Trove Tuesday – Christmas Puddings of 1913

Every year at this time in Australia, we suffer (or enjoy) a terrible mismatch between the traditions of our European heritage and the heat of an Australian summer.

Our traditional Christmas dinner, celebrated in Australia since the first settlement, features  food created for appetites that were shaped by the depths of a European winter.  These foods include hot roasts and warm puddings meant to be eaten  in a room with an open fire. However the Aussie climate lends itself to  cold prawns, fresh oysters, salads and very cold ice-cream in a room with air-conditioning (if a picnic at the beach is not possible).

For many decades, cookery columnists have suggested alternative recipes for Christmas fare that are more in keeping with the heat and humidity. These suggestions are met with a varying degree of success. Perhaps as the percentage of the population with no personal memory of a British or European Christmas dwindles, these will be taken up with more enthusiasm.

Mrs Beeton's Christmasplum puddong of the 1890's
Mrs Beeton’s Christmas plum pudding of the 1890’s

I decided to take a glimpse into  Trove, to see what what references I could find to Christmas recipes  a hundred years ago in 1913 – and my favourite- the ‘Christmas pudding’ first.

The Charleville Times presented a historical and humorous background to the pudding:

Five centuries of inspired evolution lie behind the Christmas pudding. Its primitive ancestor was plum porridge, a sweet savoury which mediaevel “barons and Stuart epicures” relished with hoar’s head, roast swan, and other realistic Yule dishes. This irresistible mixture consisted of meat broth thickened with bread and then boiled together with raisins, prunes, mace and cloves. Like the ancient mince pie, bequeathed us by the Crusaders, plum porridge fell under the Puritan Commonwealth’s ban on all Christmas cheer.

Charleville Times
2 January, 1942

However, I was really after a 1913 version of the pudding’s history. The Watchman, a Sydney weekly paper added a religious aspect tothe similarly humorous and historical background of the pudding..

The Christmas pudding in its contents is thought to symbolise, as does mince pie also, the ricli offerings made by the Wise Men to the Infant Christ, and dates back to the early Christians.

“Once upon a time” plum pudding was called “hackin”, signifying the “hackin” or chopping of the ingredients—meats, suet, fruits, and spices. After the revolution that enthroned the “merry monarch”, Charles II, the “hackin” of our ancestors was baptised “plum pudding.”

It seems to have survived in its original form only in England, where it is a National dish. It was brought to America by the English colonists.

It is said that a Frenchman will not taste thereof. There is a funny story that a French nobleman, wishing to please an English ambassador on Christmas Day by serving a plum pudding, procured a recipe and gave his chef minutest instructions as to ingredients, the quantity of water in the kettle, etc., forgetting only one thing, the pudding cloth, and the dish was served up like so much soup in a large tureen, to the surprise of the honoured guest.

24 December, 1913.

Definitely created to be enjoyed in the colder months!
Definitely created to be enjoyed in the colder months!
Christmas Pudding Recipes -1913

While Christmas pudding recipes are plentiful on Trove the first one from 1913 came from the Warwick Examiner and Times of 17 December. 1913. To read the article as it appeared in 1913 click here.

It is indicitive of the times that the title of the article is NOTES FOR WIVES AND DAUGHTERS and is written  by “Eriuna.”


Wonderful memories
Wonderful memories

The article in the Warwick Examiner and Times. 1913 included recipes for four Christmas puddings and states:

The plum pudding figures largely on the Christmas menu, and is also a useful “standby” for tlie holidays. Some recipes are now given, because many housewives like to make their puddings some time beforehand. All these have been tried with excellent results, and if the directions are carefully followed success must be the outcome. 

The first pudding , the Rich pudding, is very close to the recipe that my grandmother used to  – I remember the calico bags really well! I also remember that early first boiling of the pudding in the copper. The heady aromas of fruit and brandy coming from the laundry was amazing – an aroma I would love to recapture but never will.

