Christmas puddings: when age-old customs meet decimal currency

In April 1966, Miss Una Clarkson, Miss Barbara Lynch and Mrs Strachan conducted experiments on a set of six Christmas puddings.

Half were steamed, and the other half were boiled. Following an age-old tradition, the three cooks carefully inserted in silver sixpences into the pudding mix before cooking. However, in a modern twist, they also cooked in several of the (then) very new 2 and 5 cent pieces. Then they waited for a few months before cutting the puddings open. Why?

The answer is all about Australia’s change to decimal coins that had occurred earlier that same year. Here’s an excerpt from a press relase that was put out by the Mint a few months after Messes Clarkson’s, Lynch’s and Strachan’s meticulous experiment.

‘The Christmas pudding making season is almost with us, and another age-old custom is being threatened. Before long there will be no silver coins suitable for putting in Christmas puddings. Next year almost all the old threepenny pieces will be out of circulation, and the cooking of coins in Christmas pudding will become a quaint old custom of the past.’

The press release goes on to explain that that the new 5 and 10 cent coins are not silver (apparently a metal which is safe to cook in puddings), but in fact cupro-nickel, an alloy which might turn green if cooked in pudding and impart a slightly metallic flavour. The 1 and 2 cents pieces, which were nearly entirely copper, could result in stronger corrosion.

coins cooked in Christmas puddings

The results of an experiment carefully documented. All coins were cooked in puddings, and they were then left for one, two or three months to see how both the coins and puddings were affected. NAA: A571, 1966/2616

While it’s unclear whether the concern was for the cake, the coins or even the people eating the results, the author of the press release does take the opportunity to point out, ‘The practice of cooking coins in puddings has, of course, never been very desirable from a hygienic point of view’.

The research work had been commissioned by the Decimal Currency Board, and carried out by the Copper and Brass Information Centre – who knew an organisation with such a magnificent title existed?

Once the Centre had done the research work, they were keen to let everyone know – they were suggesting that they should tell women’s magazines and hotel associations. The Royal Australian Mint to put out their press release, but the Treasurer of the day, William McMahon, didn’t feel it was necessary for him to comment on such a domestic issue!

The hard work of Misses Clarkson, Lynch and Strachan is carefully documented in a file in the National Archives. They even included the recipe of the pudding that they used, along with some handy hints on how to get the best (coin-free) results for that special meal.

Recipe for family Christmas pudding
1/2 lb butter
1/2 lb sugar
5 eggs
2 level tblspn treacle
1 lb sultanas
2 lb raisins (chopped)
4 oz candied peel (chopped)
1/2 lb soft stale breadcrumbs
4 oz plain flour
1/4 level tsp salt
1 level  tsp nutmeg
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp bi-carb of soda
2 tblspn brandy

1. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
2.Add treacle, beat again.
3. Fold in the fruits and breadcrumbs
4. Sift flour with salt, spices and bi-carb of soda and stir into moisture.
5. Add brandy, mix well.
6. Put pudding in a scalded and well-floured pudding cloth; tie securely leaving a little room for pudding to swell.
7. Immerse in fast boiling water, lower heat and boil gently for at least six hours.
8. When cooked, remove from water and hang pudding so that the cloth will dry out around the tie fairly quickly. Tie by four corners to clothesline or legs of an upturned chair or sto0l if weather does not permit hanging on clothesline.

Storage: Hang in a cool place where air will circulate freely around pudding. Reheat for 2 hours on day of serving. Serves 12.

Merry Christmas – enjoy the season of fabulous food!

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2 Responses to Christmas puddings: when age-old customs meet decimal currency

  1. I have ‘googled ‘ all night to obtain the answer and none has come to light. Is it actually detrimental to health…to eat a christmas pudding that has been boiled with ten cent coins in it. I have made 2 spectacular old fashioned christmas puddings …yes with ten cent coins in….and now people are telling me I have to throw them out. I do not want to be the purveyor of illness…so tell me please…eat or throw?
    thankyou, Magi

    • Dear Magi,
      here’s the press release that was done as result of the pudding testing in the 1960s.I think the upshot is that while it’s not recommended, the cupro-nickel alloy coins won’t spoil the whole pudding. See what you think… good luck with Christmas!
      all the best, Zoe

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