It's that time of year where family is in town, love ones are near, and what brings us together?Food. This time of year was especially important in many medieval households, as a time for celebration, giving and to for many to share the best of their kitchens with their guests. Where cooks cook and present their dishes with great pride.
Now what did they eat? or what was served? We have a good idea of what was served by many of the art work left to us today, as well as recipes that have been passed down have their roots in the medieval kitchen. For example, mincemeat tarts or pies, goose, special pies, roasted pig, swan with permission from the king, stewed vegetables mulled wines and ale were all presented on the table. Some modern theme'd cookbooks such as my cook book inspired by the book series, Game of Thrones, all of the recipes have a medieval origin and are quite fantastic. What is one of the most popular dishes today? I would go with Christmas Pudding.
Christmas pudding is another Christmas tradition in which sources say began in the Middle Ages but it might have been actually earlier than that, as there is a reference of it as far back as Roman times. The traditional name or "Plum Pudding" got its name later in the Victorian Era. But the fruit pudding we all know, was known differently as "Plum Porridge or Pottage" or "Frumenty."
Like many of the dishes from the Middle Ages which consisted of varieties of meat and raisin dishes; this dish was made from porridge or boiled wheat, raisins or "plums", eggs, sweetened by molasses or honey, as sugar was very expensive, fruits, currants, dates, then spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The mixture was kept moist by treacle or molasses. Due to the puddings fair amount of alcohol content, it helped keep it preserved and not spoil. It would then be good to eat a month to even a year after it was made. We start to see variation and addition to the dish as early as 1420, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, plums were introduced as a fruit in the mixture. Due to popularity of the fruit, it was added to many other dishes, hence "Plum Pottage" came to be.
After the pudding was cooked, the original prep for the pudding was to be hung by a hook in a "pudding cloth." This was later changed to cooking or boiling/steaming later on. The round little shape it has today topped with holly began to circulate in 1836. This is where the food specifically becomes a Christmas dessert. Originally it was used to eat with pork as a topping, such as apple sauce which we use today. Authors such as Charles Dickens reference the new popular use in his story adding the dish to a Christmas popularity. Cards and printed articles also show families gathered and celebrating the holiday with the pudding dressed with its holly on the table.
On a funny note, both christmas puddings were outlawed to be eaten in the 17th century by the Commonwealth Parliament. The consumption of the foods were considered "heathenish and a papistical practice." This silliness was reversed under Charles II rule.
NB, Christmas Pudding, It's Medieval Orgin. The West Austrialian, Dec. 21, 1935 (trove.nla.gov.au)