British people take Christmas very seriously. There are far more holiday traditions to be observed here in the UK than in the USA. I’ve listed many of them in a previous blog posting. Most of them I love. But there’s one I can’t get behind at all: Christmas pudding.
Call me a Grinch. Declare me to be a Scrooge. Castigate me as an uncouth American who doesn’t understand the delights of British culture. But whatever you do, don’t offer me any Christmas pudding, because that sh*t is disgusting.
Christmas pudding is a kind of cake only made here in the British isles, and only served on Christmas day. It varies in texture and consistency, from spongy to gloopy, and it’s mostly steamed rather than baked, and it’s usually dark brown or black and moulded into a rounded mound when served.
Ingredients include flour, raisins, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds or other nuts, some zest, some sugar, and a whole lot of booze. Sounds not so bad, right? There’s also some weird crap in there. Sultanas; which are what British people call golden raisins; currants, which are kind of like cranberries and a lot of suet. Suet is the hard little pellets of fat that are come from a cow or lamb’s crotch. Christmas pudding is usually made days in advance to allow the ingredients to settle and mix, and then it requires 8 HOURS of steaming to complete. The whole thing is more gruelling than an exorcism. But it’s not the ingredients or the process that make Christmas pudding disgusting, it’s the final output. Somehow it is far less than the sum of its parts.
Christmas pudding has a cousin called sticky toffee pudding, that is also sometimes steamed, rather than baked. It also takes a decent amount of work, resembles Christmas pud in appearance – it’s usually dark brown and served in a spherical shape. One of sticky toffee pudding’s main ingredients is dates, which I don’t even like, but despite all of that, somehow stick toffee pudding manages to be goddamned DELICIOUS. Seriously, it’s one of the best desserts in the world. Especially served hot with toffee sauce and some vanilla ice cream. It’s amazing. Christmas pudding, on the other hand, is like if you ate a lot of sticky toffee pudding, threw it up and patted it back together again.
So why not just have sticky toffee pudding for Christmas?
I don’t really know, but I can speculate that it’s because British people value their Christmas traditions so much, that they are willing to suffer for them. In fact, suffering is probably the ultimate British tradition, and Christmas pudding is just a manifestation of that – and has been for hundreds of years.
In ye olden days, little children used to happily eat Christmas pudding because, back then, people only had access to gruel and pigs cheeks and gross stuff like that for food and this would have been – while still disgusting – a comparatively nice change of pace. Parents started a tradition of sneaking a silver coin into the pudding as they prepared it, so that children would be forced to eat through the black bile if they wanted to have a chance of finding a six pence piece so they could afford to buy leeches to protect them from the plague.
And those traditions stubbornly continue today. The recipe hasn’t really changed. People spend days buying ingredients, assembling and mixing the pud, dropping coins into the mixture, steaming it for hours, adding alcohol every step of the way, fussing over it endlessly, and then, come Christmas day, they put it on the table, and then… they set it on fire.
Did I forget to mention that? They spend all that time making this thing, and then the piece de resistance… the final touch for a successful Christmas pudding… is to burn that mofo like it was a Jacobite. All that alcohol purifies it somehow I guess – removing any trace of Catholicism or witchcraft or EU meddling from the pudding. After the flames subside, the pudding, burnt but unbowed, gets plopped on a plate, and you’re meant to eat it. Did I mention that it tastes horrible? Because it does. It really does.
So here’s what’s going to happen if you offer me Christmas pudding: I don’t want to offend you. I will act as if I’ve never had it before, and that I’m fascinated by it, and that I appreciate all the work you put into it. I’ll tell you that it looks lovely, and that I can’t wait to try it. ‘Coins inside?’ you say -how delightful!
But then when you set that thing on fire in your traditional way, I am going to freak out as if something has gone terribly wrong. I am going to grab a fire extinguisher and spray it full blast at the pud. I’ll scream in terror while I’m doing it, shouting about the house burning down, about spontaneous combustion and fire safety and how I’m going to save everyone’s lives. Don’t panic! I’M SAVING CHRISTMAS! AARRGGH! [SPRAY SPRAY SPRAY]
You’ll shout too: “What are you doing you doltish maniac!? Stop! STOP!!!” But I won’t stop – not until there’s naught but a sticky Christmas pudding puddle left on the table. I might even stomp on it’s smouldering remains for good measure. You’ll be horrified, you’ll think I’m some kind of idiot.
But you won’t have to eat that crap. No one will. In that sense, I will have saved Christmas.
Who’s the idiot now?