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History of Figgy Pudding: Origins and Traditions

Updated on April 8, 2017
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Phyllis loves holiday gatherings that bring the family and close friends together. Family traditions are strong in her family.

Figgy, or Christmas Pudding ~

Christmas Pudding
Christmas Pudding | Source

Christmas Tradition

Figgy pudding is a very old Christmas tradition. Also called "Christmas pudding," it is traditionally made on the Sunday before Advent. This was called "Stir-Up Sunday."

Making good, old-time Christmas foods is much easier today than it was in the distant past. To make an old favorite, like figgy pudding, one can bring back a feeling of nostalgia with the tried and true original method or try a much quicker method. Either way, the pudding is going to taste good. It is not actually a pudding, but more like a bread.

This dish is traditionally served on Christmas Day. It is the traditional finale to a proper British Christmas dinner. In the Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, he describes how nervous Mrs. Cratchit was "to take the pudding up and bring it in." Since it was the highlight of the holiday supper, Mrs. Cratchit was all aflutter and in a great worry that the dessert she had spent two days preparing and hours of steaming had turned out right. The whole family awaited in wild joy and anticipation. Finally in she brings the long awaited dessert, pride showing on her face, to the dining room.

Speckled Cannon Ball

"In she comes 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."

- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Origins

The origins of figgy pudding goes back to medieval England. At that time it was not a dessert, but a method of preserving meats for the winter months. Dried meats and fruits were kept in a pastry bag. When liquids were added to the dried mix it all expanded, and when cooked in pies, it fed many people. It was a very savory dish, not sweet at all. It was originally called "frumenty", made with beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and several spices. It was more like a soup.

By the end of the 14th century, the addition of eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruits, beer and spirits gave it more flavor and a thicker consistency. The figgy pudding of today is more like a bread. In Victorian England, the pudding contained less meat with additions of flour, suet, sugar, fruits, and spices, which resulted in the delicious Christmas dessert of today. It is also called plum pudding by some, although there are no plums in it.

A traditional figgy pudding takes two days to make. The first day is when all the ingredients are mixed well, covered, refrigerated and left overnight. On the next day, you grease a basin (a stainless steel pan with no handle), put the dough in it, and cover the dough with wax paper. The basin is then sat in a large pan of water to steam for eight hours. When the pudding is cool, it is wrapped in wax paper and put into a pastry bag and stored till Christmas day. Prior to serving, the pudding is warmed up by the steaming method for two hours. To serve, warm brandy is poured over the pudding and lit. The flaming pudding is ceremoniously taken to the table as the family anxiously await that great moment.

Stir-Up Sunday

The Sunday before Advent was called "Stir-Up Sunday," which came from the old customs in England and is still commonly referred to by that name in the United Kingdom. The traditions and lore attached to the pudding are very interesting. The traditional time to make the pudding was four to five weeks before Christmas, or the last Sunday before Advent.

It was common lore to include something in the pudding for good luck. Silver coins for wealth in the following year, a silver thimble for thriftiness, a wishbone for good luck, were some items put inside the pudding. The lucky person who received the item in their serving was envied by all.

When the pudding was being made, a common custom was to have each member of the household give a stir and make a wish. Some other customs became associated with the pudding in early days. It was believed that it should contain thirteen ingredients to be symbolic of Jesus and the Disciples. Another custom was that the stirring should be done with a wooden spoon, from east to west, to remember the three Wise Men. The holly sprig stuck on top of the pudding represents the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore when He was crucified -- the holly also was for good luck and healing for the coming year. The brandy that was poured over the pudding and set alight represented the love and power of Jesus.

Figgy Pudding - Traditional Recipe and Method

Recipe will make one two pound pudding. It can be divided into two 1 pound puddings. A one pound Christmas Pudding makes a lovely hostess gift when over-wrapped in white tissue paper and a red bow with a holly sprig tied in it.

Thirteen Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces dried figs, chopped
  • 7 ounces Currants, washed (dried Black Corinth grapes, which are smaller than raisins)
  • 7oz Sultanas, washed (Thompson seedless grapes)
  • 3 1/2 ounces Mixed Peel (chopped orange and lemon peel)
  • 7 ounces bread crumbs
  • 7 ounces Demerara sugar (from the Demerara colony in Guyana, this is a little lighter in color than brown sugar and has larger crystals, it is drier than brown sugar and not as processed as white sugar, so is a healthier alternative to white sugar)
  • 7 ounces suet, shredded
  • 3 1/2 ounces Almonds, blanched (chopped walnuts can be substituted for the almonds)
  • 7 ounces flour
  • 1 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, and mixed spiced (Allspice)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 pint stale beer or stout ale
  • Juice from one lemon and finely grated rind

Instructions:

  1. If using almonds, blanch them by placing them in a small mixing bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Let stand while you measure into a large mixing bowl the figs, currants, sultanas, and peel with a large wooden spoon. Fold in the breadcrumbs, sugar, suet and lemon rind. Remove skins from almonds. Finely chop almonds or walnuts and add to the fruit mix.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together into a small bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs then add the lemon juice and beer. Combine dry ingredients and egg mixture with the fruit mixture. Mix till all is well blended, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. On the following day, remove mixture from refrigerator. Grease a deep, round basin (stainless steel pan with no handle, or crock) with melted fat and place the pudding mixture in the basin. Grease a piece of wax paper and cover basin with it, pleating the paper across the top and tying firmly around the basin rim.
  4. Place basin in larger pot of water. Water level should reach only halfway up the basin, or less. Gently steam the pudding for eight hours, checking water level often. The one pound pudding should be steamed for six hours.
  5. Remove pudding from steamer pot and set on a rack, still in the basin, till cool. When cool, remove paper and recover with freshly greased paper in same method as first done. Store in a cool, dry place till Christmas Day.
  6. Before serving, reheat pudding by steaming for two hours. Unwrap pudding and place on serving platter. Pour about 1/2 cup of warm brandy over pudding and light. When brandy has burned off, cut and serve the pudding with a sprig of holly on each individual dessert plate.

Figgy Pudding Hanging in Cheese Cloth

Christmas Pudding in cloth, hanging on hook to dry.
Christmas Pudding in cloth, hanging on hook to dry. | Source

Spice Cake for the Carolers

Figgy pudding is basically a moist and delicious spice cake containing figs and walnuts. Traditionally it had become an expected treat for the carolers who came around to homes singing Christmas songs. Usually the cake was steamed, but it can be baked.

"Now! bring us some figgy pudding and bring some out here."

- from the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"

Figgy Pudding Aflame With Brandy

Figgy Pudding with brandy lit.
Figgy Pudding with brandy lit. | Source

Note From the Author

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, John. I have never heard of Figgy Duff - it must be quite good.

    • John Albu profile image

      John Albu 2 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102

      Another great hub about an interesting, but rarely discussed topic, Phyllis. Have you ever heard about Figgy Duff, by the way? ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figgy_duff_%28pudding... )

      It seems to be a quite unique dish, which is common only in Newfoundland (Canada) and they seem to have many different variations of it themselves as well.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi poetryman - you are right about fruitcake being re-gifted and I do believe the same tin of it has circulated in our extended family for years! Some even say, "This is a new fruitcake, I just used the same tin." Can't fool me! LOL ... Now, figgy pudding is a whole 'nother story - it is edible and it is good and it does disappear fast at the table. I have never tried to cut down and make half the recipe, so I only make it for a large group.

      Thank you so much for the visit, reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Fruitcake is generally re gifted rather than eaten. No one is sure if it was ever edible. Nevertheless, I would not mind trying some figgy pudding.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Dolores. It has been awhile since I made figgy pudding. Dickens had a way with painting vivid images about things like that - a "speckled cannon ball" does not sound appetizing, I agree, but it sure gives a good image of what it looks like. I added chopped apples and walnuts to mine, so it was even more speckled. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Phyllis - I've always wondered what figgy pudding was but never got around to really checking it out. Dicken's "speckled cannon ball" certainly does not sound at all appetizing. But the tradition and work involved add an appeal. I'd love to try it.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Ken. Figs cake sounds good, would be good with my coffee right now. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your votes and sharing, so thank you for that.

    • CelebrateUSA profile image

      Ken Kline 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      I wondered about this. Had the pleasure of fig cake the other day and loved it. I like the "less sweet" taste in my aging years and expanding mid-section loves it too. Great historical hub. Voted up! Shared on Google+

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Artois. Yes, all kinds of Christmas magic like that often happens. Your grandmother must have been a delight for children. Thanks for reading and contributing with an interesting comment. I appreciate it.

