The history of the royal Christmas pudding lies in the Empire, and in English ale  

The royal recipe may have caused a stir, but it's more familiar than you might think

Christmas pudding
What do you put in your pudding? Credit: Beth Evans

Is putting beer in your Christmas pudding odd? Judging by reactions to the recipe shared on the Royal Family social media accounts on Sunday, the answer is very. Responses ranged from ‘booze-filled’ to ‘decadent’ and, inevitably, many of the comments were filled with people giving their own variation on the theme (The Telegraph's own cookery writers, Diana Henry and Xanthe Clay, in fact both use ale in their Christmas pudding recipes).

But some people were surprised to see that the version made by the royal household was almost exactly their family recipe.

The royal recipe isn’t hard to date. It’s based on the Empire Christmas Pudding, dreamt up by the Empire Marketing Board in the 1920s, and refined by the then head chef at Buckingham Palace, Henri Cédard. The original started with 5lbs (2.25kg) of raisins and continued in similarly epic quantities.

Each of the 17 ingredients came from somewhere in the Empire – currants from Australia, demerara from Guyana, citrus peel from South Africa.

The recipe used various spices (India and the West Indies), apples (Canada), and, as per the modern version, rum (Jamaica), brandy (Cyprus), and beer (the UK).

It was eaten, amidst great publicity, by George V (there was also a parade), and became wildly popular, the recipe carefully cut out and kept to enter many a family recipe archive.

Christmas is the most traditional time of the year, even if many of those traditions aren’t really very old. Christmas pudding is a great example of modern mythologising. The history of Christmas pudding is fascinating, but Stir-up Sunday is a late Victorian schoolyard joke; there were never 13 ingredients to reflect the number of apostles; prior to the last 50 years, puddings were often made and eaten on the same day, not matured; and they certainly weren’t fed with extra booze.

The origins of Christmas pudding lie in late medieval dishes of meat and spice. By the late 16th century plum pottage, a stew of beef, wine and fruit, was associated with the Christmas season. In the 17th century came plum pudding (plum referred to any dried fruit).

But plum pudding wasn’t just a Christmas dish. Until the late 19th century it was most commonly served with beef and was regarded as a true symbol of Britishness. But the Victorians rebranded it, and by the 20th century it was all about Christmas.

Recipes were extremely varied, intended for every taste, budget and family size. I’ve enjoyed them with marmalade, bananas, and everything from milk to marsala. And that’s without even mentioning rationing versions.

Beer? Trust me, it’s totally mainstream.