With fruit, spices, and liquor, you sure this isn't a Southern thing?
Christmas Pudding
Credit: Ross Woodhall

You just can't get through the Christmas season without hearing about it, but have you ever stopped to wonder what it really is? In Charles Dickens' 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 asking for? So what is Christmas pudding, or figgy pudding, or is it plum pudding?

Regardless of what you call it, this delicious Christmas tradition is a staple of the British holiday table. Rather than the creamy puddings and custards Southern cooks familiar with, this Christmas pudding, or which dates back to medieval England, is a steamed cake full of spices, raisins, and currants, and soaked in brandy. If it contains figs, then it is called a figgy pudding, but a plum pudding will usually have raisins and not plums (the word plums was once used for raisins). With a few variations, this iconic English dessert is very similar to our American fruitcake.

Like all classic recipes, many families have their own recipe for Christmas pudding, handed down through families for generations. Traditional methods of cooking 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. At Christmas time, the pudding is steamed once more to warm it, doused with brandy again and then set on fire before all the guests. You can serve figgy/plum/Christmas pudding with lemon sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, or your favorite topping. This holiday season, along with your usual cakes and pies that you do so well, spring something new on your family and make a Christmas pudding.

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.

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