Regency-era English Christmas Pudding: American Fruitcake’s Kissin’ Cousin

Mrs. Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding circa 1890s

I recently read the delightful Regency-era Christmas novel The Mischief of the Mistletoe, by Lauren Willig. Our hero Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh and heroine Arabella Dempsey are brought together by a Christmas pudding! Yep. A very creative ice-breaker to introduce and spark a romance, right?

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas, by Lauren Willig (2010)In 1803, Arabella is an instructor at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, where “Turnip’s” sister Sally is a pupil. He is delivering her Christmas hamper to her and she in turn gives him a small muslin-wrapped and beribboned Christmas pudding which he proceeds to drop after barreling into to our heroine in the making in the hallway of the school. After profusely apologizing, he bounds out the door with Arabella in pursuit in an attempt to return the pudding to him:

“Mr. Fitzhugh?” she called after him, holding the small, muslin-wrapped parcel aloft. “Mr. Fitzhugh! You forgot your pudding!”

Blast. He didn’t seem to have heard her. Lifting her skirts, Arabella hurried down the short flight of steps. Mr. Fitzhugh, his legs longer that hers, was already some way down the street, making for a very flashy phaeton driven by a team of matched bays.

“Mr. Fitzhugh!” she called, waving the pudding in the air, when the second man in one day knocked the breath out of her by taking a flying leap at the pudding she held in her hand.

It must have been pure stubbornness that caused her to keep her grip, but as the man tugged, Arabella found herself tugging back. Harder.

“I need that pudding!” her growled. “Give it over.”

“No!” gasped Arabella, clinging to the muslin wrapper with all her might. People couldn’t just go about taking other people’s puddings. It was positively un-British.

Indeed! “Turnip” comes to her rescue, fending off her assailant and hauling her off the ground for a second time in a day. The Christmas pudding is slightly askew from its original round shape, but what puzzles her most is a piece of paper attached to it written in French. Is it a cryptic message? A clue? A joke? It is this mystery that draws them together and the catalyst to their adventure and eventual romance. Continue reading