    • Artois52 profile image

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      Fascinating read. My grandmother always put a sixpence in the Christmas pudding. Somehow though, one always ended up in each of the kids portions, but not the adults. Must have been a little bit of Christmas magic I guess.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi vespawoolf. You are welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, it is similar to American fruitcake, but not as sweet. Glad you enjoyed reading the hub. Thanks again.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

      I´ve never tasted figgy pudding but I enjoyed reading about the history and evolution of it. It sounds similar to American fruitcake. Thank you for sharing!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Dianna. It would be good for an afternoon tea. I am going to have a tea in January sometime - maybe I will make a figgy pudding for that. Thanks for the idea and thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      I can remember the song and now I know what figgy pudding looks like. It does seem to be a wonderful recipe idea. I would love to have this for an afternoon tea some day.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi sweetpkez. Yes, it is good with hot coffee. Thank you very much for reading, commenting and votes. Hope all is well with you. Happy holidays to you, too.

    • sweetpikez profile image

      Pinky de Garcia 2 years ago

      Dear Phyllis Doyle,

      Thanks for sharing this aromatic and "melts in your mouth" recipe. We may have a different version of pudding down here but I really enjoy reading this. This is best paired with hot coffee or hot fudgee.I love it!

      Voted Up and interesting.

      Happy holidays,

      Sweetpikez

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Well, thank you, BLC.

    • Back Lack Cack profile image

      Back Lack Cack 2 years ago

      This is great

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Joel. Yes, it would be fun to relive Christmas like the days of long ago. We have a small shopping center tucked away in our old part of downtown that actually do that. All the shop owners decorate and dress like Charles Dickens characters. It is like a little village, hidden among the modern world. Thanks for reading and commenting, Joel.

    • Joel Diffendarfer profile image

      Joel Diffendarfer 2 years ago from Ft Collins, Colorado

      I absolutely love the combination of tradition, history, and cooking. Wouldn't be fun to relive Christmas day in costume/character, make items like this, and celebrate with an old black and white movie. Great article. Definitely an UP!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Catherine. Women back in those days sure worked hard to make delicious foods for their families. Thanks for commenting and the votes, I appreciate it.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Now I finally know what figgy pudding is. Reading this is such a nice way to et into the spirit of Christmas. Very nicely done. Voted up and H+

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thanks, Beth. I would use walnuts instead of almonds and chopped apples instead of the grapes. I am debating on making it. Let me know if you do and how it turns out. Thanks for the vote.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 2 years ago from Tennesee

      Phyllis, what an interesting history for a dessert! I might just have to try out your recipe for Figgy pudding; sounds yummy and worth the effort. Voted up!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Phoenix. The hub is more of a history and lore than a suggested recipe. Although I am sure figgy pudding is quite good, I think I should present this hub as historical traditions. It is too much work for me to attempt making - I barely get time to make my traditional Christmas cookies and fudge. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      I have always wanted to know if figgy pudding was a real thing and if there was a recipe. You have satisfied my curiosity on both counts. This is a find hub, but after reading the list of ingredients and the method I'm giving this a miss. Don't think it will taste that good and...it seems like soooo much work. I think I'll just get regular Christmas pudding from the store. And brandy butter...also from the shop.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Ruby. I don't blame you for not wanting to make it. LOL

      I mainly think the history and lore is more interesting than going to all the trouble of making it. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate that.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is amazing! I've never heard this story, only plum pudding. After reading how much time and effort it took to make this, made me more aware of how good we have it today, but I loved the concept of one person finding the item placed for good luck. Interesting story. I think I'll pass on making it, ok? lol

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Ah hahahaha - such a delightful thing to wake up to: Frank telling me I put figgy pudding in his face!!! Oh, Frank, you got me LOL here. It really is quite good, this figgy pudding. It is called figgy pudding because of the figs in it - hmmmm - I bet you figured that out already. Bless you, dear one.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      figgy pudding.. never had it.. always thought it was a ficticious holiday treat.. but what? Here you explaining the origins.. and putting the recipe in my face.. thank you sooo much Frank