The New Year's plum pudding is a staple feature of many a holiday feast, but it's more than just a tasty dessert. It's also considered a symbol of good luck and success in the coming year, so why not turn it into an addition to your magical menu?
Interestingly, the plum pudding doesn't contain plums at all. During the seventeenth century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "plum" was a catch-all term for dried fruits such as raisins and prunes, which were used in the puddings. Prior to that, medieval dishes such as plum duff and plum cake were made with actual plums. It's also important to note that in this case, the word "pudding" is very different than what modern American cooks think of when they think of pudding. The plum pudding is more of a fatty cake, traditionally made with suet, saturated with brandy, wrapped in cloth and then steamed or boiled.
According to English custom, the plum pudding was usually prepared several weeks in advance of Christmas - usually on the Sunday before Advent, which became known as Stir-up Sunday. It was when you stirred up your pudding mix, and everyone in the household took a turn stirring. As each person stirred the heavy batter, they made a wish for the coming year.
In addition, when the pudding was baked, tiny tokens were mixed into the batter, and were said to bring good luck to whoever found the token in their slice - this was assuming, of course, that you didn't chip a tooth while biting into a sixpence coin or choke on a silver thimble. The pudding was served with great pomp and circumstance, applause, and lots of flames if possible, thanks to a liberal dousing with even more brandy before it was brought to the table.
If you'd like to celebrate Yule with a plum pudding tradition of your own, I'd recommend starting with some of the plum pudding recipes here:
- Christmas Pudding at About British Food
- Julia Child's Recipe at About Home Cooking
- Mrs. Butcher's 1894 Recipe from About Women's History
As you stir up your batter, visualize your intent. Direct energy into the pudding, focusing on health, prosperity and good fortune in the coming new year. When it comes to baking anything into your batter, be careful. It's not a bad idea to wrap any tokens in aluminum foil so they'll be easier to find when people bite into their pudding. You can pick up small silver tokens at many craft stores. For symbolism, try some of the following:
- For prosperity, a silver coin
- For marriage or a long-term relationship, a ring
- For creativity, a thimble (in the past, it represented spinsterhood)
- For luck, a silver wishbone
Safety Tip: Be sure to use only silver tokens - modern coins contain alloys which can be harmful when baked into a food product!