Ask The Fiddler #18: Plum Pudding

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Filed under: Satire

fiddler-75Editor’s Note: Ask The Fiddler is a lifestyle advice column that aims to remedy more chaos and confusion than it creates. Questions may be submitted to us here at Art of the Prank, and good luck.


Dear Fiddler,

Why are there no plums in plum pudding?

Jack in Muncie

Dear Jack,

First of all, Jack, let’s address an underlying issue. You’re expecting someone else to put plums in your pudding. Whoa up! This is America. If you want plums in your pudding, by golly, roll up your shirtsleeves and stuff away. Self-reliance, that’s the spirit!

But the problem you address goes a bit deeper than plums. By modern standards, there isn’t even any pudding in plum pudding! What I mean is, that pasty stuff you buy in the store that’s labeled pudding.

pudding-funnelTrue old-timey plum pudding is more like sausage.

The earliest consisted of minced beef or another dried meat, or fish, dried fruit, suet, sugar and oats. All that got stuffed into a pig intestine, as with haggis.

They say it’s best not to ask how sausage is made and that probably goes for vintage pudding as well, but, for the curious, here’s a site offering a very serious history of pudding.

Many sites and publications claim, as you say, that there are no plums in plum pudding. But, don’t believe everything you read. I found several respectable recipes calling for plums. I’ll mention a few in due course.

First, some history. Those olden plum puddings had interesting names, according food writer Maggie Black. She mentions white porray, joutes, charlet, cawdel fery, bukkenade, mortrews or mawmeny and the gold-and-white ‘blanc desore’. Try any of that at your local drive-through.

One plum pudding problem is that the word plum came to refer for a time to any dried fruit. Could be it simply meant a very good dish. Think of a “plum” job. And pudding seems to have referred to dessert, whatever it might be.

According to Herb Reich, author of “Don’t You Believe It!,” in Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan England plum pudding “was banned as ‘sinfully rich’ and ‘unfit for God-fearing people.’” Was that due to hearty doses of brandy drenching some versions, or to the habit of lacing them with silver coins or charms? Finding a coin or charm was thought to bring wealth in the coming year, probably viewed by Puritans as some sort of evil mumbo-jumbo.

Plum pudding was once a dish that might show up at any festivity, it only became a Christmas centerpiece – Christmas pudding — due to the holiday appetite of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

Well, here is a simple recipe that includes plums and seems suited to modern tastes, though it has a bit of history to it, handed down from the chef’s grandma.

If you prefer your dishes in a fancier dress, here is Martha Stewart’s recipe, cutesied up with kumquats.

But it could be you’d rather not bother with the kitchen work at all. So how about a plum pudding you can order on-line? My turn of mind being as it is, I checked eBay. There were over 800 listings in the category, but only one actual food item and it wasn’t vintage.

Elsewhere on the Net I found one ready-made that seemed to be the real deal. No plums, but it does contain good old beef suet (fat from around beef kidneys) and – they say – it will keep for years. Mother Sperry concocts 1,600 lbs. of these things each year.

And then, there are those of us who gag at the thought of scarfing down a mound of beef kidney fat, so I tracked down a site offering 61 very tempting vegetarian recipes. Those I reviewed don’t have the slightest resemblance to old-time plum puddings. I mean, it is doubtful feasts in medieval England featured healthy stuff like yogurt.

Bottom line, like I said earlier, Jack, this is America. What do you think freedom’s all about, anyway? You can have your pudding any way you want it. Nobody’s got a gun to your head. Well, I mean, probably not … unless you’re in an airport, school, shopping mall or on city street. So if you want plums in your plum pudding, by all means exercise your Constitutional right to put ‘em there. Enjoy!

Yours Truly,

The Fiddler, wishing you all happy holidays and hoping you’ll join my campaign to put the “yo” back in “ho,ho,ho.”


Remember our motto here at camp: “If you take advice from The Fiddler, you need advice.” Send comments and questions to: Art of the Prank.


image: HistoricFood.com


The Fiddler is a creation of W.J. Elvin III