I’ve seen people mistake UK Christmas pudding for meatballs in some of these cards before. But this year, it has become THE joke. Or misidentification. Or first reaction.
Not sure why, exactly. It’s not like Meatwad suddenly broke out into the mainstream. Whatever the reason, I suppose I should write something to clarify and go on record as having “cleared the air.”
This will also make me more patient with the endless stream of possibly well meaning but definitely sarcasm-immune people who comment or send DMs saying, “That’s a pudding, not a ball of dung.” Look, I know no one’s gonna go check the context of every picture, evaluating the OP’s profile to see if they’re usually joking or presenting an obviously fake persona or whatever. But, still, if I say something like, “Dung’s on the menu, boys!” on a picture of a family sitting down to eat a freakishly oversized meatball, you have to know I’m kidding, right?
Obviously not because I get that all the time. But I digress.
All of these “meatballs” are Christmas puddings. Or figgy puddings. Or plum puddings. Occasionally even a “pud.”
It’s a traditional Christmas dish with a reputation sort of like cranberry sauce in the US at Thanksgiving: it’s only served during a special time of year and isn’t something people particularly crave at any other time. The difference, tho, might be that those who grew up eating them usually still eat them. Or so I’m told by lots of UK friends.
I’m also told by lots of other friends who didn’t grow up with them as traditional that they don’t like it, for similar reasons that a lot of people don’t eat fruitcake.
I’ve only had it once, and it was at a “posh” restaurant where it was being done up “fancy-like.” So I have no idea what your average grandma’s figgy pudding tastes like. [That, by the way, is a potentially horrible sentence.]
Think of the thing itself as an aged, alcoholic fruit-sausage. You start with a bunch of different dried fruits; the dish likely began as a way to use up the rest of the dried raisins, currants, figs, dried citrus peels, anything meant to last that was now on its last legs. (Btw, it’s sometimes called “plum” pudding because the word “plum” used to mean any kind of dried fruit — nothing particular about plums themselves in these.) Mix in some suet (beef lard), some leftover bread or crumbs, sugar and spices. Sometimes you’ll add nuts or grains if you’re going for something more savory. You’ll also throw some eggs in there to thicken it up.
The next big ingredient is booze, usually brandy. In fact, you’ll use some twice. First, you’re usually told to soak the dried fruit in brandy for a good day or so. That’s going to do an important job: help the giant mixed up mush you just made ferment. You’re going to boil/steam that mush for awhile so you have a giant, rather weird smelling ball of goo.
Next, you let it fester. This is the part that I think disgusts modern folk the most since the fermentation and funkiness is part of the point. Traditionally, you’d roll the pudding up into a cloth bag and let it hang for a few weeks, yes weeks, to get nice and musty. It looks like a serial killer’s souvenir when you see the traditional way to age it in a hanging bag:
There are actually a lot of cards showing the thing in bags, but I don’t post them anymore because it led to too many questions:
But don’t worry about cleanliness or whatever might be growing in there. You’re gonna set the whole thing on fire before you eat it. Maybe even while you’re eating it.
That’s the last step: drown the thing in brandy, and set it on fire.
You can find loads of recipes, but the best are the older ones where they couldn’t decide if this was supposed to be sweet or savory. Along with leftover fruit, you’d include leftover meat, all chopped up and mixed in with everything else. So I guess it’s not too far off to call it a “meatball” after all.
This link from the History Channel is a nice, short write up of the history, but if you get serious, this is a pretty fascinating rabbit hole, especially if you like food trivia. People argue that the pudding and haggis have similar origins, others argue that it didn’t really exist before the Victorians made it more famous, and others argue for some pretty serious regional competitions and outright hatreds connected to the pudding.
My favorite conspiracy is that the game of Snap-Dragon, where kids will try to pick raisins off of the pudding while it’s alcohol bath is on fire, somehow relates back to Celtic druid rituals.
Whatever started it, the pudding is all over these cards because to the Victorians, the pudding was as iconic as a Christmas tree or candy cane at Christmastime. And the fact that it’s shaped like a ball makes it a perfect macguffin for anything you can imagine.
As for me, I’ll always see it as a giant dingleberry. Merry Christmas.
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