Chapter Rating: K+

The Plum Pudding Problem

"Ta-dah," Alice said perfunctorily without the necessary exclamation to make it sound sincere.

Tarrant watched as she slid the large pudding onto the table. His eyes darted from the pudding to Alice's disappointed face.

"Plum puddings are different Above?" he asked warily.[1] This one was decidedly lopsided. The puddings that were often served and rarely eaten at court were perfectly round.[2] Thackery never served lopsided puddings.

"It's not supposed to look like this," she admitted, slipping into the chair opposite him. "I just wanted to make a nice Christmas pudding," she sighed.[3]

Alice's cooking left something to be desired, although Tarrant would never say so. She had been trained in embroidering screens (with uneven stitches), playing the pianoforte (rather poorly), dancing the quadrille (avoided when possible), singing (a little off key), and being a proper hostess at tea. None of it mattered to Tarrant, but of all these things, he would have hoped that tea hosting would have served her best. Unfortunately, Alice's notions about tea parties did not match Underlandian standards. What she had not been taught was how to bake bannock or make burnt cream.[4]

"You're a very good boy, Alice, but perhaps you should not have stuck your thumb in it," he suggested carefully, as he fingered his fork.[5] Perhaps it would not taste as crooked as it looked.

Alice frowned. "I did no such thing, husband."

He tilted his head. "If you put your head just like so," he suggested, perking up at the discovery of this manner of improving the appearance of the half deflated pudding.

Alice grabbed up a knife.

He blinked quickly, but relaxed as she slid the knife into the pudding and not…

"We could set the table on the wall, Alice," he added, as he continued to think of solutions.

"This was to be our first Christmas," Alice continued, her disappointment unabated by his proposals.

Alice set great store in this Christmas festival from Above and was determined he experience it as he Ought. "Is it not anymore?"

She slid him a serving. "No, it is. It just isn't perfect. It looks frightful."

"Perfect is tedious," Tarrant pronounced, already feeling better about the irregular pudding. After all, the irregularity might make it taste that much better. Never mind his experience with Alice's cooking thus far.

He froze, however, as his mouth closed around the pudding. This was nothing like Underlandian pudding. Nothing at all. It not only Looked frightful, it Tasted frightful. Nonetheless, he swallowed, when he noticed Alice watching him with great interest.

His darling lass wanted it to be perfect for him! "So salty!" he said cheerfully, as the bite made it down to his stomach. He hoped very much that his stomach would behave and not say anything to the contrary. Stomachs could be Contrary Creatures.

"Salty?" Alice whispered in disbelief, as she set down her own fork, which had not yet made it to her lips.

"Just the way I like it," he lied, taking up another forkful. He was quite sure that it was a White Lie—absolutely harmless if one was a subject of the kingdom of the White, which luckily he was.

The progress of the food to his mouth was stopped, as Alice's hand shot out and caught his wrist. "Stop, Tarrant. I think I may have mixed the sugar up with the salt."

He giggled, gratefully setting the fork down as her hand released his wrist. "Thackery may have switched the labels," he admitted. This disaster was not exactly Alice's Fault.

Alice shoved her plate away. "And why would he do that?" she asked a little irritably.

"In retaliation for the Salt Fairy trying to steal his salt," he explained, lifting his napkin from his lap and laying it on the table.

"Sugar Plum Fairy, you mean?" Alice asked.[6]

"What nonsense!" he giggled once more, tickled by her whimsy. "Sugar Fairy, who has ever heard of such a thing? Fairies have no need for sugar, lass." He paused, "But that puts me in mind. Should you like some sugar plums, Alice dear?"[7]

Alice smiled weakly. "I would very much like something. Otherwise, I fear the pair of us will wither away," she concluded, reaching over to caress his waistcoat, which admittedly hung a little loose.

His mouth twitched and his heart hammered. Alice had spoken extensively about Christmas and she had said nothing about Touching. If Christmas included Alice Touching, he would be a great deal fonder of the festival than he was so far.

He cleared his throat of the Thoughts that had begun to crowd his brain and fill his throat and chest. "Sugar plums?" he inquired, his voice carefully high and light.

"Yes," Alice repeated her interest in such a treat, smiling somewhat indulgently, as if she guessed at the Path of his Thoughts.

"Thackery has made some," he said, rising from the table and offering her his hand.

"You want to walk back to Marmoreal?" she asked, taking his hand.

"Why, yes. You said Christmas was about family."

"It is."

He smiled brightly at her. "Well then, lass, grab your cloak. Our family is at the palace…with plates full of sugar plums."

And then Christmas became Much Better. Alice stood on her toes and kissed him.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered against his lips.

"Very," he agreed.

[1] Plum puddings can be traced back to the early 15th century and were not originally associated with Christmas. Victorian plum puddings were not made of plums but raisins and prunes, as any number of dried fruit were called plums. It was served at the beginning of the meal.

[2] Plum puddings appear twice in Through the Looking Glass. A plum pudding is served but sent away at the banquet to celebrate Alice becoming queen. Tenniel's illustrations also depict the snap-dragonfly as a creature made of a plum pudding body, holly wings, and a flaming raisin head. It makes its nest in a Christmas box. This is a pun on a popular parlor game called Snapdragon, which was played on Christmas Eve. Raisins were placed in a bowl of flaming brandy and the goal was to pluck out the raisins and eat them without getting burnt. Like bobbing for apples with fire, those crazy Victorians. Do not try this at home!

[3] By the 1670s the plum pudding was associated with Christmas, and the earliest record of the plum pudding being referred to as a Christmas pudding dates to 1858. Plum puddings were so closely associated with Christmas in Victorian England that even workhouse criminals were given one on the 25th.

[4] Bannock and burnt cream are traditional Scottish cuisine. Bannock is a flat bread cut into wedges called scones. Burnt cream is like French crème brûlée and was introduced to England about the same time (late 19th century) as its French cousin. Burnt cream is said to have originated in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and it was made by placing a hot branding iron atop cream.

[5] Tarrant is referencing the nursery rhyme, "Little Jack Horner," which was first published in 1725. The rhyme is as follows:

"Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said 'What a good boy am I!"

[6] The Sugar Plum Fairy is a character from Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker, based on the German story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written by E. T. Hoffman in 1816.

[7] As with plum pudding, sugar plums were not actually made of plums. Instead, they were round candies, flavored, and colored, and had wire stems to make them appear to be fruit. They frequently had aniseed at their centers, and they were fashionable Christmas treats from the 17th to 19th centuries.