Have you made your Christmas pudding yet?

Most people seem to buy them nowadays, but whether you take the time to produce your own, or pick up a ready-made one from the supermarket, the pudding continues to be an integral part of the traditional fare of the season.

Its origins are, however, lost in the mists of time and steeped in legend.

Some say it started in the medieval period and has deep religious symbolism, whilst others have it evolving from the plum puddings of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The first definitive recipe naming it a “Christmas pudding” features in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in 1845.

Just a few years later, the famous Isabella Beeton started producing her books about household cooking.

I have my paternal great-grandmother’s copy of the 1901 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book.

I know that this well-thumbed tome was used by Edith Nunn as a guide to feed her husband, Frederick, and their seven children at the family home at 51 (since re-numbered 73) Wantz Road.

On page 210 of the book is a recipe for “a plain Christmas pudding for children”.

Based on the volume of ingredients, Mrs Beeton estimated it would cost 1s 9d to make and would feed up to ten youngsters.

Part of what she calls the “mode” involved tying the fruity-spice mix up in a “well floured cloth” and boiling it for “at least five hours”.

Braintree and Witham Times:

I recall my maternal grandmother still employing that method in the kitchen of her Church Street house in the 1960s.

Mrs Beeton used four eggs in her concoction, but during the war years of 1939 to 1945 (and as a result of subsequent rationing) that would have been too much of a luxury.

Instead Maldon residents (as elsewhere) made do with “reconstituted dried eggs”.

The Ministry of Food put together recommended recipes for Christmas pudding without any eggs and another for “a good dark Christmas pudding” using two dried eggs.

It had to be steamed for four hours, stored in a cool place and then steamed for a further two to three hours before serving six helpings.

Egg rationing (of one per person per week) didn’t end until 1954. Not only that, but on July 21, 1946, the Government introduced the rationing of flour (and bread and flour confectionery).

When all UK rationing was finally over, a plethora of new, unrestricted recipe books emerged.

In my Maldon collection I have one sold (for 9d) by the Superise Flour Co Ltd, of Fullbridge Roller Mills.

It is difficult to date precisely, but based on the specified telephone number, Maldon 691, it must be around 1954 to 1964.

Superise’s “finest unbleached, self-raising flour”, made “in pure country air”, was said to be ideal for “home-made cakes, pastries and puddings”, including Christmas pudding.

The company’s recipe included 4oz of their flour, mixed with spices (cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) and salt.

Breadcrumbs, suet and sugar were added, along with cut dried fruits (sultanas, raisins and currants) chopped prunes and apples.

At that point the mix was left overnight. The next morning, eggs, treacle, gravy browning and marmalade were incorporated and all given a thorough mix. (Again, I remember as a child my grandmother encouraging me to stir the Christmas pudding. ‘Stir-up Sunday’ was historically the last Sunday before Advent).

Returning to the Superise recipe, the mix was placed into a basin, covered and boiled in a half-filled pan of water for three to four hours and another three on the day to be eaten.

Braintree and Witham Times:

So go on – this year don’t buy your pudding, make one instead.

If you do, you could add a local twist to one of the countless recipes available in modern-day cookbooks and on-line. The flour, for instance, could be Carr’s self-raising – their Maldon mill has been operating at Fullbridge since 1896.

The seasoning could be a few pinches of Maldon Salt (founded in 1882). The marmalade Wilkin and Sons' Thick Cut Tawny Orange - a company operating out of Tiptree since 1885.

You could include a drop of Mighty Oak Brewing Company’s 4.1 per cent Old Man and the Sea stout, brewed at West Station Yard.

And, if you can get one and it is stored properly, include a chopped Maldon Wonder, a dessert apple raised in Heybridge in 1900 and introduced in 1933. Who knows, this could become a real seasonal winner!

I wish all of you, the readers of this weekly history feature, a very Merry Christmas.