‘Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day. It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’
Christmas in Australia is a unique experience. Two centuries after European settlement we still cling to the old northern hemisphere customs, especially when it comes to festive foods. In early times families did venture into the bush for a picnic under the eucalypts, but a Dickensian Christmas pudding still formed the centrepiece of the ‘table’ !
Puddings were (are still are) sent to those working in the outback as drovers, shearers or miners. A Queensland newspaper (The Morning Bulletin March 1951) published a recipe for boiling a pudding in the container it was to travel in:
TINNED CHRISTMAS PUDDING
Sift into a basin 3 cups flour, and ½ cp S.R. flour, add 1lb sugar, 1 salt-spoon salt, dash of spices and pepper. Rub in 1lb lard, add 2 lb mixed dried fruits and mix well. Beat 4 eggs and add; stir in 1 tablespoon each of sherry and brandy and lastly add 2 teaspoons bicarb. soda dissolved in a little hot water. (Half-fill greased lever-top tins, close lids firmly and oil three hours. Re-heat by standing tins in boiling water one hour. Excellent to send in parcels overseas.)
But there were many occasions when bushmen had to make their Christmas pud., often with very limited resources. During the Great Depression a story by Chas. Goodliffe appeared in the Northern Territory Times, under the title, Our Christmas Dinner. The narrator and his brother Jack were travelling with their stockman, an Aborigine with a far greater knowledge of the land than they could ever hope to achieve;
We had started off in the morning with the intention of making good progress, but after travelling a few miles we came out on a wide plain covered with beautiful young green grass, which my brother said was scurvy grass. It looked to me to be what we called in Queensland, blady grass or cutty grass but he said the right name was scurvy grass, we left it at that. As this was Christmas Day, we decided to camp on the plain, with a beautiful running stream, as clear as crystal, the water level with the banks, yet shallow enough for us to see the pebbles at the bottom of the creek bed. We unpacked the horses, and my brother ] went on the plain to gut a big feed of the scurvy grass…
A PAIR OF PLUM DUFFERS!
For some reason, and entirely against the advice of the stockman, the brothers decided to use some of the grass in their Christmas dinner;
When Jack brought up the grass we put it in with the salt beef to give it a flavour and then I said I was going to make a plum duff: ‘What with?’ asked Jack: ‘We’ve nothing. And anyhow, what are you going to boil it in? Not my saddle cloth, I hope.’ ‘You leave everything to me’, I said. ‘I’ll manage.’ So I mixed up the pudding, which consisted of flour and sugar, together with a tin of plum jam, well stirred in, and some of the fat from the corned beef, which I had carefully saved for the occasion. For a cloth I used my shirt, a clean one of course, which I had carefully watched…While the pudding and the scurvy grass were boiling, I took a tomahawk and went looking for a tree with a suitable bulge in it, to make a large plate for our plum duff. I soon one, and a couple of large bark plates besides, as well as small forked sticks to do as forks, and then we prepared for the great treat.
After letting the pudding boil for four hours (we had to guess the time as we had no watch) we spread our table on a green carpet miles in width, put the plum pudding on the wooden dish and sat down to share our Christmas dinner.
The scurvy grass in the corned beef turned out to be a disaster, especially for the narrator. It was so tough and stringy that when he swallowed, the end of one blade stayed in his mouth while the other end found its way to the pit of his stomach. Fortunately he recovered in time for the next course: ‘Then the pudding was served round, and I picked out the plum stones to show them it was a genuine plum pudding. While we were lingering over this delight one of our horses went mad; he raced around the plain, then came full tilt across our table, put his foot in the pudding, smashed the corned junk and then dropped dead. So ended our Christmas dinner for 1886.’
Oh dear me…what the narrator and Jack really needed out in the bush was a cut-and-come-again magic pudding by the name of Albert. Remember Norman Lindsay’s wonderful book?
As a lover of Australian birdlife, I have favourite carol. And what could it be called, but CAROL OF THE BIRDS.
Here is an Australian poem about another Christmas dinner in the outback, by the wonderful Banjo Paterson; Santa Claus in the Bush
CLICK HERE FOR ANOTHER STORY ABOUT CHRISTMAS IN RURAL AUSTRALIA.
FEEL FREE TO COMMENT, OR TO SHARE YOUR OWN MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS IN THE BOX BELOW. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM THOUGH. AND A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!!!