Food & Drink

The Origins of Christmas Pudding

The Origins of Christmas PuddingChristmas, or Plum Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is nothing like the original.......

Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called 'frumenty' that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities. By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits. It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650. In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.

Over the years, many superstitions have surrounded Christmas Puddings. One superstition says that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men.

The Sunday before Advent Sunday is sometimes know as 'Stir-up Sunday'. This is because opening words of the Collect for the day (the main prayer) in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 said:-

"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; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds, similar to jelly moulds. These were often in the shapes of towers or castles. Normal people just had puddings in the shape of balls. If the pudding was a bit heavy, they were called cannonballs!


Real Traditional Mince Pies

Real Tradition Mince Pie RecipeYou know those ‘Traditional Mince Pies’ we all see in the supermarkets at this time of year? There should be a trading standards case against anybody who has the audacity to use the word Traditional in relation to the mince pies presently on offer! Below is a real traditional recipe from “The English Housewife” published in 1615. Not a great deal of comparison to the icing sugar dusted mass-manufactured oddities in aluminium foil cases, I think you’ll agree:-

“Take a Legge of Mutton, and cut the best of the flesh from the bone, and parboyl it well then put to it three pound of the best Mutton suet & shred it very small; then spread it abroad, and fashion it with Salt Cloves and Mace: then put in good store of Currants, great Raisins and Prunes clean washed and picked a few Dates sliced, and some Orenge-pils sliced ; then being all well mixt together, put it into a coffin, or into divers coffins, and so bake them and when they are served up, open the lids and strow store of Sugar on the top of the meat and upon the lid. And in this sort you may also bake Beef or Veal, onely the Beef would not be parboyld, and the Veal will ask a double quantity of Suet."

From Gervase Markham The English Housewife, (London: 1615)

A coffin isn’t the wooden box you to granny to rest in. It’s a pastry case!

Bacon Badger

Buckinghamshire bacon badger recipeBadger, surely not! Bacon Badger its a traditional recipe from Buckinghamshire which we've borrowed and enhanced slightly. Named after the appearance of the large stuffed roll, suffice it to say that no real badgers are harmed during the preparation of this recipe.


The Pastry

225 Grams Self raising flour

1 pinch Salt and freshly milled black pepper

100 Grams Suet 

1 heaped tbsp Fresh parsley Chopped

8 tbsps Cold water

For the filling

1 large Badger – Joking!

400 Grams Gammon Cubed

1 large White onion Cubed

1 large Potato Cubed

2 cloves of garlic crushed

6 Handfuls Fresh sage leaves Chopped

1 handful Fresh parsley Chopped

1 pinch Black mustard seeds crushed


(1) To make the suet pastry, simply sift the flour and salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl. Add the suet and chopped parsley and adding the water bring it all together to form a nice dough.  Cover and chill.

(2) In a large roasting tin, add diced gammon, onions, potato, garlic, the freshly chopped herbs and the crushed black mustard seeds, combine. Roast in a moderate oven for 30 minutes, remove and cool slightly.

(3) Onto a well floured worktop roll out the pastry into a generous rectangle.  Fill with the mixture, wetting the edges with water, roll up like a large pasty and seal together. Place a tea towel on the worktop and onto that place a sheet of foil with a sheet of buttered greaseproof paper on top and place your badger in the middle.  Roll it all up and tie the ends with string.

(4) Steam for 1 hrs 30 mins over a pan of boiling water. Then remove tea towel and open foil and grease proof to reveal the feast.  Finish off by baking at 180c, to give the pastry a golden crust, for 20 mins.

Strange Sunday Lunches - Iceland - Hákarl

Northern Living Strange Sunday Lunches From around the world Iceland - HákarlHákarl is a food from Iceland. It is a Greenland or basking shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for 4-5 months. Hákarl has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste. It is, quite literally, rotten shark meat. It was traditionally served during the mid-winter festivities know as  Thorrablot but people visiting Iceland as tourists are often presented with Hákarl as a Sunday lunch offering. This may indicate that the Icelander either have a very mischievous sense of humour, or they are simply inhospitable and are determined to persuade visitors not to return!!!!


