An Experiment: Victorian Christmas Pudding, Part II

First off, it came to my attention from my dearest friend that the links in the previous post were not working. I corrected the problem and they work a treat now!

So! Here we go! I’ve been very excited to try this recipe- I hope it works out! This is a bit of a plunge for me because this will be the first recipe I’ve ever posted that I haven’t tried first and therefor have no guarantee of success. I have to admit that I am the type of person who doesn’t do what I’m not certain I’m good at. This affects my life in lots of ways, one of them being a certain amount of perfectionism. My cooking doesn’t have to come out looking like food porn, but it does have to come out tasting how I wanted it to. The dish has to WORK. If it doesn’t I usually get somewhat mad then get back to the drawing board. I certainly don’t post about a dish before I actually try it. What if it doesn’t work?! But I really wanted to try this recipe and I really wanted to share it for this Christmas. And to do that I have to get over my various neuroses and post it as what it is; an experiment. A long, drawn out experiment. This will be sitting in my pantry until Christmas night- just like the Victorians would have done it, with no refrigeration, for almost 7 weeks. There was just something about doing it this way that was… intriguing. Yes; I’m nervous about it, but it’s also fun!

If you’re familiar at all with Victorian recipes then you know that sometimes they can call for some pretty interesting things that aren’t really widely available anymore. Things like whole pheasants, tincture of ginger, and apple marmalade, to name a few. But, as you can see below, the ingredients for this very traditional pudding are rather mundane. You more than likely have most of them in your kitchen right now. The exceptions being the suet and possibly some of the fruits. I don’t usually keep dates on hand. We really like them but our desire for them goes in cycles so I usually buy them when I need them for something and we enjoy the leftovers. Use whatever fruits you like. You want to actually enjoy this when it’s done. If you don’t like raisins, don’t use them. You can use whatever dried fruit you enjoy- go traditional or contemporary. It’s up to you! A note on the bread: this is what was recommended on another blog with a recipe for Christmas pudding. You need fresh breadcrumbs- not canned- and this bread has a very good texture for making fresh crumbs.


To make the above mentioned breadcrumbs, simply lay the needed number of slices out on a cookie cooling rack overnight. We live in a somewhat dry climate, so they bread slices were nicely dried after about 8 hours. I needed 8 ounces of bread crumbs, so I weighed about 10 ounces of bread to make sure I still had enough after the bread lost some weight due to moisture loss. I was just about spot on in the end. After I got the kids fed & the girls on the bus I got out my box grater and grated the bread slices on the side that finely shreds cheese. It worked perfectly!

Speaking of the grater, I used that for the suet too- only the larger cheese grating holes this time. You can usually get suet from the butcher counter at the grocery store- that’s what they use to add fat to the fresh ground beef they do every day. Let the butcher know that you are using the suet for a dessert so the fewer meat scraps on it, the better. Get a few more ounces than what is called for in the recipe because there is a membrane on the suet that doesn’t grate well. That means there will be bits that you can’t use so you need a little extra to make up for it. This was a messy job but it went pretty quickly.

You can zest the lemon on the box grater too. You can use the “burr” side that is impossible to clean effectively, or you can use the fine cheese grating holes and still come up with perfect zest. You want only the yellow part, of course, as the pith underneath is bitter. Don’t have an immediate use for the lemon juice? No problem…


Wrap the whole lemon in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for later. I’ll be making my husband a big batch of iced tea tomorrow so this will get used quickly. If I wasn’t going to use it in the next few days I would squeeze the juice and freeze it.

Now the only thing left to prep is the dates if you’re using them. You could cut them into little pieces with a knife. But it’s sticky & messy & I don’t recommend it. I use a pair of kitchen shears to cut them into small pieces. If you don’t have kitchen shears I highly recommend getting a pair. There are SO many things that are made easier with shears! You’ll find new uses all the time!

So you’ve grated, zested, and chopped; now you just combine it all. I used cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg as the spices but feel free to use what you like, just like with the fruit. Put all of the dry ingredients in a big bowl & stir together. This step made me nervous. Here’s why:


That’s A LOT of fruit for just a little bit of flour & breadcrumbs. I mean, I know this is supposed to be a dessert that goes to excess with “luxury” items like raisins & spices but that’s ALOT of fruit. The next step didn’t help the anxiety much. Now you add the wet ingredients…


THAT’S A LOT OF FRUIT! I was worried this wouldn’t work. I was picturing a crumbly mess of fruit and dabs of cake here & there on Christmas evening after dinner. But I forged ahead. This was how the recipe said to do it and it worked for millions of Victorians before me.

