Christmas 2023: Why Plum Cake On Christmas?
Image Credit: Image Credit: Freepik

A plum cake, contrary to its name, is not a cake made with fresh plums but rather a type of fruitcake enriched with dried fruits, nuts, and aromatic spices. The origins of the name "plum cake" can be traced back to old English, where the word "plum" was commonly used to refer to prunes or other dried fruits such as raisins, currants, and sultanas.

In mediaeval England, people observed a fast as an act of self-denial from indulging in treats and sustenance for weeks before Christmas Eve in order to prepare their stomachs for the upcoming Christmas Eve feast. During the fasting period, a porridge dish made with oats, dried fruits like prunes, raisins, sultanas, currants, spices, honey, and sometimes pieces of meat was eaten, which is considered a rather light meal. It is said that prunes were referred to as plums, which may have given the name to this plum porridge dish.

While the exact origins of plum cake may be unclear, it is believed that plum porridge was a dish that evolved to be transformed into a cake over time. Because the definition of the word "plum" has evolved over time, many items popularly known as plum cakes in England since the eighteenth century have now been renamed fruitcake.

Traditionally, plum cake was made with oats, dry fruits, flour, eggs, and butter mixed together and tied in a muslin cloth to be cooked in a boiling pot of water. After hours of cooking, a fudgy ball of delicious goodness was formed. Since mediaeval times, the method of making a plum cake has drastically changed with technological advancements in cooking methods and the availability of ingredients across the world.  

During colonial times, English chefs who came to India along with the formation of the East India Company brought the recipe with them. Being an easy and convenient way to prepare a dessert, Englishmen devoured and celebrated the delectable plum cakes and eventually it was adopted into Indian festival culture.

Several different recipes for plum cake have evolved in India. Through years of experimentation, Indians have made different variations of plum cake and still continue to evolve it. This recipe uses rum, brandy, or whisky, which enhances the flavour, adds a boozy touch and a certain depth to the delight. Several other regional variations can be seen throughout the nation. Because of India's multi-cultural environment, families and communities frequently modify plum cake recipes to accommodate regionally-available ingredients or conform to unique culinary tastes. As a result, there are several distinct and regional varieties.

Some of the well-known and loved plum cake variations are:

1) Anglo-Indian Plum Cake:
The Anglo-Indian community, with its blend of British and Indian culinary influences, has its own version of plum cake. This variation often features a rich and dense cake with a higher proportion of dried fruits and nuts soaked in rum or brandy. The nuts soaked in rum or brandy add natural sweetness and enhance the flavours. And it is traditionally enjoyed during Christmas. 

2) Kerala Plum Cake:
Kerala is known for its rich and spiced plum cake. It usually includes a considerable amount of dried fruits, nuts, and spices such as cinnamon and cloves. In addition, some variants include locally accessible ingredients such as coconut and jaggery.

3) Goan Christmas Cake:
In Goa, the Christmas cake is a festive treat that has unique flavours influenced by the state's colonial history. It includes a mix of dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes local ingredients such as cashew nuts and feni (a local spirit).

4) Eastern Indian Plum Cake:
In the eastern parts of India, including West Bengal and Odisha, plum cakes may incorporate regional ingredients and flavours. Some variations include spices like cardamom and local fruits.

Image Credit: Unsplash

5) Allahabadi Plum Cake:
The 'petha' or ash gourd is used to make Allahabadi Christmas cake. This traditional Indian Christmas cake has been around for years and is very well adapted in Indian cuisine, thanks to the influence of the city's Anglo-Indian community. It's created with a lot of desi ghee, marmalade, and petha, along with the addition of dry fruits.

These variations highlight the versatility of plum cake recipes across India, showcasing how regional ingredients, cultural influences, and local culinary traditions contribute to the diversity of this beloved dessert. Each variety gives a unique spin on the original plum cake, making it a delectable and beloved element of holiday celebrations around the country.