Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-xg4rj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-05T12:13:28.636Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The King's Christmas pudding: globalization, recipes, and the commodities of empire*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2009

Kaori O’Connor
Department of Anthropology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK E-mail:


Food globalization has been in train for some ten millennia,1 driven by, and driving, war, trade, imperialism, colonialism, and culture. Within economic history, the dominant discipline in the study of globalization, only the first four are dealt with in any depth, invariably focusing on production and the supply side. By contrast, there have been relatively few studies of globalization in terms of culture, consumption, and the demand side, resulting in an incomplete understanding of the ways in which material life, cultural values, and political imperatives interact in a global context. These dynamics are examined in this anthropological account of culture and commerce in Britain and the empire in the interwar years, focusing on a dish that assumed tremendous symbolic and economic importance – the King's Christmas pudding

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Kiple, Kenneth F., A moveable feast, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 The formal cuisine of the English royal court had been French since the Norman Conquest, and the royal kitchens were headed by a French chef.

3 The Times, 2 December 1927, p. 11, col. C.

4 Hobsbawm, Eric, ‘Introduction: inventing tradition’, in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The invention of tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 1–14Google Scholar; Cannadine, David, ‘The last Hanoverian sovereign: the Victorian monarchy in historical perspective, 1688–1988’, in A. L. Beier, David Cannadine, and James M. Rosenheim, eds., The first modern society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 127–65.Google Scholar

5 Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Mass-producing traditions: Europe, 1870–1914’, in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The invention of tradition, p. 263.

6 Offer, Avner, The First World War: an agrarian interpretation, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, p. 82.Google Scholar

7 Mary Douglas, ‘Standard social uses of food: introduction’, in Mary Douglas, ed., Food in the social order (vol. 9 of Mary Douglas: collected works), London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 1–39; Firth, Raymond, The work of the gods in Tikopia, London: London School of Economics, 1940Google Scholar; Goody, year, Cooking, cuisine and class: a study in comparative sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, Food and love: a cultural history of East and West, London: Verso, 1998; Marshall Sahlins, Culture and practical reason, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

8 Douglas, Mary, ‘Introduction’, in Jessica Kuper, ed., The anthropologist's cookbook: second edition, London: Kegan Paul, 1997.Google Scholar

9 Mintz, Sidney W. and Du Bois, Christine M., ‘The anthropology of food and eating’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 2002, pp. 99119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Kopytoff, Igor, ‘The cultural biography of things’, in Arjun Appadurai, ed., The social life of things, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 64–91.Google Scholar

11 Palmer, Catherine, ‘From theory to practice: experiencing the nation in everyday life’, Journal of Material Culture, 3, 2, 1998, pp. 175–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar; O'Connor, Kaori, The English breakfast: the biography of a national meal, London: Kegan Paul, 2006.Google Scholar

12 Neuhaus, Jessamyn, ‘The way to a man's heart: gender role, domestic ideology and cookbooks in the 1950s’, Journal of Social History, 32, 3, 1999, pp. 529–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Humble, Nicola, Culinary pleasures: cookbooks and the transformation of British food, London: Faber and Faber, 2005Google Scholar; Super, John C., ‘Food and history’, Journal of Social History, 36, 1, 2002, pp. 165–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 Appadurai, Arjun, ‘How to make a national cuisine’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30, 1, 1988, pp. 324CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Carol Helstosky, ‘Recipe for the nation: reading Italian history through La scienza in cucina and La cucina futurista’, Food and Foodways, 11, 2–3, 2003, pp. 113–40.

14 Neuhaus, ‘The way to a man's heart’, p. 530. See also Rossi-Wilcox, Susan M., ‘American adaptation and Mrs Charles Dickens's plum pudding’, Journal of American Culture, 28, 40, 2005, pp. 431–6.Google Scholar

15 Offer, The First World War, p. 121.

16 Heal, Felicity, ‘Food gifts, the household and the politics of exchange in early modern Europe’, Past and Present, 199, 1, 2005, pp. 4170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Levy, Paul, The feast of Christmas, London: Kyle Cathie, 1993.Google Scholar

18 The name originates from the special prayer (or collect) for the last Sunday before Advent, which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’.

19 Miller, Daniel, ‘A theory of Christmas’, in Daniel Miller, ed., Unwrapping Christmas, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 3–37.Google Scholar

20 Dawson, William Francis, Christmas and its associations, London: Elliot Stock, 1902.Google Scholar

21 Fred Guida, A Christmas Carol and its adaptations: Dickens's story on screen and television, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co Inc, 2000, p. 12. See also Davis, Paul, The life and times of Ebenezer Scrooge, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.Google Scholar

22 Anne Lohrli, Household Words: a weekly journal 1850–1859, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973, p. 333.

23 Ibid., p. 5.

24 Charles Knight, ‘A Christmas pudding’, in Charles Dickens, ed., Household Words, 39, Christmas Number, 21 December 1850, pp. 300–4.

