How the Family Dog Helped Save the Christmas Pudding

This is the story of how my mother perfected a traditional family recipe as a new bride with a little help from the family pooch.

Every Christmas, our mother told us the tale of the year the family dog acquired a sweet tooth. It was 1950 and she was a new bride who had married into a family of good cooks.

A long wooden table covered in white linens was set for the Christmas feast. Steam rose from freshly whipped potatoes. On a large platter, roasted turkey sat ready to be carved. The aroma of stuffing warming in the oven filled the country kitchen. Pickled beets from the cold cellar sat in decorative dishes. One by one the relatives gathered, calling out festive greetings.

In the kitchen, my mother huddled by the wood stove. She stood alone with her anxious thoughts. She looked towards the back door. In the middle of a Canadian winter, despite the lake-effect snow, my mother was sweating. Turning, she glanced at a recipe card yellowed with age. It was for a rich pudding sauce that had been handed down from one generation to the next over the years—one wrong move meant certain disaster.

Although Mom was courageous, she had travelled alone from rural Ontario to Toronto at the age of 17 to earn her teaching certificate—this was different. This was “the pudding!” This was “the sauce!” This was “the tradition!” And these were the relatives she had to impress.

She stared into the bottom of the aluminum pot. Her hand moved to the canister of brown sugar; her eyes darting back to the recipe card stained in gravy drippings. “Half a cup,” she said to herself. A ceramic bowl, chipped and worn, contained the perfect measurement of corn starch. A tea kettle whistled as steam rose to the ceiling. The caramelizing of the sauce required full concentration. “Check the temperature of the stove,” she whispered. “Water first! Heat and stir. Slowly add the starch!”

A Dog’s Dinner

The dog barked from the other side of the door. “It should have thickened by now,” my mother muttered to herself. “Something is wrong!” The clock on the china cabinet chimed. “Damn!” my mother muttered under her breath. She usually didn’t swear. She stuck her head out into the frigid air to cool off. The Christmas banquet was almost ready—no time to over think things.

The dog smiled up at her. Lowering the pot, she poured the ruined sugary liquid into his dented food dish. Without wasting any time, she headed back inside. With her usual determination she tried again. Once more, the sauce refused to thicken.

The dog feasted on ruined sauce twice more—Mom’s failures had become the canine’s pathway to the good life. He hadn’t had it so good since a bunch of potatoes had gone dry the previous summer.

Finally, as suspicions were rising in the crowded dining room—the sauce thickened. The pudding, steaming in a kettle nearby, let out a puff of approval.

My mother wiped her brow on the corner of her apron. Removing the covering, she calmly sat down to Christmas dinner. Outside the back door, the dog snored. He moaned in his sleep, as though enjoying sweet dreams.

Next, check out what a country Christmas was like in the 1950s.

Originally Published in Our Canada