by Christina Morgan Cree
“The real old-fashioned type of Christmas…an English Christmas with all the family gathered round, the children and their stockings, the Christmas tree, the turkey and plum pudding, the crackers.”- The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
Agatha Christie spent her Christmases as a child at Abney Hall, a picturesque, grand estate in the North of England. The entire family would come together to celebrate. She recalls it as a very happy time. The cousins would have a contest to see who could eat the most at Christmas dinner and they could have their fill of candied fruits and chocolates. The grounds of Abney Hall were a wonderland with gardens, a stream and waterfall, and all kinds of places to explore.
Ever since I first watched Hercule Poirot’s Theft of the Royal Ruby based on the short story Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, I have wanted to do a traditional English Christmas dinner complete with paper crowns and a flaming Plum Pudding.
The English cuisine is very different from American fare. There is a vast array of chutneys, marmalades, and ketchups (that aren’t ketchup) which are full of fruits and nuts and things that I would have never have thought to put together. When my British friend was describing the Plum Pudding to me she said, “There aren’t any plums in it. There are raisins, dried cranberries…the more fruit in it, the better.” I said, “That sounds like a fruitcake. Nobody likes fruitcake. You know what the joke about fruitcake is? That it’s just one fruitcake that gets passed around and re-gifted year after year.”
The Christmas Pudding is a very important part of the meal. It all starts on “Stir Up Sunday”, the first day of Advent, when all the ingredients are mixed together (13 ingredients to represent Christ and his Disciples). It is stirred from East to West in honor of the three wise men. Each family member takes a turn stirring the pudding while making a secret wish.
More on Christmas pudding http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/xmas/christmaspudding.html
Along with dinner there is the pulling of the Christmas cracker which is a bright colored paper tube containing a paper crown (that you must wear), a small toy or trinket, a joke and a ‘bang’ when you pull it apart. My friend told me that there is an art to pulling the cracker. While sitting around the table, each person takes their cracker in their right hand and crosses their arms. With the left hand take hold of the end of the person’s cracker to your right. Make sure you have hold of the strip of paper on the inside of the tube or the element will pull through and not pop. Then at the same time, everyone pulls the crackers apart.
All about Christmas Crackers http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/xmas/crackers.html
Here are two Christmas dinner menus: one is close to the dinner Agatha Christie describes having at her family gatherings as a child and the other is the one I’ll be using this year. It’s authentic, but I chose dishes that are a little closer to the American taste.
Christmas Dinner at Abney Hall
My English Christmas Dinner menu
Christmas roast beef and Yorkshire Puddings
Roast Parsnips in beef fat
Lashings of Good Beef Gravy
Flaming Plum Pudding
Don’t forget the after dinner mystery:
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (or Theft of the Royal Ruby, TV episode starring David Suchet)
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (novel or movie with David Suchet)
A very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!