So What Exactly Is Figgy Pudding?

Fruit, spices, and liquor. Are you sure this isn't a Southern thing?

Christmas Pudding
Photo: Ross Woodhall

You can't get through the Christmas season without hearing about it, but have you ever stopped wondering what figgy pudding is? In Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, you read that Mrs. Cratchit proudly presented to her guests her Christmas pudding, resembling a speckled cannonball. It was ablaze with brandy and garnished with holly leaves.

When gamely Christmas caroling with your family, you sing, "Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh, bring us some figgy pudding…," but do you know what you are requesting? So what is Christmas pudding, figgy pudding, or plum pudding?

History of Figgy Pudding

Regardless of what you call it, this delicious Christmas tradition is a staple of the British holiday table. Rather than creamy puddings and custards, which Southern cooks are familiar with, this Christmas pudding dates back to medieval England and is a steamed cake full of spices, raisins, and currants soaked in brandy. If it contains figs, it is called a figgy pudding. Plum pudding usually has raisins, not plums, since "plums" was once used to describe raisins. This iconic English dessert is similar to our American fruitcake with a few variations.

The traditions attached to this dish carry a lot of Christian symbolism: The original dish had 13 ingredients representing Christ and the 12 apostles, the garnish of holly placed on top represented the crown of thorns, and setting the pudding ablaze represented the passion of Christ.

How To Serve Figgy Pudding

You can serve figgy/plum/Christmas pudding with lemon sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, or your favorite topping. In addition to your usual cakes and pies this holiday season, spring something new on your family and make a Christmas pudding.

Like all classic recipes, many families have their own Christmas pudding recipe handed down through families for generations. Traditional cooking methods involve either wrapping the pudding in a cloth and boiling it or placing the batter in a basin and steaming it for many hours. Either way, the pudding is usually aged for a month or more, and the high alcohol content of the pudding prevents it from spoiling during this time. Pudding is steamed at Christmastime to warm it, doused with brandy again, and then set on fire before all the guests.

Call it a figgy pudding, Christmas pudding, or plum pudding. This traditional British holiday dessert is at home on any Southern dessert sideboard. This pudding fits right into our holiday repertoire, full of spices, fruit, and brandy.

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