You will need a flour sack towel for this recipe. You can’t get around it. I have several because I find them indispensable for just about everything but drying dishes. Wet the towel and then wring it out as much as you can. Spread it out on a table so that it’s completely flat. Take a small handful of flour and start spreading it in a thin layer on the damp towel. Like so:


You don’t need a lot of flour. What you’re doing is making the layer that will seal the cake in and enable you to keep it unrefrigerated for several weeks (up to 3 months says the website, but I have heard about them being kept much longer) as well as keep the water out during the boiling process. Now put the batter in the middle of the flour thusly:


Try to ball everything up in the middle and then bring all of the edges of the towel together and secure with kitchen twine (also incredibly useful in the kitchen & around the house. If you don’t have any, get some!). Pull the twine and tie it as tightly as you can manage- you don’t water to get in through the top.

Now you just drop this into your pot of water…



I suppose I should have mentioned that you need a HUGE pot of water for this, like the one above. I’m using my 20 quart stock pot, 3/4 full, along with the rack from my pressure canner. The rack ensures the cake doesn’t come to rest on the bottom in the event of your water level going down too far. Keep some water hot in a kettle or another pot so that you can top up the boiling water every now and then.

I made a half batch of Christmas pudding and it took about 4 hours to get it cooked through. I was worried for awhile because I had no idea how to figure out how this thing was going to be done! I couldn’t stick a skewer into it or open up the cloth because I would break the flour seal I put on the towel and I wouldn’t be able to keep it without refrigeration. So I had to check on it often and pick it up out of the water (with tongs!) and poke at it a bit every now & then. At the 3 & 1/2 hour mark it started smelling wonderful- nice and spicy with a hint of the fruitcake peel & fruit mix I used- and when I poked it with my finger there was definite resistance. I let it go the final half an hour & checked it again. This time it sprang back when I poked it. I decided to call it done. So I put it in a strainer over a bowl & let the excess towel cool down enough to touch. My husband wrung the water out of the excess towel at the top while I made a place for the drip bowl downstairs in the pantry. Here is the sight that welcomes us upon going down to our space in the basement:


This isn’t quite as dark a place to put it  as I had wanted but it will have to do. I’ll keep the drip bowl under it until the towel is dry. Beyond that all I have to do is watch for mold & bugs. Hopefully there won’t be any of either and we will enjoy a wonderful Victorian treat for dessert Christmas night! I’m so excited- I can’t wait to try it!

The Recipe: Please note that this makes a HUGE batch- enough for 10-12 people. I halved the amounts show here. 

1 lb Beef Suet

8oz Flour
8oz Fresh Breadcrumbs (Bought bread crumbs can be used but the quality will suffer.)
8oz Sugar
1lb Raisins, Light or Dark (I used Golden)
1lb Dates
2 tsp Mixed Spice (I used cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger)
4oz Candied Peel, chopped (I couldn’t find candied peel at the store and didn’t have time to make any so I used a store bought fruitcake mix that has candied peel in it. You can leave this out. You could also substitute chopped nuts.)
Pinch Salt
1 Lemon, rind only (I halved the recipe but used the whole lemon rind anyway since I didn’t have the candied peel.)
8 Eggs, beaten
10½fl oz Brandy (I used Spiced Dark Rum because that’s what we like.)

The Method:

*Put a LARGE stockpot on to boil. You need a pot large enough to make sure the pudding floats and is completely covered the entire cooking time.

*Shred the suet, set aside. This can be done ahead of time & stored in the fridge.

*Wash & dry the grater.

*Grate the breadcrumbs, set aside.

*Zest the lemon, set zest aside and deal with the lemon- don’t waste it!

*Measure out the rest of the ingredients.

*Mix dry ingredients well.

*Add the wet ingredients, mix VERY well. Make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and no dry breadcrumbs remain.

*Wet a clean flour sack towel that has not been treated with fabric softener. Wring the water out until the towel is damp.

*Spread towel out completely and rub a thin layer of flour into it.

*Dump the pudding batter onto the towel in the middle of the flour layer.

*Bring all the edges of the towel together and tie VERY tightly with kitchen twine, making sure that no water can get in through any gap in the top.

*Drop into pot of boiling water and boil, covered, 5-6 hours or until cooked through. (My halved recipe still took the full 4 hours)

*Drain, pat dry, and hang in a cool dark place.

*Check periodically for mold and pests. If either is present discard the pudding.

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