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Mrs Austen’s Christmas pudding


Christmas pudding as we know it first appeared in the reign of King George III. It was said to have been invented especially for him by his chef, because of his inordinate love of English puddings. Before this, the pudding was more of a pottage or porridge, with all the right ingredients we tend to associate with the traditional Christmas pudding, but cooked in a large cloth, and rather sloppy!

Puddings of all kinds were particularly popular dishes prepared, presumably, to fill with the least expense the many stomachs of the constant flow of seasonal house visitors traditional during the Georgian Christmas seasons, which could last from early December until after Twelfth Night, 6 January.

A rather amusing recipe in rhyme, written by Jane’s mother, Mrs Austen, for Martha Lloyd’s Receipt Book, sounds very much like Christmas pudding and may well have served as such in the Austen household, especially as the last verse refers to two being made, one to be served ‘out of season’. Only a Christmas pudding could be put out to serve, then taken away and survive reboiling! Also, the line ‘And more savoury things if well chosen’ seems to refer more to the ingredients of the early Christmas pudding than to any other sort.

If the Vicar you treat
You must give him to eat
A pudding to his affection,
And to make his repast
By the canon of taste
Be the present receipt in your direction.

First take two pounds of bread
Be the crumb only weigh’d
For the crust the good housewife refuses,
The proportions you’ll guess,
May be made more or less
To the size the family chuses.

Then its sweetness to make;
Some currants you take
And sugar, of each half a pound,
Be not butter forgot
And the quantity sought
Must the same as your currants be found.

Clove and Mace will you want
With Rose Water I grant,
And more savoury things if well chosen.
Then to bind each ingredient
You’ll find most expedient
Of eggs to put in half a dozen.

Some milk, don’t refuse it
But boil as you use it,
A proper hint for its maker.
And the whole when compleat
With care recommend the baker.

In praise of this pudding,
I vouch it a good one,
Or should you suspect a fond word,
To every guest,
Perhaps it is best
Two puddings should smoke on the board.

Two puddings! yet – no,
For if one will do
The other comes in out of season;
And these lines but obey,
Nor can anyone say
That this pudding’s without rhyme or reason!

Extracted from Jane Austen’s Christmas compiled by Maria Hubert

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