What is Figgy Pudding? Food and Drinks From Our Favorite Christmas Songs
Eggnog Christmas milk cocktail with cinnamon, served in two glasses on vintage tray with shortbread star shape sugar cookies, decor toys, fir branch over white wooden plank table. (Photo by: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images)
Food and drinks are an important part of our holiday celebrations. Every Christmas gathering, no matter how big or how small, includes a meal and beverages. Some of our all-time favorite Christmas songs are guilty of making us hungry by mentioning some tasty treats. Although some of these food and beverages mentioned in holiday songs are familiar to us, many are not.
What is Figgy Pudding?
When we sing the rollicking carol, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” we rather forcefully demand servings of figgy pudding, and even declare that we won’t leave until we are given some. But what is figgy pudding? Does anyone still eat it? Figgy pudding is a Victorian dish made, of course, with figs. We need to remember, however, that pudding in the United States and pudding in England are two very different things. We think of pudding as a mushy goo, but for the Brits, it is a bread or cake-like item. So figgy pudding is actually like a sweet cake with figs, molasses, and butter.
In “The Christmas Song”, the opening line sets an inviting scene of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Sounds cozy, but why are they roasting the nuts? Chestnuts were abundant a hundred plus years ago and, conveniently, the nuts are ready to harvest right around Christmas time. The nuts have a hard outer layer that becomes much easier to peel after they are roasted. Then, it is easy to get to the yummy nutmeat inside the shell. A chestnut blight wiped out nearly all of the chestnut trees in the United States, but fear not. The hardy tree is making a comeback, thanks to dedicated scientists who are genetically modifying the tree to become blight resistant.
The narrator in the classic Christmas song, “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, mentions that they have brought popcorn seeds to pop popcorn. Before microwave popcorn became a staple, popping corn on the stove was the only way to enjoy this all-American treat. The Aztecs are credited with developing corn from a wild grass into a useful grain, and along the way, they created popcorn. In fact, the oldest known popcorn was discovered in a 4,000-year old tomb in Peru. The Pilgrims were introduced to popcorn at the first Thanksgiving and have embraced it ever since. Folks in the past would pop a batch of popcorn and string the fluffy white kernels on thread to make long strings of popcorn. These were used to decorate the Christmas tree and, once Christmas was over, the popcorn string was hung outside to give the birds a tasty treat.
Candy canes are mentioned in the song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” as well as a few other holiday songs. Candy canes are such a popular Christmas treat and motif, so it may surprise you to learn that candy canes were first created nearly 400 years ago. According to stories surrounding the candy cane, the treats were first made as candy sticks that were all white in color. But in 1670, a choirmaster in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral made a batch of them with a bent hook to resemble a shepherd’s hook. He gave the hook-shaped candy to the children in the congregation, much to their delight. It wasn’t until later that the peppermint flavor was added, along with the red stripes.
The old Christmas song, “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” mentions both wassail and beer in its lyrics. While beer is familiar to almost everyone, wassail probably isn’t. Wassail is a variation on beer from the Medieval era. Beer, or sometimes mead, is mulled with ginger, sugar, and fruit, and served hot with a cap of sops, or soaked bread. You’ll find Pinterest recipes for wassail today, but they are now usually made with hot, spiced cider with a dash or two of brandy.
The narrator in “Oh Hanukkah” notes that they will serve you “latkes to eat.” The traditional Hanukkah treat is still a popular holiday food today…and it is made essentially the same way today as it was hundreds of years ago. Latkes are a type of potato pancake. The potatoes are cooked and formed into patties that are fried in flour and onions and eaten with a dollop of applesauce.
The narrator of the humorous Christmas ditty, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”, informs us that grandma got a bit too tipsy drinking eggnog. The thick, rich holiday beverage is an adult only beverage. A blend of raw eggs, sugar, milk, and rum, eggnog was traditionally served hot, but folks today also enjoy it chilled, especially with a sprinkling of nutmeg on top.
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