A cache of Christmas pudding recipes

Deatil of a handwritten recipe for Grandmama's Christmas plum pudding’, 25 December 1877

‘Grandmama's Christmas plum pudding’, 25 December 1877 (detail), handwritten recipe inserted into Author unknown, manuscript recipe book, 1832–1837, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Historic Houses Trust: CSL&RC MSS 2011/1

A collection of precious mementos of shared tastes and Christmases were collected and kept inside a family manuscript cookbook that was donated to the HHT in 2011. The cook book was handwritten between 1832 and 1835, by an unknown author. The painstakingly recorded book of ‘receipts’ appears to have been written by a resident of Bath or Somerset in the UK, and we are conducting research into how it made its way to Australia.

Interestingly, there is no plum pudding recipe in the original manuscript, so possibly its keeper was keen to acquire others’ recipes to try. Two of the inserted recipes are noted to be ‘Grandmama’s receipt’ and one from ‘Mrs Pocock’, the others are anonymous. Only one is dated, appropriately, Christmas Day, 1877.

Each recipe is very similar in principle, with little variance in ingredients, and each consistently requires the pudding to be several hours on the boil. The quantities differ though in relevant ratios, but note that none has the actual cooking method included – this was assumed knowledge. Note also, on the 1877 receipt, the flour has been crossed out, presumably after trialing the recipe, or taking advice on it. Although flour appears on most plum pudding recipes, I find it makes a pudding heavy and pasty. Keep the flour for cakes and use bread crumbs for the pudding.

Exchanging recipes, tips and techniques is a timeless practice, and many a family’s heritage can be retained, revisited and revived in something as simple as the domestic compilation of recipes.

The Cook’s note to self: remember to put the name of the donor on any recipe they give me so future generations know its provenance!