Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tradition, Plum Pudding, and the Struggle for Victory

Plum pudding is for me one of those iconic dishes that must be passed down from generation to generation so as to not be forgotten. It is a dish that has a rich history behind it. Its origins can be traced back to the 15th century, though possibly it is even older. By the middle of the 17th century plum pudding was being associated with Christmas. For a time in Puritan England it was illegal to make because of its richness. And who are we to actually enjoy the holiday?! As its name implies, it was originally made with plums, or more specifically, prunes. As time went on and new dried fruits were brought to England from far away lands, and they to made their way into the pudding. As time has gone on the prunes have been practically been pushed out by the other invading fruits, until now-a-days it is a rare recipe indeed that includes prunes. In the early days of the pudding it was served at the beginning of the meal having minced meats included in the recipe, but as time went on the meats were omitted and the dish found its way to the end of the meal. Traditionally brandy is poured over the pudding and it is set alight and brought into the dinning room with great pomp with the light off and everyone cheering. The Christmas pudding became the highlight of the Christmas meal. Sometimes coins are baked into the pudding with the lucky finder being assured of good luck and fortune in the coming year. Tradition tells us that the pudding is to be made five weeks before Christmas. This is one of the most important steps in making plum pudding. It must be made early so as to give it time to develop its flavor. Some families actually make the pudding one year in advance and let it set for one year before eating. As is proper for religious traditions, often times food take on symbolic meaning. In a traditional Christmas pudding there is some symbolism worth mentioning. It is to be made the the 25th Sunday after Trinity Sunday with 13 ingredients which stand for Christ and his 12 disciples. The Sunday the pudding is made is called Stir-Sunday because each person of the family takes turn stirring while making a wish. The stirring must be done in an East to West motion to symbolize the coming of the Wise Men from the East. The traditional garnish is a branch of holly which stands for the crown of thorns Christ wore at his crucifixion.

Taking part in an age old tradition is a great way to touch the past and with it, those who came before us. It connects us to the past in a way that is meaningful to those who lived before us and for us alive today. Olaf Stapelton in his classic, “Last and First Men”, eloquently says it better than I ever could,

We are concerned with the past not only in so far as we make very rare contributions to it, but chiefly in two other manners.

First, we are engaged upon the great enterprise of becoming lovingly acquainted with the past, the human past, in every detail. This is, so to speak, our supreme act of filial piety. When one being comes to know and love another, a new and beautiful thing is created, namely the love. The cosmos is thus far and at that date enhanced. We seek then to know and love every past mind that we can enter. In most cases we can know them with far more understanding than they can know themselves. Not the least of them, not the worst of them, shall be left out of this great work of understanding and admiration.

There is another manner in which we are concerned with the human past. We need its help…. We, who have now learnt so thoroughly the supreme art of ecstatic fatalism, go humbly to the past to learn over again that other supreme achievement of the spirit, loyalty to the forces of life embattled against the forces of death. Wandering among the heroic and often forlorn ventures of the past, we are fired once more with primitive zeal. Thus, when we return to our own world, we are able, even while we preserve in our hearts the peace that passeth understanding, to struggle as though we cared only for victory.

Tradition for tradition’s sake makes us dead inside. Tradition for the sake of remembrance gives us the zeal to fight another day.

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