What is figgy pudding, anyway

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“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding and bring it right here.”

Rehearsing that familiar song for Christmas pageants in elementary school, my friends and I giggled as we sang “piggy pudding,” having no idea what “figgy pudding,” was.

Years later, as my interest in food history and trivia grew, I learned that the correct name is, of course, figgy pudding, even though it contains no figs and bears no resemblance to what we think of as pudding.

According to Debbie Waugh, historic coordinator for Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, Va., there is considerable Christian symbolism associated with this traditional British Christmas dessert.

The classic dish had 13 ingredients — representing Christ and the 12 apostles, says Waugh. It was served with a sprig of holly on top, symbolizing the crown of thorns.

“The most important part of the Christmas pudding tradition — we pour a bit of brandy over it and set it aflame to great applause." That particular tradition represents the passion of Christ, says Waugh.

Figgy pudding, also known as plum pudding (although it contains no plums) or Christmas pudding is a staple of the British holiday table. “Plum”was a pre-Victorian generic term for any type of dried fruit, but most specifically, raisins, according to Waugh. So it would not be unusual for a firm, round steamed cake full of raisins, currants and brandy to have “plum” in its name. “Pudding” in Britain is the  sweet, final course of a meal, in other words, dessert,  not  the creamy, custardy treat Americans associate with the word.

You may be familiar with a passage in Charles Dickens’ 1843 book “A Christmas Carol,” in which Mrs. Cratchit emerged from the kitchen, “flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

By the 19th century, “Stir-Up” Sunday, the first Sunday before Advent, had become the day designated for British cooks to prepare their figgy pudding.

Entire families helped, with each member giving the mixture a stir and hoping for good luck. The puddings were then boiled for several hours and then stored for a month or so to allow their spices to develop.

I considered including one of the many recipes I found for figgy, plum or Christmas pudding in today’s column, but they are so labor-intensive and time-consuming I thought better of it.

I did, however, find another traditional holiday recipe that has similar flavors but doesn’t require special equipment or too much time.


½ cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped

½ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup prunes, coarsely chopped

¼ cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts, finely chopped

2 tablespoons cherry preserves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup granulated sugar

Place chopped dates, prunes, cranberries, hazelnuts and walnuts in a food processor. Pulse a few times. Add cherry preserves, cinnamon and cloves; pulse several more times until mixture begins to come together. It should retain its coarse texture but hold its shape when you squeeze it between your fingers. Don’t over process into a sticky paste.

Roll into 1-inch balls and roll the balls in the granulated sugar until they are fully coated.

Store finished sugarplums in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper until ready to serve.

Store refrigerated for up to 1 month. To serve, place in decorative or metallic candy cups, arrange or stack on a plate or add to a plate of cookies.

It is not apparent that there are nuts in the sugarplums, so it would be a good idea to include a label telling what kind of nuts are in them.

(Recipe from: www.thespruceeats.com)

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