(1) Wash and gut your shark.

(2) Bury the shark in gravel. Mark the location with a pile on stones. Unearth it six to eight weeks later.

(3) Allow the shark to cure in the open air for another two months. 

(4) Cut off the thick brown crust which has grown around the shark. The remaining slab of flesh should smell somewhat like ammonia.

(5) Eat the white flesh inside, along with a drink of Brennivín, an aquavit-like schnapps flavored with caraway.

An Anglo-Saxon seasonal Feast

An Anglo-Saxon seasonal FeastIn Saxon times autumn and early winter were the time when surplus cattle were slaughtered for their meat at the end of their first or second year, or as their productivity as breeding stock or their strength to pull ploughs declined. Surplus young sheep were also slaughtered during the autumn and additional meat sources coming from older breeders that would mainly have been kept for their wool. Older fowl were also killed as keeping them alive through the winter months was costly in grain with no reward of eggs.

So what might a seasonal feast have included? Here are a few known recipes from the era. Food wasn’t all pottage and mouldy bread in the 6th century, the Anglo-Saxons had wide trading networks, so the ingredients have quite a Mediterranean feel.

Stuffed chicken

3½ lb (1.6kg) chicken

4 hard-boiled eggs

2 medium onions

½ pt (275 ml) chicken stock

1 small bunch of parsley

1-3 tbs (30-45 ml) lard

salt & pepper

Prepare the chicken for stuffing and for spit or oven roasting. Separate the egg whites and yolks. Slice the onions thinly. Bring the stock to the boil, and blanch the onions and parsley for 2-3 minutes. Remove the parsley and cook the onions until soft. Drain, reserving the remaining stock. Cool.

Cut off the parsley stalks and chop the leaves with the egg yolks, lard and seasoning. Add the onion. Stuff the chicken with the mixture, then truss it. Roast the chicken in the usual way, with the reserved stock in the drip tray or roasting tin. Use it to baste the chicken and to make a thin or slightly thickened gravy with the pan juices and some extra stock. If wished, garnish with the egg whites, chopped, and a little extra parsley.

Roast Mutton

Ingredients 1 leg mutton (4-5 lbs) 

Generous slosh of cheap red wine 

3-6 cloves garlic, peeled 

4 juniper berries 

Several sprigs of rosemary 

Salt and pepper 

Gravy browning (check packet for amount) or 2 teaspoons (30 ml) cornflour 

Method You can ask your butcher to bone the mutton, which will make it easier to carve. This is also worth doing if you want to use the leg bone to make knife handles or whatever, because roasting would make the bone brittle. You can stuff the cavity with a mix of chopped prunes, hazelnuts, finely chopped onions and fresh herbs. Remember to allow for any stuffing when calculating the cooking time.

Cut slots in the meat with a sharp knife. Push the garlic, juniper berries and rosemary into these slots. How much of each you use depends on your taste; too much juniper will make it bitter, and not everybody is mad about garlic. Heat the oven to 150o C (300o F). Put the meat into a roasting dish. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and then slosh wine over it. Put the lid on the roasting dish, or cover the joint with aluminium foil. 

Roast the meat for 40 minutes per lb (450 g): if necessary, add more wine during cooking to keep the dish from drying out. Remove the lid or foil for the last half hour of cooking. When it's cooked, put the meat onto a carving platter to rest while you make gravy with the cooking juices. 

To make the gravy, put the roasting dish on the hob and add some water (or cooking juices from vegetables). You should get nearly a pint of gravy. Thicken the gravy with gravy browning, or mix the cornflour with a little water until smooth, and stir this into the gravy. Keep stirring until the gravy has thickened. Strain it into a warmed jug, spoon the fat off the top of the gravy and serve

Curd flan

‘Take nessh chese, and pare it clene, and grind hit in a morter small, and drawe yolkes and white of egges thorgh a streynour, and cast there-to, and grind hem togidre; then cast thereto honey, butter and salt, and put together in a coffyn of faire paast, and lete bake ynowe, and then serue it forthe.’

‘nessh chese’ is fresh soft curd cheese

‘coffyn of faire paast’ is a light pastry case.



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