Britain shares many holiday traditions with the United States: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and awkward family reunions.
But there is one essential element of a British Christmas that Americans have not adopted: the ancient ritual of the Christmas pudding.
Reporter Leo Hornak, an Englishman and a veteran of The World's newsroom, offered to cook his very first Christmas pudding and serve it up for American radio listeners on Christmas Eve.
He describes the dish as indestructible: "So dense. And it's a pretty sterile environment for bacteria, like the surface of the moon."
Hornak says that it is a dish that unites Britons of all stripes. "It’s one of those few dishes that surpasses Britain's class system. For the rich, it would have expensive liquor in it, like brandy. For the poor, more of the bread and fat — but the same dish essentially."
"In a previous era, it also embodied British history, for good and ill," Leo adds, explaining how he followed a Victorian recipe from food historian Sam Bilton — written down by her grandmother's great-aunt Eliza Anderson in 1871.
Hornak also says you can read the British Empire in the list of ingredients: "It has spices from Sri Lanka, raisins from Australia, sugar from the plantations of Jamaica."
Go ahead. Give it a try. But leave yourself lots of time. "It's not difficult," Leo says. "But it's definitely time-consuming. The steaming process alone takes 6 to 8 hours on the stove."
Apologies to Americans, as some of the measures are metric. Here is a good conversion site if you want to give the recipe a go:
Aunt Eliza’s Victorian Christmas Pudding
Makes 1 x 600g pudding
75g raisins or sultanas
100g pitted prunes, quartered
25g chopped mixed peel
10g blanched almonds, cut into slithers
1½ tbsp brandy
1½ tbsp dark rum
55g plain flour
55g ‘fresh’ white breadcrumbs (from a stale loaf is fine but don’t use dried)
50g dark brown sugar
45g vegetable or beef suet
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
2-4 tbsp milk
Butter for greasing
1 x 600ml pudding basin
Foil and greaseproof paper to make the lid
1 large saucepan preferably with a steamer basket
Put the dried fruit (including the mixed peel) and the almonds in a large bowl.
Stir in the brandy and rum. Leave to marinate for at least one hour or overnight if possible.
Grease your pudding basin well with butter.
Mix the flour, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, mixed spice and salt into the dried fruit.
Beat the egg and 2 tbsp milk together.
Stir into the fruit and flour mixture until thoroughly combined. It should be dropping consistency. Add more milk if you think the mixture is too stiff.
Spoon into the prepared basin.
Replace the lid then steam for 6-8 hours.
Allow to cool, then refrigerate until required or store in a cool place like a larder.
If you’d like to make this in a 450g foil pudding basin reduce the prunes to 75g, the flour and breadcrumbs to 50g and the suet to 40g. You can reduce the cooking time to 4½-6 hours.
To reheat your pudding: Steam the pudding again for 1 hour on Christmas Day before serving.