Thursday, 13 December 2012

13th December - Lighting the Plum Pudding

Of a Christmas afternoon I can often be heard announcing 'Quick Mr Walker, my Plum Pudding is ablaze!' Now, whether or not this is a shameless euphemism is not the point, it is also the nearest thing to an extreme sport Christmas can offer...

Lighting the Plum Pudding (19th century) English School
Well, doesn't someone look pleased with their plum pudding?  The woman of the household appears at the 'head' of the table (although she is obviously at the foot but we are viewing the table the other way round), in charge of the proceedings.  We can only see the back of her husband's head, as he and one of their many, many children look on at the flaming pud.  They appear to have eight children of different sizes and ages, and appearance, but I'm not saying anything about that.  Far be it for me to point out the differences in the children and whether or not the gent at the table is the only one who has seen her flaming pudding.  Anyhow, the children all crowd in, seeing who can catch fire first, or just breathe in the highly alcoholic fumes.  Maybe that is how they ended up with eight children?

Back to the pudding: I had to check but a 'plum' pudding contains no actual plums, it's just the Victorian word for raisins.  If my Christmas had a flavour, it probably would be raisin as I seem to get through kilo after kilo of the damn things this time of year, in mincemeat, cake and all manner of other foodstuffs.  I've never actually made a Christmas pud (what a shocking admission!) although I make my own cake and mincemeat. My Mum never made her own, her sister would make the puddings and Mum would make the cakes and they would swap.  What a civilised arrangement...

My current object of desire is the pudding from Betty's Tea Room in Harrogate and York, but I have been informed by the household that £20 for a pudding is extortion, even though it does come with its own reusable bowl.  Sigh.  I don't believe it is that expensive if you consider the amount of time I will spend stroking the Betty's emblazened basin whimpering with delight.  Hours of fun.  Still, no pud for me, even though it is common knowledge that I am anyone's for a piece of Victorian-styled ceramic.  Look at how lovely it is! If anyone from Betty's is reading this and would like to bribe me into doing some very shameless promotion of your product, I am easily persuaded.  But enough about my non-existent morals in the face of pudding, back to the picture...

She does look awfully pleased with herself, despite being dressed in highly flammable materials, but I suppose the idea is that she is a domestic goddess, to use a modern phrase.  She is presiding over a successful Christmas table, feeding her children and husband and being the perfect hostess.  Those are the flames of success!  To add to it, she sits under a huge bundle of mistletoe (as if eight children weren't enough proof that she likes kissing) so you could assume that she is much loved.  She kind of reminds me of the little girl in Many Happy Returns of the Day by W P Frith, the centre of attention but not the centre of power.

The nurse is doing a rubbish job of restraining the youngest child, dressed in silk, and if she isn't careful the child will go up with the pudding.  We used to have the same trouble in the 1970s, the decade of nylon.  If ever there was an era that didn't need powercuts and its resultant use of candles, it's then.  Honestly, I'm surprised any of us survived.  Only one of the children seems to show any caution in the face of the flames, shying back a bit.  I suppose it may well be Darwin in action but there seemed to be enough perils for infants in the nineteenth century without adding Christmas-related incineration to the list.  We all think that people perished during the winter because of the cold, when all along it was brandy-induced combustion. Delicious and deadly....

Well, that is quite enough pud talk for today, and as they used to say in olden days 'May your pudding beat your turkey in the pig race to your plate...'

Wise words indeed.  See you tomorrow...


  1. The Quakers called it 'the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon' which has a nice ring to it. I thought it was prunes rather than raisins or is that another euphemism!

  2. I think my maiden aunt, who used to make a damn fine pud, would have been somewhat scandalised to hear that it was invented by the scarlet whore of Babylon!

  3. Hmmm...we don't think Miss Fancy there at the end of the table actually made that pudding, do we?

  4. Not a chance, more likely some exhausted cook hidden in the kitchen. I don't even think she lit the damn thing. I like to think the cook is down in the kitchen necking brandy out of the bottle, not that I've ever done that. Certainly not.


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