November 20, 2010

A Civil War Thanksgiving: 1865 Plumb-Pudding Recipe

By the 1860s, Thanksgiving was a widely known celebration but was still not a national holiday. Most states celebrated it on on a different day and it was more popular up North. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday. Turkey, pumpkin pie, apple pie and cranberry sauce were popular items.

These items were precooked and mailed to the soldiers in crates. The soldiers were pleased to receive these prepared items, even if they had been traveling in crates for a few weeks because these were items the soldiers couldn't prepare for themselves in the field. The mailing systems were sympathetic tho the soldiers and most agreed to send Thanksgiving packages addressed to the troops for free.


              "IN the general preparations for the festivities of the day, our soldiers have not been forgotten.What magnificent preparations have been made for them,-- our brave boys in the field and on the march! What generous donations, what inspiring toil have been called forth by the announcement that our soldiers are all to share in the joys of the day, -- that turkeys and other poultry in vast quantities, plumb-puddings and pies "that no man could number," and jellies and fruits in unlimited profusion are to be forwarded to the armies of the North for that day, until no soldier shall be found who has not partaken.

             In this State alone, --and other States have undoubtedly been as generous, -- forty thousand turkeys, already cooked and garnished, have been sent forward, all vying with one another to see who shall do the most. One generous, energetic man has alone cooked sixteen hundred of the noble fowl, others one thousand, others five hundred, others still lesser numbers ; but all the ovens in our large cities have been in use night and day. Single individuals have given turkeys by the hundred, and pies by the thousand. The stream of good things that poured into the depot for our soldiers has been full and deep and wide. Steamers of the largest size have been loaded to the brim and sent on their way, one after another, and still the tide of gifts pours in and is speeding on its way to our brave boys. Not one shall be neglected, -- not one but shall be satisfied.
              May the blessing of our heavenly Father descend in rich showers on the givers and the receivers! May the soldier at his camp-fire, in his tent, on his lonely picket-guard, on his weary march, remember home and friends on that day, as we shall remember them, and be happy!"

1865 Recipe for Plumb Pudding


-1 1/4 lbs. (1 ½ Cups) Raisins
- ½ lb. (¾ Cups) Dried Currants
- 1/2 lb. (¾ Cups) Candied Orange Peel
- 3/4 lbs (3 Cups) Bread Crumbs (make fresh)
- 3/4 Lb Suet
- 8 Eggs
-  ¼ Cup Brandy
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Butter

To be done 3 days in advance:

1. Cut the Raisins in half. Mince the Suet. Cut the Candied Orange Peel in thin slices, if not already sliced. Mix all Raisins, Suet and Orange Peel in a medium sized bowl.
2. Beat the Eggs in a separate bowl and mix with the Brandy.
3.  Pour the Egg Mixture into the Dry Mixture.  
4.  Butter and sprinkle a layer of Sugar in a pudding mold. Press mixture firmly into a mold. (If your mold does not a lid with a handle, you must set the mold in a bag.*. Be sure when you are boiling that the open part of the bag remains out of the pot to use as a handle. Alternatively, some puddings can be made straight in a floured bag, without a mold.)

5. Place the bag in boiling water.  Make sure that the tied part of the bag is kept out of the water, some people prefer to attach a loose string from the tied part of the bag to something sturdy in the kitchen such as a cabinet. Continue to boil for 5 or 6 hours.  

6. Once boiled, hang the bag, with a large bowl underneath to catch the juice until the day you will be serving it.

7. On the day you will be serving it, boil the bag again for 2 hours.  Once done, remove from boiling pot and let cool. Once cool flip out the pudding onto an oven safe dish.

8. Place decoration in the center of the pudding. On Christmas, it is traditionally a sprig of holly.

9.  Ladle a circle of extra Brandy around the pudding. Light the extra Brandy on fire and bring to the table flaming.    

* A bag is made out of a square piece of fabric, rubbed on one side with Butter and Flour. The putting is placed in the center and the sides of the fabric are brought into the center and tied tightly with a string. 

The pudding sounds very interesting. I've never had plum pudding. I was kind of surprised that few recipes actually call for plums. Some food historians claim that many old recipes leave out the ingredients that would have been obvious to the people making them. I disagree, throughout all of my research, when I found recipes that didn't call for something I thought it should, I have found that those recipes did make something correct, we just call it something different now or it was just made differently in the past.

For example, I found a "White Gingerbread" recipe that did not call for any ginger. One food historian claimed that "they" knew to put ginger it in. But on examination, the recipe didn't make what we call Gingerbread at all--it made marzipan. I don't doubt that cooks adapted recipes to fit their taste, adding and removing ingredients but I think most recipes included the main ingredients.  Has anyone found any recipes that leave out something important? I'd love to see if people really did leave out ingredients that should have been obvious to cooks.

*Quote from The Ladies' Repository (Boston: A. Tompkins, 1865), 240-241.


  1. I've never had plum pudding either though I've heard of it in a lot of historical and historical fiction books I've read. If you make it let us know how it tastes! :)

  2. Sarah, It seems like something that used to be pretty popular. I'm surprised it has become so out of style. I don't normally cook with alcohol but some of my friends might be willing to try making it. I would very much like to see it on fire-- I'd really have to try to get a photo of that. :D

  3. Plum pudding is still really popular hear in NZ! The currants in the recipe above are what they considered 'plums' - raisins work too. It's any kind of dried fruit.

    The recipe looks good - I might try it.

  4. The Dreamstress, thanks. I'd love to see it if you do. Flaming pudding seems like it really would be a crowd pleaser!

  5. I was speaking to my father on Thanksgiving, which also happened to be his birthday, and he mentioned wistfully how much he missed his mother's plum puddings. Thank you for this timely post; I will definitely try this. The women of the day must have been amazing as I cannot imagine boiling something for 5 to 6 hours on a wood burning stove.

  6. Arden, thank you for your comment. This weekend we will be attempting to light one on fire! The pudding is already being boiled for Friday night. Hopefully I'll get some photos of it, so please check back!


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