I am a true traditionalist when it comes to the holidays.
In a world where things change with lightning speed, the holidays are the one time of the year we can reach into the past and do things the way we like to do them.
This includes donning the classic Christmas sweater, eating fruit cake or showing up on other people's doorsteps without invitation to sing. The other day I saw a man walking through the mall wearing a hat with antlers. No one thought anything of it.
We should be deeply concerned that some of the world's most cherished holiday traditions are not keeping pace in our rapidly changing times. When was the last time you had a sugar plum or a bowl of figgy pudding?
Which really begs the question, what exactly is figgy pudding? And would we even know of its existence if not for a song?
I have a picture of the traditional figgy pudding, and I'm here to tell you that if you were to put this on your table at your next holiday party, it might be the only dish that didn't have a dent in it by the end of the night.
Here's a description from Wikipedia:
"Figgy pudding is a pudding (thanks for clearing that up) resembling a white Christmas pudding containing figs. The pudding may be baked, steamed in the oven, boiled or fried."
And I thought chicken was the only versatile food.
Furthermore, Wikipedia goes on to say that a traditional figgy pudding can be a "potage of mashed figs thickened with bread, creme boiled (whatever that is) and containing sippets."
It sounds as if Wikipedia is as confused about figgy pudding as the rest of us.
Modern figgy puddings look like cake bread, which I believe is our way of transforming it into something that we can actually eat. But that's cheating. You can't make a coconut cream pie and call it "fruit cake" just because you like cream pie more.
That's what they're doing to figgy pudding.
Equally vague are the definitions for sugar plums, characterized in poems and holiday ballets. If there was ever a word that contained all of the magic of Christmas, for me it is the word "sugar plum." I'm not sure why because I've never had one (for most of us, they only dance in our heads), but if Tchaikovsky thought they were delicious enough to devise a whole dance around them for the "Nutcracker," then we can be assured of their specialness.
In a traditional sense, sugar plums are not even really plums. If you ever have a sugar plum that is in the shape of a plum or tastes like a plum, do not be fooled. This is merely an imposter posing as a sugar plum.
"Plums" used to be a catchall word for any dried fruit-figs, apricots, dates or cherries. Back in the 1600s, they used to chop this fruit up very finely and then roll it around in almonds, honey and spices like anise, fennel or caraway. Then they'd take this blob and roll it around again in sugar or shredded coconut.
The sweet part of the sugar plum gave it a hard shell when processed, but it was a long and arduous process to perfect them, which meant the plums were expensive. If you weren't the Queen of England, then you'd probably only have sugar plums at Christmas as a special treat, which is clearly why kids from that era mostly only dreamed of them.
These plums are not having an easy time in our modern era. The Milton Bradley Company took the character Plumpy out of the game of Candy Land and replaced it with the Mama Gingerbread character instead. You might remember that Plumpy was a gingerbread troll who wore a sugar plum around his neck. He was replaced in 2002-cast aside like chopped liver.
Maybe it's time to bring back the sugar plum. I like to think that some things can survive the test of time, especially when it has to do with Christmas. It's the old stuff of Christmas that defines the holiday: the carols and movies, and recipes and family traditions we carry on and pass along.
And if that means making real figgy pudding, then by all means, we should all go out and buy some figs.
And you might want to grab some frankincense and myrrh while you're at it.
But that's another story in itself.