A King Tradition

A-King-Tradition

The King Family. My maternal grandmother (center front) and her siblings Pre WWI.

A King Tradition

When I was growing up in the 50’s we always had a house servant and a gardener to help keep the household running smoothly.  Our ‘cookboy’ was John.  Mom hoped to keep him for a long time so she invested a lot in him.

John was illiterate, but eager to learn. Mom was eager to teach him the ways of the kitchen to free herself up for other things.  John still ate a traditional meal of mealie meal (thick grits) and gravy in his kai in the evening over the open fire in a black three legged pot. Mom’s kitchen was a challenge.

A King Tradition

John quickly learned to make a stew served on a bed of white rice, or a cottage pie with its browned crust of mashed potato. He made the Sunday roast beef with roast potatoes and pumpkin, gravy and vegetables from the garden, amongst other favorites.

But Mom reserved the baking and desserts for herself.  She enjoyed it.  Not the least of these joys was making the annual plum pudding for Christmas.  This tradition dated back to her maternal, English, King family, 1820 Settlers to Port Saint John’s on the Wild Coast of South Africa.

A Christmas Pudding needs to be put up preferably a couple of months before Christmas, the earlier the better.  It’s time to begin when the grocery shelves display the ingredients in early October.  A lot goes into a Christmas pudding.  First of all, the ingredients list is formidable: dried fruits of all sorts, raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes, apricots, candied peels of lemon, citron and orange, fresh carrot and apple.  Treacle, sugars and spices, suet and a splash of stout or two (with a good amount left over to keep you going).

All this is mixed together.  Everyone gets to stir for good luck: silver charms, tickeys (thruppenny bits) and sixpences thrown in to the mix for added good measure, before the whole lot is turned into a pudding basin.

I remember Mom, as well as the kitchen itself, in a huge sweat, toiling over the boiling bath set over the stove, her normally bouncy curls plastered down over her forehead as the puddings roiled straddled over two burners for eight hours.  It was a task not for the faint hearted, adding all this extra heat and humidity to the October heat outside, before the rains came.

Mom always set a lovely Christmas table with a small artificial red Christmas tree in the center with miniature ornaments.  We all crossed arms, snapped our Christmas crackers open, donned our paper hats and read our fortunes out loud.  After the roast came the plum pudding, boiled again for another two hours, turned out on a fine china plate and set alight with a good dousing of warm brandy. Generous dollops of cold hard sauce were applied and we all tucked in, full as we were, searching for lucky charms and hard cash.  If we didn’t find any we had another slice.

The Rhodesian Dairy Board introduced a plum pudding flavored spumoni but   despite the difficulties imposed by availability and weather tradition dies hard.  However inappropriate, we cling to it through the generations, all the more dear with the passing years.

‘Standards’ had to be preserved during the years of sanctions during the terrorist war years despite supply shortages due to Prime Minister Smith’s disastrous Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, and the empty shelves of the later Mugabe era.   What would we have done without South Africa for a life line to all things good as well as essentials?

I’ve retired to the Pacific Northwest and the hot toil in the kitchen is a welcome retreat from the fierce winter storms raging outside. The fertile Willamette Valley beyond the Coastal Range of mountains provides us copious supplies of fresh dried fruits.  All is good.  Just as well my family persevered!

10 Comments

  • Linda 'Twiggy Campbel' Ihle

    Reply Reply December 17, 2010

    Loved this one – so many memories – my mother didn’t make a xmas pudding, but did make the mince pies which I loved and miss so much.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 18, 2010

      Linda,

      She was sensible! The puds are just so much hot hard work. Mince pies are wonderful and easy (weve always insisted on Black and Crosswell for the filling)and so delicious with a glass of Bristol Cream sherry. Jan insists on 12 for the coming twelve happy months each year. (Thats a Polisensky tradition of excess!) Diana

  • Tess Harris

    Reply Reply December 18, 2010

    Must admit we still love the traditional Christmas pudding, but I cheat and buy the supermarket version now. Phil’s family serve it with brandy sauce – warm and runny (must be a Yorkshire tradition). I prefer it with lots of thick cream. I do bake my own Christmas cake and mince pies which we are enjoying right now. Cheers.

    Tess

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 19, 2010

      Tess, the Puddings are a commitment (to say the least)! I like hard sauce the best to go with it. Yes, we did put our Christmas cakes up early this year and are well into warm mince pies with a dolop of cream right now.

      Diana

  • Betty Goolsby

    Reply Reply December 20, 2010

    Good old Crosse and Blackwell!! As much as I tried, i did not like plum pudding! I have never experienced having the coins and surprises baked into the cake, but it sounds like some of the traditons of a king cake from Mardi Gras celebrations. I can just see your mom with sweat pouring off her brow….we have it so easy in the kitchen these days. Plum pudding always seemed so heavy, and now that I know the ingredients, I can understand why. One time I bought one from Harrod’s food court and it weighed me down enough to make shopping unpleasant…….but I love minced meat pies!! I just read the history of minced meat pies and was astounded by the really interesting reasons why minced meat came into being! Bluebell ice cream on the side…thank you very much!!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 20, 2010

      Betty,
      I think its an aquired taste. You have to grow up with it like Marmite. That’s a good idea….finding the pink baby in a Mardi Gras King Cake means you have to bring the cake next year! A lot of English head of houseolds would go for skipping all the charms and coins for just the one that passes the buck next year. I’m in on it! All these heavy sauces and puddings of one sort or another don’t really go down in a hot climate. It’s much more conducive to fruit salads from the stuff dropping off the trees all around you. Harrods Food Court! That’s an experience in itself. I’m sorry you weighed yourself down with that when there’s everything else in the world to buy there! But at least you can say you’ve done it. Mince pies are the very best. I like mine with a dollop of heavy whipped cream. Jonathan once carried a quart of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla all the way from Houston to Santa Barbara in June for a girl friend, stopping off all the way for more dry ice to get it there intact. Thats love for you!
      Diana

  • Andrew Davis

    Reply Reply December 20, 2010

    Mom,
    I too have similar memories of you toiling over the Plum pudding in Houston! Such a great tradition – there’s nothing quite like biting into a delicious slice only to almost break your teeth on a nickel! Thanks for sharing your childhood memories!
    – Andrew

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 20, 2010

      Andrew,
      Yes, the incredible humidity of Houston (although we had the luxury of air conditioning that we racked up to the max.) did add to the challenge. Dimes are just about the size of a tickey, just the size to block off your windpipe if it went down the wrong way! We didn’t worry about medical and dental liabillity then!
      Mom.

  • DOROTHY

    Reply Reply February 21, 2011

    DIANA, MY MOM MADE CHRISTMAS PUDDING EVERY YEAR, I REALLY DID NOT LIKE IT THEN, I’D GIVE ANYTHING TO SHARE IT WITH HER NOW. ONE YEAR SHE HAD LABORED TO GET ONE OFF TO HER BROTHER OVERSEAS, DURING WW II, BEFORE CHRISTMAS. YEARS LATER SHE DISCOVERED SHE HAD MAILED IT BEFORE IT WAS COMPLETELY COOL AND IT ARRIVED MOLDY. I’M SURE MY UNCLE JIM WAS SAD OVER THE DISRUPTED TRADITION. DOT

    P.S. SHE GOT BEEF SUIT TO GRIND UP IN THE INGREDIENTS.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply February 23, 2011

      Dorothy, Oh thats such a sad story after all that work! Yes, I think if most people knew what went into the pudding they’d never eat it. So heavy and so many no-no’s with all animal fat calories…I don’t think you can even buy suet these days…
      Diana

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