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Classic Figgy Pudding is made way ahead of time, includes beef suet, and is traditionally set afire as it is served. Time for an update?

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We’ve all heard of “Figgy Pudding” in this Bing Crosby Christmas Carol… but what exactly is it? Your humble host has done the homework so YOU don’t have to.

Here is a concise history of this quintessentially British Christmas dessert. And here is a traditional but doable recipe, seemingly purpose-developed for Downton Abbey devotees. Want a modern recipe that omits the suet? Who can blame you? Click here.

If you, like me, appreciate a helpful visual aid for actually making a recipe, check out this video. Worth noting is that this version is served right away; the old-school versions made with suet are often aged for a stretch of time before Christmas– either from “stir-up Sunday” (the last day of Advent, November 20th this year) or even a year or more prior, moistened periodically with a brushing of brandy or other liquor.

Want to go old-school and actually set yours on fire for a dramatic table presentation? This nice young lady shows us the way. However, if your personal judgment or fire codes in your building preclude such indoor pyrotechnics, Martha Stewart offers an easy recipe for the other proper finishing touch– hard sauce

And finally, if you like the idea of Christmas traditions such as Figgy Pudding but lack the time, the space, and/or the culinary chops to undertake such an involved production, you are far from alone. Fortunately, Amazon offers a wide selection of ready-made versions available for immediate shipping.

It is certainly tempting to “modernize” old recipes to current culinary and nutritional sensibilities… hell, I do a lot of that myself. But is this even possible with Figgy Pudding? British Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver offers a recipe for a gluten-free version… and yet it contains rice and corn flours, two ingredients that hard-core glutenistas (like my wife Andrea) must strenuously avoid.

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In its classic/traditional manifestation, Figgy Pudding seems a fundamentally unhealthy amalgam of everything we’ve come to eschew in the name of healthy living– beef fat, white bread, sugar, and booze. And yet to me there is something unique and special about this dish… something fundamentally Victorian that betokens our stout and determined British forebears fortifying themselves to face down yet another raw and gloomy North Atlantic winter.

I have eaten this delicacy exactly once in my life. That was several decades ago, when Chef Cathy and I sold Figgy Pudding and roasted goose at Christmastime for our surprisingly receptive takeout customers. I’ll probably never eat Figgy Pudding again, but I get what it’s all about. And to me, this is one of those dishes that deserves to remain unchanged.

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