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Ode to the Christmas pudding

It’s perhaps one of the finest and most famous of all our foods. It’s a dish that is celebrated, revered and seen as a beacon of historical, classic, Dickensian Britain. Yes, the Christmas pudding has a lot to answer for and is symbolic of us as a nation. Restaurants and hotels will go through an untold number of these during December, knocking them out for hordes of work Christmas dos and a barrage of late night shoppers looking for a warming winter meal. But what makes this dish so iconic of Britain?
First and foremost is the spicing. Laced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, these spices first came to the UK during the heyday of The East India Trading Company. A dark, bloody trade that ended up with the UK falling head over heels for spiced cakes, puddings and desserts, but latterly coronation chicken and curry.
The preserved fruit and nuts would have traditionally come from France and Europe, luxurious celebratory ingredients that weave their way into many of our historic dishes. Raisins and currants would have travelled better than fresh grapes during this time and will also have been much less costly than their hydrated counterparts.
Old recipes from books like Hannah Glasse during the 18th Century will have called for sack as an ingredient, which is what sherry would have been called. Back then it will probably not have been very specific, though today you are as likely to see an olorosso sherry being used, as Pedro Ximinez or a palo cortado.
Traditionally a sixpence was hidden within the pudding, though the lucky winner who found this coin in their slice of pudding was as likely to choke on it, as stick it in their pocket. Today, instead of sneaking money into the centre of a Christmas pudding, it’s whole fruit. Heston Blumenthal’s best selling version for Waitrose has an orange at its core, and there are many imposters that have started to follow suit.
The thing is, although the Christmas pudding has remained constant in the British holiday season, it is actually enjoying renewed enthusiasm of late. However, instead of the dark, heavy, rich and boozy steamed puddings, we are now seeing a trend in lighter, juicier and fresher flavoured versions.
Using oranges and other citrus fruit seems to be a very popular move, with sticky marmalade-like qualities abound. The use of citrus peel, segments and juices delivers a brightness and acidity that cuts through the heavier, richer flavours.
One of the greatest things about this new love of lighter Christmas puddings, is that they don’t need quite as much booze in the mix, and as such the aging time is often reduced.
But whether your going for a bright, juicy modern take on Christmas pudding, or sticking to the dark, robust traditional versions, know that this this gut-busting favourite, with it’s liberal, global makeup is as British as it gets. And what’s more, is perhaps the world’s greatest finale to a Christmas lunch.