Pudding 1 (Rich)

One pound each of stoned raisins and currants, half a pound of mixed candied peel finely sliced, a large cupful of breadcrumbs, half a pound of flour, half a pound each of butter and lard, half a teacup of good brandy, a packet of mixed spicc, eight eggs, and a cup of sugar.

Cream the butter and lard, mix the spice, flour, and sugar, next the fruit and breadcrumbs, mix in a large basin, and when all the dry ingredients have been well stirred break in the eggs, one by one, stirring briskly the while, lastly pour in the brandy. Scald a piecc of strong calico and flour it well; place it over a second basin and fill. Tie securely, leaving room for the pudding to swell, and boil for not less than six hours. When cooked, hang for a week or more, allowing two hours cooking on the day it is to be eaten. Garnish with holly, real or artificial, and pouring a little brandy over it, light and bring to table blazing.

Warwick Examiner and Times
Wednesday, 17 December, 1913

Definitely a rich Christmas pudding
Definitely a rich Christmas pudding

The second pudding featured is a lighter pudding and one without alcohol in the ingredients.

Pudding 2

This is an excellent recipe of medium quality, very light, well-flavoured and not too rich for children or too poor to please their elders. Take one and a half pound of very finely chopped beef suet, one and a half pound each of currants and raisins, the latter nicely stoned, half a pound of castor sugar, one pound of flnely-grated stale bread-crumbs (this ingredient is very important, as it renders the pudding light), a quarter of a pound of mixed peel, shred very finely, two apples chopped small, a teaspoouful of mixed spice, and three-quartcrs of a pound of flour.

Mix those ingredients very thoroughly whilst they are dry, then beat up eight eggs (see that they are perfectly fresh, for one bad or strong egg is quite sufficient to spoil the best pudding ever made), continue beating or whisking them until they become a stiff froth, then add to them a tumbler of milk, beating all the white. Pour the eggs and milk very gradually to the dry ingredients, stirring them the while, thus mixing ready for boiling. The quantities given will make two medium puddings or one large one. Butter the basin or mould thoroughly. Press in the contents, and boil for eight hours steadily if made as a single pudding, or five hours each if made into two.

Warwick Examiner and Times
Wednesday, 17 December, 1913

Fit for the entire family
Fit for the entire family

The third recipe is for a quick, easy Christmas pudding featuring a little more than a pint of English Ale.

Pudding 3

H you have never tasted a pudding made with English ale, try the following, it is strongly recommended. You will require 2 lb of suet, 2 lb of’ raisins, 1 lb of currants,1lb of sultanas, half a pound of almonds, 12 eggs, 2 lb of coarse sugar, l lb of breadcrumbs, 2 1b of flour, l lb of mixed peel, a little more than one pint of ale, if the eggs be small, and about half a cupful of milk.

Mix all the dry ingredients together, chopping every thing well, and mix those with the ale and milk. Let the mixture stand for an hour or more, and add the eggs well beaten. Stir thoroughly. put into buttered basins, filling them to the top as puddings of this kind do not rise; tie the cloth entirely over; and boil for five or six hours, according to the size.

Warwick Examiner and Times
Wednesday, 17 December, 1913

Column 8 always has the last word!
Column 8 always has the last word!

The Last Word

As usual the last word must go to a Column 8, Sydney Morning Herald of 1950 thsat refers to Mrs Beeton’s cookbook of 1913. The Epping housewife was shocked in 1950 to read that the cost to make a Christmas pudding for 7-8 people in 1913 was 1 shilling and 10 pence.

What does it cost one hunderd years later?

One response to “Trove Tuesday – Christmas Puddings of 1913”

  1. Jill greenhalgh Avatar
    Jill greenhalgh

    What a great article, Happy Christmas!
    I love to make my mum’s recipe with suet and breadcrumbs, but have resorted to a berry terrine with a white chocolate ganache! More suitable to our climate! Followed up with a marscapone berry trifle!

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