Christmas puddings, also known as plum puddings, have been a tradition since the 14th century.
Since then they have fallen in and out of favour. Kings loved the puddings, Puritans banned them, good luck was attributed to them, superstitions were associated with them, and healing powers were credited to them.
It is believed the sprig of holly often placed at the top of the puddings is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns, and that the brandy poured over the pudding and lit on fire represents Jesus’ love and power.
Through the centuries some ingredients have been dropped (beef and mutton, thankfully) and added (dried fruit and rum, also thankfully).
For nearly 30 years Holy Trinity Anglican Church has continued to build – and stir, cook and wrap – its own pudding tradition, the Christmas Pudding Factory, an important fundraiser for the Bridgewater church.
“We were looking for a new fundraiser 29 years ago, and we heard that a church in Ontario had a pudding factory. The people there said they would share their blueprint for setting up our own pudding factory, as long as we didn’t modify the recipe, or give it to anyone else,” said co-ordinator Jocelyn Wentzell.
Wentzell’s mother-in-law, Dale Wentzell, and her sister, Marjorie Theakston, launched the Christmas Pudding Factory in 1991 and managed it for 17 years. A few years after Dale stepped down, Jocelyn Wentzell stepped in and has been co-ordinator for the past nine years.
“That first year, the volunteers thought they could make 250 lbs., but orders came in for 450 lbs. It was very labour intensive because they had to wash the raisins and remove the stems,” said Wentzell.
“Over the years, production increased significantly. We grew from 1,000 lbs. to 1,500, then 1,700. One year we had a brilliant idea of doing 2,500 lbs. We planned to sell them at Wolfville’s Christmas Craft Fair. We drove there in the middle of a snowstorm that shut down roads and businesses,” she said.
“It was a good lesson for us because we came home from the Valley with almost all the puddings. We decided to stay with a safe number, which now fluctuates between 1,450 and 1,600 lbs.,” she added.
The puddings come in one- and two-lb. individually wrapped packages. Hard sauce is also available.
The pudding factory is staffed by more than 65 church volunteers, aged 12 to 90. Three generations of families often volunteer together, working side by side.
“For us, it’s so much more than making puddings; it’s connecting with each other. Our volunteers love to get together to socialize, laugh and have a good time. They share family stories and reconnect with old friends. They say it puts them in the mood for Christmas,” said Wentzell.
Some volunteers prefer to perform the same tasks every year, such as cutting the ribbons and labels, and wrapping puddings in red and green cellophane, while others get a workout hand stirring the ingredients.
“One lady weighs every can to ensure the weight is right. She has been doing this for years,” said Wentzell.
“We use cans purchased from a canning factory. Some of the cans we have had since we started. They last because we only use them once a year. We sterilize and bake the cans to ensure they are completely dry before properly storing them until the next year,” she added.
The pudding factory’s profits go into the church’s general account. The money has helped to fund the construction of a church hall, which includes a commercial kitchen and auditorium that is used by church members and rented to outside groups, and the renovations of the rectory and church, a heritage property.
For the past 10 years, the sales program has been co-ordinated by Gillian Biddulph, a Pleasantville resident and church member who says telephone pre-sales account for 900 lbs. of pudding.
“Our callers only phone people who have bought puddings in the past, and who requested that we put their names on our caller list. Many people tell us they have been waiting for our call,” said Biddulph.
Pudding prices are $9.50 for one lb., $18 for two lbs., and $2.50 for each hard sauce. One and two-lb. gift packs are also available. To order puddings, call Biddulph at 902-543-5709.
Biddulph said the puddings are already cooked, but when she and the volunteers go to the craft fairs, they explain how to heat, serve and preserve them.
Christmas Pudding Factory volunteers will be selling at the Lunenburg Christmas Craft Festival at the Bluenose Academy on Dec. 7 and 8.
“Many people had pudding when they were young, and they serve it with every sauce you can imagine – from custard, to rum sauce, to brown sugar sauce, to hard sauce, even flaming brandy,” said Biddulph.
Wentzell opined the best way to eat pudding is warm, then spread a little hard sauce on so it melts into the pudding. She said some people choose to heat the entire pudding in the oven, while others cut a slice and heat it in the microwave. It can also be eaten cold, right out of the fridge.
Biddulph said a man told her a story about a custom he shares with his sister, a California resident.
“Every year he mails her a pudding with hard sauce, and she sends him a homemade fruit cake. We laugh because the combined postage is probably more than the cost of the pudding and cake,” said Biddulph.
Pudding pickup day at the church hall is Nov. 4, noon to 5 p.m., and Nov. 5 and 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Leftover puddings are donated through the church and various community agencies to families in need.