Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gently Bucking Tradition

My husband's family has a holiday tradition of serving plum pudding at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.

Before I met Husband, I had never experienced a plum pudding beyond the pages of a Dicken's novel. His family's tradition holds that, after a holiday dinner, the dark, dense-looking mass is brought out on a plate, doused in something very alcoholic - usually V.S.O.P - and set on fire.

Seriously. They light the flippin' thing on fire.

Being ignorant of the stuff, and eager to make a good impression on the family of this guy I was crazy about, I eagerly accepted a plate of the dessert when it was offered to me at my first attendance at a holiday dinner. I then proceeded to scoop on a huge blop of what I thought was slightly over-whipped whipped cream, and dug in.

You know that feeling when you go to eat or drink something, and you think it's one thing, but it turns out to be something else? That happened to me once at my grandparents' house - I came upon a lovely, tall glass of something that looked all the world like chocolate milk that turned out to be iced coffee. BLECH! Well, that's what happened when the plum pudding hit my tongue.

Let me point out here that there aren't actual PLUMS in plum pudding, and the assumption that this dessert would be something sweet and fruity was my first mistake. It's really a bread pudding made with raisins and currants, orange marmalade, a bunch of spices, and a good slosh of bourbon (Julia Child made this recipe famous in Husband's family, if that tells you anything). The whole thing is put into a bowl and steamed for however long it takes to congeal into a solid mass. Then, like I said, more booze gets poured over and the whole thing is set alight. Sometimes, more than once in a sitting. Seriously.

Oh, and that stuff that looked like whipped cream? Hard sauce, which is, essentially, butter, confectioner's sugar and....wait for it....more alcohol! About as unlike whipped cream as something can be.

Not being a big fan of spice cakes in general, and expecting something fruity and, well, pudding-like, I found that my first shocking experience with plum pudding was enough to ruin it for me forever. Though it IS fun to watch them do their pyrotechnics at the dinner table.

ANYWAY! Husband and I are hosting Christmas dinner at our house this year, and we're taking advantage of that fact to sort of nudge the plum pudding off the table in favor of something a little less....harsh. We'd first thought we'd do the whole yule log thing, but then I stumbled across a couple of recipes for chocolate steamed pudding. CHOCOLATE! Now THERE'S something we can get behind! Hell, we could even douse it in Grand Marnier and set the thing on fire, if it comes down to that!

I made this tonight, a recipe from Martha Stewart, as a sort of test-run to see if it satisfied the requirements of a good plum pudding replacement. It LOOKED good, and it TASTED good, but I'm not quite sure it's "it." It's a little too airy and light (yes, despite how it looks like a solid chunk of chocolate, it's actually quite fluffy inside), and I'm not sure it's dense enough to not soak up whatever we're pouring over as accelerant. I've got a couple more recipes to try - including one that's a steamed chocolate bread pudding, which I suspect will be best in the texture department.

When I find a winner recipe*, I'll share.

(*if you have a winner recipe, point me to it, please!)


Blogger Whimspiration said...

But it sure looks delightful!

8:07 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

The CHOCOLATE one does - I'm still kind of traumatized, oh-these-fifteen-years-later, by the unexpectedness of the plum pudding.

It's quite a sight in flames, though!


8:18 PM  
Blogger Kizz said...

So the plan here is to spend Christmas day actually KILLING the previous generation, yes? You can't even make plum pudding AND something else? Exactly what IS your definition of "easing" people into something. This "easing" I don't think it means what you think it means. :)

10:46 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

Well,mrs chili did say that she's starting her own "traditions"!People who attend on that day will soon discover what that means. Last Christmas I cooked a traditional Scottish meal, A number of years ago,Thanksgiving dinner was a menu of Native American dishes. Imagine eveyones surprise when,instead of turkey,there was Pueblo pork and buffalo meat! And who knows,someone may bring plum pudding if it's that important to them!!!

11:30 PM  
Blogger meno said...

Any dessert that needs an accelerant makes me nervous!

12:09 AM  
Anonymous ESY said...

Good Luck. Traditions are hard to break sometimes, but how bad could it be if chocolate is involved.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous claudia said...

I have an idea. How about having a plum pudding that you never actually EAT, you just light it up every year until it's gone? Thus s-l-o-w-l-y ending the ritual. Sort of like cutting back on smoking(no pun intended).

1:10 AM  
Anonymous James said...

I am definetly with you on the plum pudding thing although i wouldnt mind just setting them all alight though shame i couldnt laugh at the thing being burnt to a crisp. I agree though that you may find it hard to break the tradition but i am sure you will do well but the replacement will be chocolate who can say no to that.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Now, Kizz, I have two exhibits in my defense. No, make that "three":

One: Husband strongly suspects (and I believe he's correct) that the tradition of plum pudding may be carried on without any actual love of the thing. He told me the other day that he believes it started because his grandmother got it in her head that his grandfather liked the stuff, and so SHE insisted on having one every year. Husband's not sure his grandfather DID like it, though, and the pudding kept showing up at the table long after the grandfather was dead. Grandmother loved to keep things the same.

Two: Seriously - have you had the stuff?! NASTY! Just to show you how popular the dessert is, even among those who perpetuate it, the same pudding can last for up to three years - that's SIX holiday dinners. Leftovers get crammed back into a bowl and stuffed in the freezer, to be brought out, reheated, and set on fire again the next time. The one that lasted three years was essentially a solid chunk of booze by the time it was all over...

Three: Come ON! CHOCOLATE!

I rest my case.

7:13 AM  
Blogger vanx said...

Congrats on a month of wall-to-wall posting.

Yes, I did once eat something I thought was something else. It was at the New Jersey State Fair when I was a kid. Some guy was selling ice cream cones with bar-shaped ice cream in a special cone shaped with a rectangular top to fit the ice cream. It was doused in chocolate and nuts and stuff. He held one in his hand as a prop/advertisement as he was working. So, my father bought me one, and the guy gave him the one he was holding in his hand. It was a bar of soap with some kind of black shellac on it. Maybe the nuts were real. It tasted funny. But then again, it was at the New Jersey State Fair.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Kizz said...

Oh yeah I get that it's not like anybody craves it but I'm just saying that the oldsters are committed to it and having everything changed at once is going to make them feel kicked to the curb in a fairly major way.

Yes, I've had the stuff, on a number of occasions. I actually don't mind the pudding, though I wouldn't choose it over chocolate of course. I could pretty much eat the hard sauce straight out of the bowl, though. I mean, alcohol and sugar, there's not a lot bad about that.

Um, don't save it would by my first suggestion. Make new, it's OK, I'm pretty sure that'd be GOOD for the environment.

And yes, chocolate = good, that's why I suggested one of each. 'Cause blending traditions fits into my (possibly very narrow) definition of EASING people into something. As Devil's Advocate I'd say that it sounds like your easing is more changing everything and hoping they don't notice. They're picky New England bred old people they're gonna notice AND they're gonna bitch.

5:53 PM  

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