Now, bring us some figgy pudding,
Now, bring us some figgy pudding,
Now, bring us some figgy pudding, and bring it out here!

Well, it’s Christmas morning. As always I had Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols cued up so as soon as I woke up all I had to do was hit “Play” and my apartment was filled with the beautiful sounds of the King’s College Boy’s Choir singing this classical music work. It’s a great way to start any Christmas. While fixing breakfast afterwards I got to thinking about times past, when I loved going Christmas caroling. It was particularly awesome once I got into college, as I was a member of the Marjorie Lawrence Opera Theater at my alma mater, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

However, I first went caroling as a wee kid with others from my church. Some of the adults would take us kids along. It was fun, and I enjoyed Christmas hymns even if I didn’t actually understand them at first. I liked to sing, and loved the sound music could make in my church’s sanctuary. I also liked singing along to popular Christmas songs including classic and well known carols, whether they were fairly religious themed or purely secular. When one goes Christmas caroling there’s a mix of both.

One classic and almost always sung tune is We Wish You A Merry Christmas. It’s a light, fun song with a catchy melody and simple lyrics. Even at five years old I “got” the lyrics except one part. So I asked the adults about it. “What’s figgy pudding?” (as an adult I’d ask the question in shall we say more colorful language) The simplistic answers weren’t really answers. It’s a pudding. When I asked early on and in the years to come why we never got any, or why it was never part of deserts at Chrismas potlucks, stuff like that the best I could elicit was mumbling about it being something “old” that “they used to do in England.” Stuff like that. By the time I was eight I stopped bothering to ask.

Instead I thought about it and kid logic being what it is I figured it had something to do with Fig Newtons!  Like most kids, and frankly quite a few adults it was a treat tearing into a package of Fig Newton cookies. So when it came to “figgy pudding” I came up with the thought it was sort of Fig Newtons mashed up and mixed into regular old pudding. Or maybe some kind a pudding made from the filling of the soft-shelled Fig Newton cookies, with something done to make it softer like chocolate pudding. Being a lifelong “chocoholic” I couldn’t help but wonder if those two wonderful, but quite distinctive flavors would be a good mix.  Some foods mix together well and some don’t.

So, while I had decided the answer to my question on my own I also had a feeling that as much as Fig Newtons and chocolate (or frankly other common flavors) were on their own most people found it to be weird and not all that tasty. Still, I’d go caroling well into adult life and sang the Christmas carol in question countless times and with gusto. As an adult I still wondered sometimes “Just what the hell (or another word that rhymes with luck) IS figgy pudding I didn’t spend any time or mental energy on the question like when I was a kid.

However, the internet is a wonderful thing if you like to look stuff up. Finally, I typed the words figgy pudding into the search bar and quickly got all kinds of stuff to read. I’ll keep it simple. From Wikipedia:

“Figgy pudding or fig pudding is any of several medieval Christmas dishes, usually sweet or savory cakes containing honey, fruits and nuts. In later times, rum or other distilled alcohol was often added to enrich the fruitiness of the flavor.”

So it turns out figgy “pudding” isn’t so much a pudding as it is a cake!  I’ve still never had it but while the description may or may not sound all that appealing, I looked up some of some of the recipes and it seems at least some varieties would be an enjoyable treat. Just for fun, I’m including a link to a page filled with pictures of figgy pudding. 

Well, I sometimes have random and even weird thoughts and musings. After the formal sound of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols I wanted something more lighthearted to listen to after firing up the computer to peruse the news and of course see what goings on there might have been here on PZ after I’d gone to bed. Just regular old Christmas carols and yes, We Wish You A Merry Christmas was one of the tunes on the CD I happened to grab. And once again I had a moment of musing about good ole figgy pudding.

So, if you never knew what it is but maybe wondered when singing or hearing that particular popular and well-known Christmas carol now you do!

I hope everyone is having and will continue to have an enjoyable Christmas day.

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  1. Someone answered this question on one of the cooking shows on public television maybe a year ago. I want to say it was Mary Berry but don’t hold me to is. Whoever it was, they said that Dessert was The sweet course eaten after the main course. What we and the French call “Dessert” the British call “Pudding”. Why? Well, the British did not want to use the French term for it. Too hoity-toity? Just because it was a French word (I believe at the time the Brits and French were at odds with each other ). Whatever the reason, the Brits came up with their own term for dessert.

    • A bit of irony if the Brits didn’t want to use a French term because “pudding” itself is believed to derive from the French word, “boudin” which originally referred to a sausage. Considering the usual British puddings are prepared in a cloth (or, originally, cow or pig stomachs) and sausages are usually encased in something (which may or may not be eaten, depending on the casing used), the relationship seems to work. (There is an alternate etymology in which “pudding” may be derived from an older Germanic term meaning “swollen”–and which lives on in the word, “pout”–but the English word is attested from Middle English in the early 14th Century which is still within the time frame of the English Court’s still using Norman French as a daily language.)

      • ‘Boudin’ is more akin to the German ‘Blutwurst’ or the English ‘Black Pudding’ (there’s that ‘pudding’ word again) than an English ‘sausage’.

  2. If you really want to see a “figgy pudding,” check out Max Miller’s “Tasting History” on YouTube:

    In the video, he’s using a recipe from 1845.

  3. Basically a steamed fruit cake. You know, that confection more than half the country LOVES to disparage. Great to me, that leaves MORE of the good ones for ME!

  4. I’m seeing some great comments that are also educational. Thank you folks for chiming in with your own tidbits. If more people check out this admittedly unusual article who knows what other information will get added.


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