“We wish you a Merry Christmas…so bring us some figgy pudding…we won’t go until we get some…”
“Mom, what’s figgy pudding?” asked my youngest.
“I haven’t the faintest, dear,” I replied, “but it must have been good for those chilly carolers to ask for it by name.”
“Well, can I try some?”
Selina Stockley at Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe in Mission Hills (619-683-2748; ukcornershoppe.com) warned me that my search might prove tricky, carol or no carol.
“The song goes, ‘So bring us some figgy pudding.’ But ‘figgy pudding’ means that it’s got figs in it, and over the years that’s kind of been blended into plum pudding. People stopped putting the figs in because of the expense. They used plums instead.”
And plum pudding, she’s got. “I actually sell them throughout the year. We get them in at Christmas and run out around August or September. We have a classic version, which is made with cider and sherry [$2.99 for 3.5 ounces; $12.95 for a pound; $19.95 for two pounds]. A pound will serve 6 to 8, and the two-pounder will serve at least 12 — it’s so rich. Then we have a luxury version, which is made with brandy and rum [$4.95 for 3.5 ounces; $17.95 for a pound; $31.55 for two pounds]. We also have a Guinness Christmas Pudding, infused with Guinness beer [$25.95 for 15.9 oz.], and a little two-pack of Aunt Betty’s Christmas Plum Puddings [$4.40 for 8 oz.]. You warm them up because they have suet in them. If you don’t warm it, it’s really weird. Then you serve it with brandy butter [$3.99 for 3.5 ounces] or rum or brandy sauce [$4.99 for about 20 ounces]. You warm the sauces, but with the butter I just put a knob on top and let the heat from the pudding melt it.”
Undaunted and full of Christmas cheer, I pressed on. I had some luck with Iris Food & Spirits in Del Mar (858-259-5878; irisfoodandspirits.com). Tommy Golden, who owns the store with his brother Edd, told me, “We do a nontraditional figgy pudding. A traditional figgy pudding is very dense. It’s like a fruitcake, except it’s wetter — dense, heavy, and alcoholy. It was originally for the rich, who could afford the dried fruits and the alcohol. Ours is not so much a bread pudding as it is a custard with bread in it. It’s soft, light, and delicate. We have the eggs and the cream and the sweetener — I use an agave syrup from San Diego County. We toss those with the bread and the Mission figs and some vanilla bean and vanilla extract, and we put it in a pan, cover it with foil, and bake it in a water bath. Then we serve it warm with a little bit of loosely whipped cream. It’s always on our dessert list. It’s our best-selling dessert [$8.50].”
It sounded lovely. Still, I pressed on, hoping to find just what those chilly carolers were asking for — and I did. But first, I got a bit of history. “The figgy pudding had several antecedents in medieval and Elizabethan times,” said Bill Jaynes at All Things Bright & British in La Mesa (619-464-2298). “Originally, it would have been essentially a bread pudding. You would take white bread with the crusts removed, along with milled nutmeg, salt, eggs, and suet. [Every version had suet — specifically, beef-kidney suet — but post mad-cow disease, they use vegetable suet.] Then you just pack it with currants and raisins — and if you wanted a figgy pudding, you’d add figs.”
But, said Jaynes, the pudding “kind of died out for a while. Most of what we associate with Christmas came out of the Victorian resurrection of some of those traditions…the modern version is more of a custardy type. The newer ones would use flour and bread crumbs instead of bread and then raisins, currants, apples, orange peel, nutmeg, suet, brandy, orange peel….”
And…he’s got them! “The ones we have will vary anywhere between $10 and $30 depending on size, varying from a pound to about four or five pounds. You heat them in the oven, and some people take a little brandy or rum, pour it over, and light it right before serving.” Jaynes said that this year he will also offer fresh figgy puddings made by a local baker. Call for availability.