A prescription for Christmas pudding

Callie JonesChristmas pudding, or plum pudding, has been an essential part of Christmas for over 200 years. In medieval times raisins were known as plums, and the origin of plum pudding is likely to be frumenty, or plum porridge, a mixture of boiled cracked wheat and raisins, often served with meat as part of the main course.

By the time Mrs Cratchit, in ‘A Christmas carol’, produced her “speckled cannonball, so hard and firm, blazing in half a quartern of ignited brandy”, the recipe had altered considerably, and the mixture was boiled in a cloth, the pudding being served at the end of the meal. Recipes were argued over, and the source of much snobbery. One account pokes fun at a French king who went to great lengths to impress the English ambassador with an English plum pudding. Every detail was meticulously gathered for the royal chef, except the one stating that the mixture was to be boiled in a bag. The resulting dish was served up like a soup, with the ambassador being too well mannered to register his distaste.

My favourite pudding story involves a group of enterprising English medical students stranded in Paris for Christmas at the beginning of the 19th century. Pharmacies at that time stocked all the ingredients needed to make Christmas pudding. Spices, sugar and molasses are perhaps not surprising, and flour was used, mixed with sugar and milk, as a food supplement. Eggs and nuts were used in emulsions, and suet, in the form of “leaf lard”, was used as a base in the preparation of ointments.

The students handed the recipe to an unsuspecting French pharmacist in the form of a Latin prescription for the preparation of a poultice. They returned in time for Christmas, to find their pudding suitably wrapped and labelled “to be applied to the affected parts”. A “special” indeed.

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