Suet Pudding

Every Christmas we had suet pudding. It was dessert, leastways supposedly, dessert by definition being the last testament of a meal. I do not know if every American household vented Christmas to the same dangerous degree as we did in the white farmhouse of my youth. There are a number of good reasons for not doing so, chief among them is suet pudding. You are correct if you recognize suet pudding as the very same refuse from which candles are manufactured, suet being the chief inedible tallow fats of a cow or sheep. Tallow is rarely acknowledged as the defense mechanism whereby animals prevent their employ as a nutrient source for carnivores, seeing as no proud carnivore wants to stoop to eating candles. Well, as a defense mechanism this works pretty well, except when it comes to the inhabitants of the British Isles and their progeny around the world. We had suet pudding at the close of Christmas dinner. The dinner itself was a fairly reliable means for killing the family off. Killed by mountains and drumlins of mashed potatoes, taluses of stuffing, cauldrons of gravy, small rowboats filled with creamed corn, the entirety of a roast beast grotesquely carved into hideous portions at the table, bushels baskets of green beans, corridors of pickled vegetation, chopper boxes of fresh rolls and torrents of cold milk, cargo chests filled with Jersey yellow butter, vestibules of jello, jars and demijohns of relishes, candied apples, swollen purple visages of dead beets, platters of stewed turnips and rutabagas. The table groaned. The table whimpered, gave off wrenching noises like those heard from wood-hulled ships frozen into the Antarctic ice pack. The claw feet on the table legs distended their talons and groveled for a hold on the ample flooring. We, of course, had to eat it all. To save the table, don'tcha know--prevent it from collapsing on our legs. We couldn't simply walk off, because we were already wedged beneath it. Every Christmas was this way, and to this contest we invited every friend, every available haymow bum, every cousin to the 20th power removed, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all that was available of humanity to help consume my mother's Christmas dinner. Heaven help us if a blizzard intervened and it was just the nuclear family to wage the dinner war. We couldn't leave the table; the only escape was to eat your way clear. Which we did. And when the claws under the table began to relax and the ice pack to melt, then, then she brought the suet pudding. Tallow pudding! The pudding was created, as we knew, of every waste product imaginable, smushed together in a congealing business that they used during the Inquisition to rectify witches. The result is a black loaf the size of a football and weighing as much as a manhole cover. By English tradition this is still defined as edible. Over this a sauce was poured, of a hot mucousy consistency, that seeped into the pores of the suet pudding and disappeared, leaving behind a black mass just as desiccated as before. Chewing granite is more of a gastronomical pleasure than chewing suet pudding, same with railroad track. Actually, it's not so much chewing as fitting your jaw around the obstacle and eventually swallowing it. Feel it course down your throat to land with a dull thud in your already swollen interior. Suet pudding was Christmas tradition. It had been consumed every Christmas by my family for millions of years, probably; it had to be done. It was, as we came to think of it, the laxative of Christmas. It took childhood right out of us, calmed down all the glitter and hyperbole. Who among us wanted Christmas to return sooner than a year hence, when there was that Christmas table to digest, followed by suet pudding? Christmas, we thought, might be even better with two or three years in between, 10 even. Why not abandon Christmas altogether? Months passed before we could look a square meal in the face again. Like bloated cows, we veered off and wandered about in the snow, colliding with stationary objects, incapable of bending over, swollen, hideous, out of proportion, our itsy-bitsy legs protruding under blimped torsos. With Christmas my mother had won a major victory. Not for six months would she hear the query "what's for supper?'' Any time she wanted to avoid cooking for the herd, all she had to do was bring out a prehistoric flake of suet pudding, heat it on the stove and send the aromas in the 35 cardinal directions of the farmstead. One smell of that vile vapor and we were no longer hungry. Once again we felt that self-destructive bloat, the urge to barf, all of it held down, by a tombstone slab of suet pudding. The tradition continues. If Christmas dinner doesn't come close to killing the participants, it isn't Christmas. This farm Christmas has no lovely urban pretenses. No stylish, trim, lo-cal, Jane Brody-recipe Christmas. Done right, Christmas curbs the desire for more Christmas in one efficient stroke. If only Christmas would come and then go away forever, we would at least be freed from suet pudding.

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