In the UK, it's traditional to eat Christmas pudding for the holiday. It's also been called plum pudding or figgy pudding, which we know from songs, but what is it, exactly? It's nothing like what Americans call pudding, which is a custard of milk and eggs with flavoring. It's closer to fruitcake, although there's no cake in it, and it's boiled instead of baked. And it's sometimes set on fire.
In a history of Christmas pudding, Mental Floss explains the medieval roots of the pudding, which began as a savory mix of bread crumbs and broth. It later evolved to contain dried fruit of all kinds, meat or at least fat, and plenty of other ingredients over time. It also became thicker and less like pottage. The descriptions of what the pudding contained over time reminded me of nutraloaf. It only became a sweet dessert after sugar was made affordable by the establishment of Caribbean plantations, and became associated with Christmas through its use by the royal family, and a mention in Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol.
After reading the history, I was still confused as to what this traditional gem of British cuisine is today. So I looked up a recipe for Christmas pudding from the BBC. It is mostly dried and preserved fruit (apples, raisins, and citrus peel), nuts, and sugar, with a small amount of breadcrumbs and flour, held together by butter and eggs. Yeah, there are spices, and a tiny bit of brandy (you add more to set it aflame). This mix is boiled for eight hours, then cooled and stored, then boiled again for an hour before serving. In addition to that long boiling time, there is an elaborate procedure for wrapping it- twice. Christmas pudding would have to be truly tasty to make it worth the time spent, but tradition is tradition.
(Image credit: James Petts)