The Very Merry and Medieval “Plum Pottage”


It’s that time of year where family is in town, love ones are near, and what brings us together? Food. This time of year was especially important in many medieval households, as a time for celebration, giving and for many to share the best of their kitchens with their guests. Where cooks cook and present their dishes with great pride.

Now what did they eat? or what was served? We have a good idea of what was served by many of the art work left to us today, as well as recipes that have been passed down, which have their roots in the medieval kitchen. For example, mincemeat tarts or pies, goose, special pies, roasted pig, swan – with permission from the king, stewed vegetables, mulled wines and ale were all presented on the table. What is one of the most popular dishes today? I would go with Christmas pudding.

Christmas pudding is another Christmas tradition which sources say began in the Middle Ages but it might have been earlier than that, as there is a reference to it as far back as Roman times. The traditional name, ‘Plum Pudding’ came later in the Victorian Era. But the fruit pudding we all know, was first known as “Plum Porridge or Pottage” or “Frumenty.”

Like many of the dishes from the Middle Ages which consisted of varieties of meat and raisin, this dish was made from porridge or boiled wheat, raisins or “plums”, eggs, sweetened by molasses or honey, fruits, currants, dates, then spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The mixture was kept moist by treacle or molasses. Due to the pudding’s fair amount of alcohol content, it helped keep it preserved and not spoil. It would then be good to eat a month to even a year after it was made. We start to see variation and addition to the dish as early as 1420, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, plums were introduced as a fruit in the mixture. Due to the popularity of the fruit, it was added to many other dishes, hence “Plum Pottage” came to be.

After the pudding was cooked, the original prep for the pudding was to be hung by a hook in a “pudding cloth.” This was later changed to cooking or boiling/steaming later on. The round little shape it has today topped with holly began to circulate in 1836. This is where the food specifically becomes a Christmas dessert. Authors such as Charles Dickens reference the new popular use in his story, boosting the dish’s popularity. Cards and printed articles also show families gathered and celebrating the holiday with the pudding dressed with its holly on the table.

Both Christmas puddings were outlawed to be eaten in the 17th Century by the Commonwealth Parliament. The consumption of the foods was considered “heathenish and a papistical practice.” This was reversed under the rule of Charles II.
NB, Christmas Pudding, It’s Medieval Origin. The West Australian, Dec. 21, 1935 (

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