Vintage Christmas Puddings: A Fourth Helping

The Empire Christmas Pudding (1926-1939)

Considering I don’t actually like Christmas pudding, it may seem a little strange that this is actually the fourth post I’ve written concerning the stuff in as many years (you can find the previous three here, here and here) – but I keep finding interesting and unusual historical recipes for this most seasonal of desserts! And this recipe is a particularly interesting one, which dates from sometime during the interwar period.

Issued as a promotional item by the Empire Marketing Board, this recipe (which appears to have come with Royal Approval, no less!) is familiar fare – apart from the addition of a pint of beer, something I have personally never seen before in a Christmas pudding recipe – but is unusual in that each ingredient is listed alongside its country of origin among the various colonies of the British Empire at the time.

The idea of this Empire Christmas Pudding recipe was already popular before this poster was even published, having been featured in various newspapers of the time – and had even been a plot device in One Family, a 1930 film made by the Board to promote the idea further. This somewhat plodding, old-fashioned and unpopular movie told the tale of a schoolboy who dreams of visiting all the colonies listed in the recipe to find the ingredients in order to make the King a Christmas pudding (they’d made better films!).

The Empire Marketing Board itself had been set up in 1926 to boost ‘advantageous’ trade between the colonies and the metropolis, support scientific research, and encourage people to buy Empire-made and produced goods. In order to achieve such aims, a large part of the process involved aggressive advertising campaigns – and this seasonal recipe is an prime example of the kind of promotional material that the Empire Marketing Board issued in large numbers during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

How successful it all was is debateable – some colonies only joined these campaigns with considerable reluctance, and there was much debate in others about the Board’s effectiveness in promoting trade. Add to this the fact that although the British Empire was (territorially) at its height during the interwar period, it was (economically) starting to decline, and, by the early 1930s, the cracks were really beginning to show as various colonies slowly began to move towards independence.

In 1933, the Board lost its funding during a round of government cuts, and, after only seven years in operation, was forced to close, leaving little more than an archive of distinctive adverts behind. However, the Board’s film arm, which had been responsible for One Family, was absorbed by the influential GPO Film Unit; later famous for such classics as Night Mail (1936) and the important wartime propaganda shorts London Can Take It (1940) and Christmas Under Fire (1941) – the latter of which I posted about last Christmas.

It’s strange to think that a festive recipe for pudding could be so political – but this one most certainly was, and its association with the Empire Marketing Board makes it a fascinating, if tiny, piece of evidence for official attitudes towards what can only be described as a once all-powerful institution as it slowly came to an end. This Christmas pudding is very much a document of its time.

For even more festive reading from me, click here.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Christmas Corner | Another Kind Of Mind

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