Pudding Time in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Having a steamed pudding every day is a dream. They taste good enough to become a dangerous habit . So, if not everyday, when is pudding time?

Pudding time is that relaxing and comfortable time following a special meal when the conversation is animated. It is often the highlight of the dinner.  The Oxford Dictionary recognizes “pudding time” as “The time when pudding or puddings are to be had;  a time when a person is in luck; a favourable or useful time”   That sounds pretty good.

Oxford, however is using “pudding ” in the British sense. You can tell because they spell favorable , the British way- with extra letters. They are not talking about snack puddings that are packed with a lunch. Pudding time can be a time for pies, cakes, tarts and steamed puddings. In the UK, pudding time is what the US refers to as dessert time.

Realistically,  not many people plan their arrival just in time for dessert. They create the opportunity for “luck” by participating in the whole meal.  Some even help prepare it.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, pudding time is dessert time and special occasions call for special desserts.  Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrated with family. Traditional  desserts include the apple stack cake which originated in pioneer days when sharing among neighbors and family was essential to survival and resources were scarce.  Most depended on home grown food including apples from their orchard. Each guest would bring a thin layer of cake to the gathering and these were stacked between layers of apples to make a stack cake that could be shared by all.

Sharing in the preparation of a Christmas pudding was a tradition for many settlers to the area. In the late 1700’s and through the 1800’s  the vast majority of newcomers to the area came from Celtic roots. In England, Scotland , Ireland and Wales,  families prepared for Christmas by making a plum pudding. The pudding, laden with fruit, was prepared  well in advance. On stir up Sunday, each family member would have a chance to stir the pudding mixture and make a wish. Once stirring was done, the pudding would be steamed for hours then stored for Christmas. It was served with much aplomb (pun intended).

Colonialists in the area understood clearly the reference when British General Cornwallis on a  muggy day in February 1781, while in hot pursuit of American General Nathanael Greene complained that crossing the boggy Dutchman Creek  reminded him a thick British pudding. The area now sports the name Pudding Ridge NC.

However, in the Blue Ridge, the ingredients for plum pudding were not easily obtained. Christmas pudding recipes, which in the time of early settlers were passed from generation to generation through oral history, were lost to many even though they were published in mid 17th century cook books. Desserts with home grown ingredients took their place.  Mountain pudding, made with corn, apple stack cakes, bourbon pecan pies, ….. A notable exception was at the Biltmore Estate where the Vanderbilts traditional Christmas meal included plum pudding  served flamed with brandy and a sweet brandy butter.

These days, the sharing is mostly in the eating.  Ingredients for plum pudding, while easier to obtain, are still expensive and hard to find.  With both parents working, the hours that it takes to prepare a proper Plum Pudding present a challenge.  And yet, Christmas pudding is starting to make a comeback.  For the last twenty years, James-Ben Studio and Art Gallery  in Greeneville TN  has sold every Christmas pudding they make. In their first year making plum pudding, they sold out of it within two hours.  Fortunately, those who wish to restart a Christmas pudding family tradition can now avoid the hunt for ingredients and the hours of pudding preparation by purchasing it fully cooked through the internet.  Mountain Mill Pudding LLC, based in the Blue Ridge Mountains  of southwest Virginia now offers English made plum pudding and Jeweled Cranberry steamed pudding online.


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