Often called “plum pudding”—despite the fact that it contains no plums whatsoever—steamed pudding was first recorded as “Christmas Pudding” in 1858 and later popularized in the carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The name is probably derived from the substitution of raisins for dried plums as an ingredient in pies during medieval times. In the 16thand 17thcenturies, dishes made with raisins retained the term “plum,” and in the Victorian era, Christmas plum puddings became a well-loved dessert.
Curiously, plum pudding was a latecomer to Ireland, but it caught on quickly and replaced its plainer boiled pudding cousins; to this day it’s one of the most traditional of all Christmas dishes. Not to be confused with fruitcake, it’s actually more like a dense spice cake, and this recipe uses butter rather than the traditional suet.
Serve it warm with Brandy Hard Sauce. You’ll find more holiday recipes in my cookbook Christmas Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available on www.irishcook.com
If you’re still looking to add an Irish “touch” to your American Thanksgiving meal, look no further than this delicious starter featuring Cashel Blue, Ireland’s first (and most delicious) blue cheese. This recipe comes from award-winning chef Kevin Dundon, proprietor of Dunbrody House in County Wexford, and is part of a collection of Cashel Blue recipes from Kerrygold, who now imports the cheese.
You’ll find other recipes featuring this cheese in my cookbook Favorite Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available at www.irishcook.com
WILD MUSHROOM-BLUE CHEESE TOASTIES
Pears are one of the world’s most ancient cultivated fruits. There are over 3,000 known pear varieties grown around the world in temperate zones (peak season is July through January), each with a distinctive character, texture, and flavor.
The most popular and recognizable pears are the yellow Bartlett, with a true pear shape, followed by the elegant, egg-shaped Anjou, (also called d’Anjou), the graceful Bosc, pudgy Comice, and tiniest Forelle.
Pears poached in red wine or Port make an elegant-but-simple dessert, but this sweeter method of poaching in white wine is a pleasant alternative.
Serve the pears with Italian mascarpone, tangy crème fraîche, blue cheese, or lemon curd whipped cream. You’ll find recipes like this in my cookbook Favorite Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available at www.irishcook.com.
The ancient Celtic harvest feast called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It’s celebrated on October 31-November 1, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
It was suggested in the late nineteenth century that it was the “Celtic New Year,” and over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ Days merged to create our modern celebration of Halloween.
Several foods are traditionally eaten in Ireland at this time, especially Barmbrack, a yeast fruit bread. According to tradition, hidden in the Halloween Barmbrack were tokens to foretell the future — a ring for the bride-to- be, a thimble for the one who would never marry, and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor.