Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding is the dessert traditionally served on Christmas day in the United Kingdom (especially England) and some other Commonwealth countries. It is sometimes known as plum pudding, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving a lot of dried fruit.

Christmas pudding is a boiled, or rather steamed, pudding, massively heavy with dried fruit and nuts, and usually made with suet. It should be very dark in appearance - effectively black - and moist. Traditionally, Christmas puddings were boiled in a pudding cloth, and they are often represented as round, but at least since the beginning of the twentieth century they have usually been prepared in basins.

The pudding needs to be made and cooked well in advance, to allow the flavours to mix (and to save the cook labour on Christmas day); it is merely reheated when it is to be eaten. Traditionally puddings were made on or immediately after the Sunday "next before Advent", i.e. five weeks before Christmas. The Collect for that Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, as it was used from the sixteenth to the mid twentieth centuries, reads:

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"
The association of stirring and fruit was irresistible and the day became known as "Stir-up Sunday". Everyone in the household, or at least every child, was required to give the mixture a stir (and to make a wish while doing so).

Every household has its own recipe for Christmas pudding, preferably handed down the family; it is probable that there were also regional variations. The following is a Sussex recipe for Christmas pudding that is known to have been in annual use for over 50 years without a break, and is believed to have been used largely unaltered since the late nineteenth century, despite the difficulties in gathering the ingredients during the rationing in force in the UK in two world wars. All measurements are in Imperial units (see Cooking weights and measures). Originally, twice or even four times these quantities would have been made.

To make two 1-pint puddings (Imperial measurements throughout)

Mix and stir well. Place in pudding basins, and cover with cloths or buttered greaseproof paper, tied tightly in place with string. Steam for 7 hours and keep till Christmas day. To prepare for serving, steam for 2 hours. Times can be reduced by using a pressure cooker.


It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them. The usual choice was a silver 3d piece (see History of the threepence), or a sixpence. However this practice fell away once real silver coins were not available, as it was believed that alloy coins would taint the pudding.

Once turned out of its basin, the Christmas pudding is traditionally decorated with a spray of holly, then dowsed in brandy, flamed, and brought to the table ceremonially - where it should be greeted with a round of applause. It is best eaten with brandy butter, cream (lemon cream is excellent) or custard. Christmas puddings have very good keeping properties and many families keep one back from Christmas to be eaten at another celebration later in the year.

Christmas puddings can be bought ready made and cooked, but unless they come from a luxury store these are likely to be a poor substitute for a home-cooked pudding. Nowadays, many people find the Christmas pudding too rich and heavy, but most families have at least one member who will demand that a "proper" Christmas pudding be cooked.

See also