25 Taylor, Miles, ‘John Bull and the iconography of public opinion in England c.1712–1929’, Past and Present, 134, 1992, pp. 93128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

26 Inglis, Kenneth Stanley, The Australian colonists: an exploration of social history, 1788–1870, Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1974, p. 105.Google Scholar

27 ‘An Imperial Christmas’, Daily News (London), 21 November 1890.

28 ‘Christmas pudding’, The Times, 8 December 1915, p. 13, col. C.

29 Leacock, Stephen, ‘Merry Christmas’, in Frenzied Fiction, London: John Lane, 1918Google Scholar, text available at (consulted 2 December 2008), where the date is incorrectly given as 1919.

30 Belasco, Warren, ‘Introduction’, in Warren Belasco and Phillip Scranton, eds., Food nations: selling taste in consumer cultures, New York: Routledge, 2002, p. 198Google Scholar. See also Procida, Mary A., ‘No longer half-baked: food studies and women's history’, Journal of Women's History, 16, 3, 2004, pp. 197205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Bingham, Adrian, ‘An era of domesticity? Histories of women and gender in interwar Britain’, Cultural and Social History, 1, 2004, pp. 225–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 Atora book of olde time Christmas customs, games & recipes, Manchester: Hugon & Co. Ltd, c.1920s, p. 13 (author's collection).

33 ‘The Xmas pudding that only Mother can make’, from a selection of Christmas leaflets by J. Sainsbury & Co., Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London Docklands.

34 George Orwell (originally written in 1943 under the pseudonym ‘John Freeman’), ‘Can socialists be happy?’, text available at (consulted 2 December 2008).

35 Showcards sold by Brunton and Williams, 14 Paternoster Square, London, EC4 (author's collection).

36 Trentmann, Frank, ‘Before “fair trade”: empire, free trade, and the moral economies of food in the modern world’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 25, 6, 2007, pp. 10791102CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Ward, Paul, ‘“Women of Britain say go”: women's patriotism in the First World War’, Twentieth Century British History, 12, 1, 2001, pp. 2345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

37 ‘A women's movement’, The Times, 20 May 1924, p. 16, col. E.

38 ‘Christmas food supplies’, The Times, 14 December 1925, p. 11, col. E.

39 ‘Empire trade’, The Times, 23 September 1925, p. 5, col. A.

40 Bulbulian, Berge, The Fresno Armenians: history of a diaspora community, Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press Inc, 2001.Google Scholar

41 Stefan Schwartzkopf, ‘Classes to masses: how advertising agencies responded to the challenges of the mass market in interwar Britain’, unpublished paper for the Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Reading, 31 March–2 April 2006.

42 Australian Raisin Producers Association, Nice things made with Australian sultanas, c.1926 (author's collection).

43 ‘Lord Mayor's Day’, The Times, 5 November 1925, p. 5, col. D.

44 ‘Practical propaganda’, The Times, 23 May 1923, p. 7, col. B.

45 Agricultural economics in the empire: report of a committee appointed by the Empire Marketing Board, London: HMSO, 1927, p. 12.

46 ‘Mr Amery on women's influence’, The Times, 26 May 1925, p. 11, col. B.

47 The National Archives, (henceforth TNA), CO/758/104/5.

48 ‘Agricultural economics’, p. 12.

49 Institute for Commonwealth Studies, University of London, ICS79, file 25, prologue.

50 Constantine, Stephen, Buy and build: the advertising posters of the Empire Marketing Board, London: HMSO, 1986.Google Scholar

51 TNA, CO/758/103/6.

52 TNA, CO/758/94/2.

53 ‘Empire Christmas pudding – a gift for The King’, The Times, 21 December 1926, p. 9, col. B.

54 ‘Empire Christmas pudding for The King’, The Times, 23 December 1926, p. 12, col. C.

55 TNA, CO/758.

56 TNA, CO/758/106/4.

57 TNA, CO/758/106/5.

58 ‘The King's Christmas Fare’, The Times, 2 December 1927, p. 11, col. C.

59 ‘Cookery at Olympia’, The Times, 24 November 1928, p. 9, col. B.

60 Self, Robert, ‘Treasury control and the Empire Marketing Board: the rise and fall of non-tariff preference in Britain, 1924–1933’, Twentieth Century British History, 5, 2, 1994, p. 153CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Constantine, Stephen, ‘Bringing the Empire alive’, in John M. McKenzie, ed., Imperialism and popular culture, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986, pp. 192–231Google Scholar; idem, Buy and build.

61 David Cannadine, ‘The context, performance and meaning of ritual: the British Monarchy and the “invention of tradition”, c. 1820–1977’, in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The invention of tradition, p. 152.

62 Ibid., p. 140.

63 The Cooperative Wholesale Society at home and abroad, Manchester: The Cooperative Wholesale Society, c.1936.