Oh Bring Us A Figgy Pudding (Or Else..!)

‘Tis the season for all those favourite, old, seasonal songs we love to sing every year. And of those old, seasonal songs, one of the very favourite to sing must surely be ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas‘, with it’s cheery plea for fruity, stodgy sustenance:

♫ Oh bring us a figgy pudding,
♫ Oh bring us a figgy pudding,
♫ Oh bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer.

Which, in at least one version of the song, is followed after the next chorus by a slightly more demanding explanation of the singers’ culinary preferences:

♫ For we all like figgy pudding,
♫ For we all like figgy pudding,
♫ For we all like figgy pudding, so bring it out here.

… and, on the off-chance that didn’t do the trick and induce the householder to produce the preferred pudding, there’s a bit of light-hearted, passive-aggressive blackmail to drive home the point:

♫ We won’t go until we get some,
♫ We won’t go until we get some,
♫ We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here!

At which point, I suspect I’d be handing over the pudding, if only out of fear of what the next verse might bring; presumably some sort of not-so-subtle threat to take up residence and eat us out of house and home. I mean, I enjoy being menaced by warbling strangers as much as anyone else, but even I have my limits.

What, though, is this ‘figgy pudding’ on which so many carb-craving carollers have set their hearts and stomachs? Could it perhaps be a fried-fig-fritter, as per the dish known as Comadore, the oldest surviving recipe for which can be found in The Forme of Cury (c.1390)? Or maybe a bowl of slightly mushier Fygeye, as per The Austin Manuscripts (1440)? Or, as seems to be generally assumed, some sort of boiled pudding, as per Charlotte Mason’s ‘Excellent Plumb Pudding‘ (1778) and many more receipts besides?

The Regency Cook, Paul Couchman, has a few thoughts on the subject of figgy pudding over on his blog, and of course, Glyn Hughes[1] has a detailed article on Christmas Pudding over on Foods of England. And my favourite YouTube-based foodie, Max Miller, explored the subject on his Tasting History channel a couple of years ago:

I have to admit that at the time I wasn’t entirely sure whether the equation of figgy pudding and plum pudding was entirely accurate. After all, both cookery and horticulture writers have long distinguished between figs and plums as being entirely distinct and separate fruits of the orchard. But I”m much more’m happy to admit that I now stand both corrected convinced, having found the following in volume 29 of The Monthly Magazine (1810), in an article on ‘Devonshire and Cornwall Vocabulary’:

Figs, raisins "A figgy pudding;" "a pudding with raisins in it; a plumb pudding." C. D. 

And then there’s this definitive statement from the glossary section of A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect (1837) by Mary Reynolds Palmer and James Frederick Palmer:

FIGS, s. raisins. Plum-pudding, and plum-cake are universally called figgy pudding and figgy cake in Devonshire, as e.g. in the following rhyme:

"Rain, Rain, go to Spain ; 
Come again another day :
When I brew and when I bake, 
I'll give you a figgy cake."

So there you go. It seems that, in nineteenth century Cornwall and Devon at least, ‘figs’ were another name for raisins, and a ‘figgy pudding’ would therefore have indeed been a boiled pud packed full of plump, juicy raisins. Nice to have that cleared up, and just in time for Christmas, too.

Anyhow, whether you prefer your celebrations with or without pudding – figgy or otherwise – I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a Joyous Yuletide, one and all!

Now get the hell off my damn doorstep.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Rest in peace, Glyn.

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