There isn’t much that is still made in England, but one thing we do make are some very good Christmas treats.
I have been in the US nearly 7 years and while I love it here the one thing I truly miss is Christmas in England and all the traditions that go with it, in particular the wonderful desserts and cakes.
We of course have the Victorians to thank for most of the wonderful creations, in particular the Christmas Pudding, and there are many delights us Brits love to consume in abundance during the festive season (and I am not just talking about the tins of Quality Street Chocolates that can be found in homes up and down the nation). Every family has their traditions and their personal favorites of what they like to eat over the Christmas period, and many have recipes that have passed through many generations.
Generally you will find most of the following delights on the table at most homes in England:
- Christmas Pudding
- Christmas Cake
- Chocolate Yule Log (aka known as Buche de Noel)
- Mince Pies
Lets start with everyone’s favorite the Christmas pudding. This beast of a pudding is truly delightful and is traditionally served as part of Christmas dinner. The pudding typically consists of many dried fruits held together by egg and suet, moistened with stout and rum, and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. The pudding is then steamed in a basin for around 6 hours (depending on its size), stored for a month (to let the flavors come together) and then steamed for a further 2 hours on Christmas day. It sounds laborious but it is well worth it.
My mum has always made her own puddings and I have carried on the tradition, but the recipe is a closely guarded secret and if I shared it with you Mrs. Austin would not be pleased.
In Victorian time the pudding was decorated with a sprig of holly, dressed with warm brandy, set alight and brought to the table where it would be greeted by a round of applause.
There are several other traditions that accompany the making of the pudding –
- Stir-up Sunday – the Sunday when pudding were traditionally made four or five weeks before Christmas.
- When all the ingredients are in the bowl everyone in the house would give the mixture a good stir and made a wish while doing so (something I did as a child).
- It was common practice to include small silver coins in the mixture that could be kept by the person who found them in their serving
- And today, well normally after the pudding has been consumed (around 2pm in the afternoon) it is customary to fall asleep while attempting to watch the Queens Speech- so not really the romantic scene Charles Dickens once created in the Christmas Carol.
After Christmas Pudding, Christmas Cake is the next best thing. Usually served around teatime (6pm) on Christmas Day it was always an exciting part of our day to see how my mum had chosen to decorate it.
Christmas Cake is in essence a very dark, rich and heavy fruitcake, shaped round or square. First the cake is baked for hours in the oven, stored for over a month, while constantly being fed with brandy, before finally being wrapped in marzipan and covered in icing. Then comes the fun part, decorating it with a cool Christmas/winter theme, which in our house generally involved making sprigs of holly out of pieces of marzipan that had been colored to resemble the berries and leaves – it was great fun.
Today most supermarkets sell decorated Christmas Cakes and many tv programs in England spend days (in the run up to Christmas) discussing which is the best one – Waitrose is almost always the winner (think Wholefoods, only better).
As for me, I prefer to make my own. I always test the recipes before I share them on English Baking in America, and sadly I ran out of time to do that this year in with the Christmas Cake…but next year I will have it down to a fine art.
However, if you do want to see what a traditional cake is all about check out this recipe from Delia Smith…and where Delia and Christmas are concerned they go together like Santa and Rudolph – you cant have one without the other.
Next time we will look at Christmas Day teatime treats – the Yule log and mince pies.