Baking entrepreneur and sticky toffee pudding queen Tracy Claros is bringing a taste of "A Christmas Carol" to Austin during the Christmas run up.
She imports the traditional British festive treat that is plum pudding, which is easier said than done, Claros said. Last Christmas Claros got a surprise when she had to deal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that impounded her shipment of plum puddings due to plums and meats being forbidden food items for import — puddings contain mincemeat.
Once Claros explained that despite the misleading nomenclature the puddings contained no plums or meats whatsoever, rather a juicy combination of raisins, fruits and nuts soaked in brandy and sherry, the puddings’ embargo was lifted.
“It’s not about the money, rather providing a service to my customers who ask if I can get plum puddings,” said Claros and who is better known for her company’s sticky toffee puddings. She found enquiries came from British expats but also first generation Americans, some of whose grandmothers had been war brides and who they remembered making plum puddings come Christmas time.
The puddings she imports hail from her hometown Kendal in Cumbria, England, and are good enough to be stocked at the finest of London stores, such as Harvey Nichols.
“They’re one of the last things really seasonal,” said Bernice Humphreys, director of The Ultimate Food Company making the puddings. “They have a wonderfully Dickensian feel.”
Despite 25 years trying to sell puddings outside of Christmas, it’s not been possible to break the festive association, she said. Fortunately, a lot of puddings are needed for Christmas and the company is busy all year round making 150 tonnes to meet that demand.
The pudding’s incongruous name stems from the antiquated use of the word "plums" as a term for "raisins,” befitting for a food that has been around in various guises since medieval times, with the contemporary version now found on British Christmas dinner tables introduced back in the 19th century by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Around the same time, the tradition took root of hiding a silver sixpence in the pudding — meant to bring good luck to whoever found it — and placing a sprig of holly atop it.
Another plum pudding tradition started during the Victorian era involved pouring lashings of brandy over puddings to be set alight. Who better to describe such a scene than the author of the 1843 archetypal Christmas tale, Charles Dickens:
Hallo. A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper...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.
Puddings are soaked in brandy and sherry, often for weeks, and then steamed for hours, caramelizing the ingredients and giving the pudding its moist, dark finish and rich taste, Claros said.
Try something different from your usual annual festive dose of fusty fruitcake this year. Plum puddings can be ordered online from Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. One-pound puddings are sold for $15 and two-pound puddings for $25, both of which can cost twice as much in some Austin stores.