Monday, December 18, 2017

Dickens and the Cratchit Family's Christmas Pudding

Monday, December 18, 2017
Mrs. Cratchit by Arthur Rackham
Loretta reports:

I haven’t yet seen the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, but no one needs another movie to associate Charles Dickens with the holiday, thanks to his story, A Christmas Carol.

This past summer, while in London, I spent a few hours touring the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Among many items claiming my attention was the kitchen, because we Nerdy History Girls are always curious about everyday life. This house, which reflects the author’s lifestyle when he was just beginning to be famous, is very much a middle-class household, considerably upscale from that of Mr. Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I offer some images from the kitchen, and leave you to imagine the process of making a Christmas pudding, even in this comfortable household. Then, please imagine what it might have been like for Mrs. Cratchit in her humbler abode. As a museum sign pointed out, “The Cratchit family had only one small pudding, but in a household such as 48 Doughty Street, there were often many spare puddings, cooked and stored for use at other celebrations throughout the year. Filled with spirits, old ale and spices, the puddings were well preserved on larder shelves and were even believed to improve in taste as they aged.”

Yes, that's the kitchen sink
But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses— to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough 1 Suppose it should break in turning out ! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding ! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly —with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding ! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing. At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up.
“A Christmas Carol,” from The Works of Charles Dickens, Volume 13
Hedgehogs used for insect control
Photos of Charles Dickens Museum copyright © Loretta Chekani 2017
Illustration of Mrs. Cratchit carrying in the pudding by Arthur Rackham for 1915 edition.
Please click on images to enlarge.


Lucy said...

What's interesting to me is that minus the hedgehog(!) the kitchen looks surprisingly modern, with even a sink and installed water piping. Anyone used to cooking with a solid-fuel stove probably wouldn't find it very difficult to cook in.

It's very intriguing, too, just from its appearance. Thanks so much for sharing the pictures!

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I've never seen or tried a Christmas pudding but just reading this gave me a warm holiday feeling.
I'm a great lover of A Christmas Carol; I decorate with anything relating to it for Xmas, and have seen Gerald Dickens one-man play of A Christmas Carol. And I saw The Man Who Invented Christmas. You'll enjoy it.
Happy Christmas! ~ Val

Loretta Chase said...

Yes, I'm a Christmas Carol devotée, as you can easily see. I've seen Gerald Dickens, too! What a wonderful performance it was. And what a lovely man! Happy Christmas, Val!

Liz said...

My grandparents and my great-aunt, all born during the reign of Queen Victoria, were part of our household when I was growing up in Ottawa, Canada. Every Xmas we had a pudding, boiled, which was soaked in brandy, aged, and served with "hard sauce", a mixture of brown sugar, butter and more brandy. Because the pudding contained suet (like most mincemeat), I always found that it disturbed my digestion and took only a very small taste. However, at this time of the year our local butcher still sells suet for making puddings, mincemeat, and even seedy xmas treats to hang in the trees for birds--so the tradition seems to be carrying on.

Loretta Chase said...

Val, I forgot to mention that I wrote a post about Gerald Dickens's performance—just in case you need more:

Time Traveling in Costume said...

Thank you Loretta, I'm going to go read that.
Here is my blog post on attending his Christmas Carol in 2011.

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