As the festive season is upon us, I recently had contact with an old friend who told me she was in the midst of making her annual figgy puddings. She was using a recipe passed down through her family since the middle years of the 19th Century. Of course, this brought to mind the wonderful English West Country Christmas carol, "We wish you a Merry Christmas" with its references to that seasonal treat. Like so many other songs and carols, we sing it without thought but there is, in this delightful piece, a lovely little story to tell.
The carolers have arrived on Christmas eve and are, in joyous song, wishing the people "a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." After "Good tidings we bring to you and your kin" and again wishing "a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," they ask to be "paid" in the form of "some figgy pudding" and, depending upon the version of the carol, possibly "a cup of good cheer."
In a mood, which is clearly one of good fun, they sing, "we won't go until we've got some." In fact, they repeat this three times ending with "so bring some out here."
Although "fig" or "figgy" pudding probably dates back to at least the 16th Century, it was a popular seasonal dish in the nineteenth century and was often given to carolers. Despite numerous claims that this is the famous pudding made by Mrs Cratchit in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," there is no specific reference in the tale to the type of pudding presented. However, a correspondent to "Notes and Queries," Number 188 (June 4, 1853) does remind us that in Devon, it was common to refer to raisins as "figs" and to refer to plum pudding as "figgy pudding." He goes on to write, "So with plum-cake, as in the following rhymes:--"
"Rain, rain, go to Spain,
Never come again:
When I brew and when I bake,
I'll give you a figgy cake."
What we do know is that whatever the pudding, it was "like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top." Whether the Christmas pudding at the Cratchit's table was a "figgy" pudding or not is really irrelevant to the tale.
Whatever the case then, let us leave the Cratchits to enjoy their Christmas meal and look at Mrs Beeton's recipe for a "figgy" pudding. And while you are looking at it, you might wish to listen to the carol as sung by Enya.
1275. INGREDIENTS - 2 lbs. of figs, 1 lb. of suet, 1/2 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, 2 eggs, milk.
Mode.—Cut the figs into small pieces, grate the bread finely, and chop the suet very small; mix these well together, add the flour, the eggs, which should be well beaten, and sufficient milk to form the whole into a stiff paste; butter a mould or basin, press the pudding into it very closely, tie it down with a cloth, and boil for 3 hours, or rather longer; turn it out of the mould, and serve with melted butter, wine-sauce, or cream.
Time.—3 hours, or longer. Average cost, 2s.
Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.
Seasonable.—Suitable for a winter pudding.
Should you try this the best of luck to you. On the other hand, there are numerous more modern recipes for "figgy" pudding to be found on the Internet. Whatever the case, to all my readers, season's greetings and may you enjoy it all and have a wonderful New Year.