Many of our Christmas traditions stem from early British customs. They have evolved and been Americanized through the mix of cultures we have in the United States. Looking back on some of those British customs, it seems a good thing. For instance in the Middle Ages, they often used swans and peacocks as their main entrée at their feasts.
Later, in Victorian times, the bird used was a goose or turkey. They even established “goose clubs” similar to our old Christmas clubs at banks where a little money was saved each week to be used to buy the goose for Christmas. The turkeys and geese were often imported but those raised in Norfolk were marched to London’s market. To protect their feet, the turkeys wore little boots made of sacking or leather and the geese had their feet tarred.
As we travel the world, we are fascinated with the foods of different nations. Christmas traditions at our home are a mix of our backgrounds. My dad's side was Bohemian thus our pork, sauerkraut and dumpling meal. My husband's side is rooted in England so there is always the alternative goose or turkey.
Dessert may be cookies or pie—pumpkin if we didn’t have enough for Thanksgiving. But this year as we started singing our Christmas carols, I became curious about figgy pudding. Why did the carol demand figgy pudding? And what is it? Here's what I found.
Figgy pudding is a pudding in the traditional British sense of the word. Most people know of figgy pudding from the Christmas carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. It dates back to medieval times and is a descendant of frumenty, a rather unappetizing dish from the looks of the ingredients. Another source has figgy pudding being related to plum puddings of old.
We know figgy pudding today from the popular song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. So if your carolers begin to sing, "Bring us a figgy pudding!" here's a really easy recipe for it.
• 10-12 ounces of dried figs
• 2 cups water
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 box carrot cake mix
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 3 large eggs
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
• ½ cup chopped walnuts
• ½ cup raisins
• grated zest of one orange
• 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
Place the figs and the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit until soft, a few hours. Once soft, remove the figs from the water and place in a bowl. Save the water and add the sugar. Bring to a boil and let reduce slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chop the figs finely, being careful not to pulverize them.
To the boxed cake mix, stir in 1 ¼ cup of the sugared fig water, the oil and eggs. Set aside the remainder of the fig water. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well using a mixer on high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the walnuts, chopped figs, raisins, orange zest and the marmalade.
Line a large (4 quart) metal bowl with foil. Use enough foil so that you have a big collar around the edge of the bowl. Spray the foil with nonstick spray. Pour the batter into the bowl and place in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes and then fold the foil collar over the top. Continue baking for about 1 ½ hours more, or until a wood skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool overnight.
To serve, take the reserved fig water and add ½ cup of brandy or rum. Heat, and if you wish, (carefully!) ignite the sauce and pour over the pudding. Serve in wedges with whipped cream.
To quote Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one!”