Steeped in History.

In Mediaeval times, when the Pope told you to do something, you jolly well did it.

This was mainly because doing what the Pope said was one of the surefire ways to avoid being roasted in the fires of Hell.

Just to show how important avoiding Hell was, Dante Alighieri wrote a poem in the fourteenth century to outline the various disadvantages. It is a graphic virtual tour.

To set out Hell’s stall, Dante has appropriate signage over the entrance. A mission statement, if you will: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Before the writer makes it over the threshold, he is shown those who did nothing in life when they should have acted. They must wait for all eternity on the shores of the river, pursued by wasps and hornets and with maggots drinking their blood.

Entering, it becomes clear that there are nine circles of hell, each with a punishment corresponding with poetic justice to a sin committed in life.

The gluttons must lie in a foul slush, sightless and without heeding any other. The greedy are divided into two groups and wage battle against one another, pushing great weights with their chests.

The angry fight each other on the surface of the River Styx; the sullen lie gurgling beneath it.

But it is the heretics, there in the sixth circle of Β Hell, who are stuck in flaming tombs.

Dante writes: “For flames between the sepulchres were scattered, so intensely heated that iron would not demand hotter. All of their coverings were lifted, and from them issued forth such dire laments they seemed wretched and tormented.”

The inferno itself is a repository of flames: what was it about that image of flickering destruction which so terrified the Mediaeval mind?

When a papal decree about pudding reached our shores, the people of England jumped to it. Yessir.

Food historian Andrea Broomfield relates the contents of the decree: everyone should make a pudding on the 25th Sunday after Trinity. It should contain 13 ingredients, to represent Christ and his 12 apostles. Every member of the family must stir it – from East to West, mind, to mark the journey in the same direction by the Magi.

No-one knows what the 13 ingredients were, which is unfortunate if Hellfire is not to your taste. Recipes started to appear in the 17th century for round puddings boiled in cloth, hung to dry and improve the flavour.

Long after Bluff King Hal had dispatched the Pope’s power to Europe, the pudding was made by all on the Sunday before Advent began. The Book of Common Prayer for that week reads:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
The Common Man did his usual succinct job of abbreviating this. The pudding making Sunday was called ‘Stir-Up Sunday”.
My husband Phil, an upstanding member of the Church of England, nevertheless was cheerfully oblivious to this hallowed deadline. Just a day or two ago he embarked on a piece of dramatic Performance Cookery. He resolved to cook a traditional pudding as the Victorians did, boiling it for six hours. Not only that, but it would be carbon neutral: it would be cooked on a fire fuelled by foraged wood from our nearby forest.
Accordingly, the soggiest of firewood was lined up in bags next to our huge black-iron outdoor stove on a mild wet afternoon just days before Christmas.
There were a few tense moments as the fire stubbornly refused to light. How could an inferno survive on a dank British day suffused with moisture?
Finally, miraculously, it lit. The stove heated and reached optimum temperature: and the pudding and its boiling water were posted into the small inferno which would be its resting place for six long hours.
For the next half day we did not speak to Phil. That love affair between man and the flames, that fascination with his dangerous achievement: the fire holds a man, staring, with something akin to obsession, into the molten gold.
An inferno can be absorbing.
I contented myself with taking out cups of coffee and refreshments, and tweeting updates to the waiting world.
The guests for the Lantern Party arrived and he was still out there, watching his pudding bubble, bubble. The party went on around him as he hunched next to his stove, adding a twig here, a log there.
Finally, ceremonially, it was taken out: a great black pot with an unpromising dirty grey package inside it, wrapped in sodden cloth.
We left it to cool.
And half an hour later, it was ready: a perfect Christmas Pudding. Pope pacified.
That Inferno business: one can use it to one’s advantage.

39 thoughts on “Steeped in History.

  1. I suppose that’s my inheritance from the Puritans and the Separatists–no pudding, and not a clue about its religious significance. I’d better start cooking, I guess. Next year.

  2. That was a cheerful start to your post! Not.

    So glad things worked out for Phil’s pudding.

    I just wrote that and I can’t believe I wrote that.

    Merry Christmas to all at Shrewsday mansions.

