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My Holiday Pud
December 7, 2007 - 6:11pm

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I know that on the page “my pud” sounds nasty, but you should see it in person. Better yet, drop by and have a taste.

Oh, grow up, Rory. I’m talking about the “Classic Recipe Christmas Pudding with juicy vine fruits, cider, sherry & rum” that arrived in the mail this week from Marks & Spencer, the venerable British retailer. My wife’s Highland Scots family, like others in the UK, call several desserts “pudding,” which they shorten to “pud,” which rhymes with “should.”

(There’s an off-putting tendency to cuteness in British food names. On a flight from Gatwick to Inverness, the flight attendant leaned over with a flat basket full of hard candies and said, “Sweeties, sir?”)

The few Scots I know would sooner do without a wee dram on Hogmanay than omit a pudding from Christmas dinner. Mrs. Churm, her mother, and I were standing in our kitchen yesterday having a heated discussion about Slavoj Žižek’s How to Read Lacan, when Mrs. Wallace looked down at the table and exclaimed, “Oh! Ohhh! The pud has arrived!”

Food is culture, and it’s interesting how some foods or preparations can be found all over the world, while others fail to transcend region, for lack of local ingredients or specialized knowledge, or even available energy sources for cooking. (My mother-in-law’s Scottish mince is basically an Italian ragù or French ragoût: Ground or cut meat is cooked slowly in liquid for hours until the connective tissue turns gelatinous, for a silky soft texture. That meat-reliant, big-BTU food doesn’t go over everywhere.)

The Christmas pudding is a fruitcake but is moister, tastier, and less dense than most American fruitcakes, and darker and more bitter (it contains treacle) than, say, Panettone, which also contains sultanas and citrus. I was resistant to trying it, due to my own culturally-specific preconceptions of its flavor and texture, and to my mental image of Dickensian waifs huddled around a fire barrel, wishing they had pud, while squires in their twee villages ate all the pud and snorted port out their noses every time somebody said “lepers.” I'll admit I was wrong about at least two of those things.

Part of the thrill of cultural exchange is coming to understand the often-subtle variations of foods, which aren’t immediately apparent to the outsider. (One time I found myself in the cookie aisle in a small supermarket in Inverness. There were 48,000 versions of Rich Tea Biscuits, all in similar packaging. My wife and her family love the nearly flavorless little cookies, and I thought I’d buy some for them. When I showed up at the flat with bag in hand, my wife chortled, and her mother said, “It’s okay, dear. You didn’t know. Anyway, one of us will go to the store later.”)

It’s important to find someone who knows their stuff, so you can give new foods a fair break. (Imagine the strong advice you’d have for someone who’d never seen a cheeseburger.) Mrs. Wallace and Mrs. Churm agree that the best we can do over here is Marks & Sparks’s Christmas pudding, which won’t be easy to find (try here) and will cost you.

But on a cold winter’s night, when you’ve steamed your pud in the microwave, flamed it (in the dark to watch the bluish fire flicker and die), spooned on a dollop of sweet brandy butter and watched it melt in, you'll think: "Churm," and know an intense, if fleeting, pleasure.

 

 

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