. Unlike a modern pudding, there is no expectation of maturing for days or weeks.

Step 12: Serve by cutting into slices or douse with brandy for a more indulgent Christmas treat. Ideal with cream or custard. For leftovers, fry in butter and serve hot from the pan.

Image: Christmas pudding, ready to serve. © Historic Royal Palaces.

Richard Fitch
Historic Kitchens Manager at Historic Royal Palaces

Victorian Christmas Food demonstration in Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace. A member of the Historic Kitchens team recreates a victorian Christmas Pudding recipe by Eliza Acton.

A History of Royal Christmas Celebrations

Special Podcast Episode

Dive into the history of Royal Christmas celebrations in our palaces with this bonus seasonal episode of the Historic Royal Palaces podcast.

Chief mischief-maker Curator Charles Farris is joined by fellow Curator Lee Prosser, and Historic Kitchens Manager Richard Fitch, to kick off the season of revelry with some Christmas tomfoolery.

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