  3. Note to self: Never let MTM read this post, or he will be burning things in the backyard in the name of cuisine. πŸ™‚

    I didn’t know the pudding back story, either. I am sure Phil’s mighty effort will count for something, somehow, somewhere.

    1. Yes, on Christmas Day, when i) it will be a huge success and everyone slaps Phil on the back and says what a jolly good fellow he is, or ii)it will be an abject failure with the consistency of a football and a smoked flavour which seems somehow incongruous. Disloyally I shall have a small stand in shop pudding on the side in case of emergency. Shame on me.

  4. Well, a hearty congratulations for forester Phil for seeing it thru to the end. It sure beats the heck out of trying to assemble Christmas toys and such. I think I found a photo of Phil stirring the pudding by using Google Earth

    1. Oooh, well done, Lou, you have caught him with a typically furtive firestarter look. Must get that Google Earth out and fire it up. Never realised it covered such far-flung regions πŸ˜‰

  5. The proof of the pudding …
    I was tempted to try witticisms on the the lines of Phil filled with fiery enthusiasm that you might heat, er, eat, your Phil, I mean, fill; but I won’t.
    I do believe, like Orlando, that plump pudding and mice pies are a part of Christmas.

  6. Is that where the saying, “The proof is in the pudding” comes from? I feel so much smarter after reading your post. Perhaps I should have said, “more knowledgable?” πŸ™‚ Very well written.

  7. Bravo to you Kate! You got this poor reader out of the circles of Hell and into the Christmas pudding with nary a blink, and Bravo to Phil! Well done. This will be a story for many a Shrewday Christmases; from the gathering of the wood, to Phil dropping Christmas, to his tending to the outdoor inferno – all for Christmas. Hooray!

    By-the-way. A few questions were asked put to me about Christmas ghost stories and I just remembered that you were thinking of doing one. Is that still on and do you know how Christmas ghost stores came about?

    1. I don’t, but I have been researching and hope to delve to the bottom of it all. The farthest back I can trace is the fashion for ghost stories which came in the first half of the nineteenth century. This is when most famous writers would write one and publish it in the magazines of their time. But this was seen as a revival of old traditions, not the founding of a new one. My guess it it’s medieval, but I haven’t finished digging yet.

      And yes: the first instalment of the ghost story is marinating and will be posted tomorrow morning πŸ™‚

  8. Huzzah!
    “A triumph, my dear!”

    Off to enjoy my nieces visit ~ and the rest of the Holiday Hoopla. May your days be Merry and Bright . . . and your nights be filled with Love, Laughter, and Light!

  9. The B of CP has that wording? I never noticed it/questioned it once in the hours and hours and hours…well never mind. Who says our blogosphere can’t be our religious studies? πŸ˜€

    Druids, Dante, Double, Double…You weave an exotic tapestry.

    Pudding photo shoot? Hope so!

  10. The question I have now is whether Phil will want to make this an annual tradition, or was once quite enough with so much pageantry involved! I’m thinking it must have been a wonderful spectacle for the children and most memorable for you, too! The Shrewsday’s are so creative I can just imagine a year’s worth of creativity building to a new twist on the cauldron’s brew. I’ll be paying attention! Merry Christmas to you all, Kate. You are a dear family. Debra

    1. I fear Phil creates traditions like other people eat mince pies, Debra: with consummate ease. My prediction is that this time next year, well all be lined up by the chimenea ready. Life is never dull.

  11. …… and so Christmas was put back together again.

    I’m so pleased. Will reheating be fulfilled by a similar procedure? We need a blow by blow account if it does.

    Have a very happy Shrewsday Christmas.

  12. How are you planning to reheat it on the day? Will it be by the same method… or steaming on the hob. Or dare I ask – microwave?

  13. The Infernal Pudding!…er…perhaps that’s not quite right. At least I hope not. Phil is a very determined chef – here’s to a delicious Christmas pudding straight from the belly of the iron stove… πŸ™‚

    1. Today is the crunch day, Elizabeth. Today we taste it, Not only us but all my sister’s family, my mother in law and my mum and dad.
      No pressure or anything.

      So excited about your writing year. It’s good to follow life’s leads πŸ™‚

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