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A Paean to Puddings


The History of The Christmas Pudding at Fortnum's



This Sunday – the last before Advent begins – is known in England as ‘Stir Up Sunday”, when, traditionally, those of us with time, energy (and skill) make our own Christmas puddings. It gets its name from the first sentence of the Anglican Church’s reading for the day, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.”


It started as a sort of porridge in the 14th century, known as ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton, liberally studded with currants, prunes, wine and spices. By the end of the 16th century, the dish had become richer, with the addition of eggs, dried breadcrumbs, dried fruit, beer and spirits.


The history of Fortnum & Mason and the Christmas Pudding is rather long, but does not go back to as far as 1707. It is generally thought that the recipe was re-popularised in Britain by George I’s chef in 1714, who served it as a savoury dish. By the late 18th century, its current sweet nature had gained popularity. Indeed, one Swiss traveller wrote emphatically that you had to be English to like it.


Join us on a journey to discover the enduring relationship between Fortnum's and the much-loved Christmas pudding below.




Our First Domestic Puddings



During the 18th and 19th centuries, we supplied all the exotic ingredients that the busy cook required in order to make their pudding at home.


During the Victorian period, the Christmas puddings made by Fortnum’s chefs were almost exclusively for military and overseas customers. It was in the Edwardian era when the ‘industrialisation’ of food began to make itself felt in Britain, that Fortnum’s first started to make the Christmas essential for the domestic market. 



A Taste of Home


At Christmas 1914, the pudding was a major part of hampers destined for the Western Front. 


In 1915, we sent 500 Christmas puddings to the South Staffordshire Regiment in Gallipoli, so that they would have a taste of home on the 25th December.



The Roaring Twenties


By 1924, the treat merited a page of their own in the Christmas catalogue - the holly decoration dates back to the Middle Ages when it was believed the berried plant would bring good luck to the household, and this tradition has endured to this day.


By 1926, Fortnum’s offering had expended as we now even bottled the brandy sauce. So proud of them was the company, that it even allowed the advertisers to poke a little fun at them - as seen below.



A Pudding By Post



The splendid puddings made it onto the envelope carrying the catalogue in 1936.


The pudding on the envelope is alight, and this is another tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages and has its roots in Christian symbolism. The flaming brandy is said to represent the Passion of Christ, enveloping a dish that was made from twelve ingredients, for each of His disciples.



The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding


Agatha Christie mentions Fortnum & Mason in the short story, “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”, in which Hercule Poirot’s host at a country Christmas recalls childhood celebrations:


"All the same old things, the Christmas tree and the stockings hung up and the oyster soup and the turkey – two turkeys, one boiled and one roast – and the plum pudding with the ring and the bachelor's button and all the rest of it in it. [...] The Elvas plums and Carlsbad plums and almonds and raisins, and crystallised fruit and ginger. Dear me, I sound like a catalogue from Fortnum and Mason!"


Poirot, who has a sweet tooth, replies: "You arouse my gastronomic juices, Madame."



A Fortnum's Christmas Pudding from a 1950s hamper 


The Modern Pudding 


The traditional Christmas Pudding has changed little over the centuries, but it has adapted in recent years for modern tastes. Fortnum’s now produces vegetarian and vegan puddings, as well as the lighter King George Pudding, complete with full-strength Navy rum and whole plums. The Figgy Pudding has fruits soaked in Rum & Fig Liqueur and covered in Fig & Lemon Preserve. The Magnificent Pudding adapts the King George, with gold-dusted orange rings, Damson Gin, and topped with Marcona Almonds and Cherries.  


So, however you choose to spend Stir Up Sunday, let us leave the last word to the great literary Fortnum’s fan, Charles Dickens:


“Thirty seconds later, Mrs Cratchit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly—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. Oh! The marvellous pudding!”