Plum Pudding à la Charles Dickens


Goodmorning dear Friends of Literature!

puddingIn ‘Kafka’s Soup‘ – A Complete History of Literature in 17 Recipes written and illustrated by Mark Crick – I discovered the right recipe for this year’s Christmas installment of ‘Literatuur op vrijdag‘, namely ‘Plum Pudding à la Charles Dickens’, because Crick serves this pudding-for-this-time-of-the year within the framework of three remarkable trials, situated in the cosy chambers and court of Judge Tobias Hungby on the day of Christmas Eve in 1842.

In the first trial Judge Hungby is preparing himself for the last case of the year 1842: ‘a boy, was to stand (…) before the judge’s bench, charged with violent robbery of items necesarry for the concoction of a plum pudding and without doubt, a worthy subject for transportation in the impartial eyes of Tobias Hungby‘. Just as ‘the Artful Dodger‘ – also known as Jack Dawkins, a character in Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist – was, but he in the meantime died reads Judge Hungby in his newspaper: ‘The Artful Dodger was dead, of that there could be no doubt. His brief light had shone brightly on Jacob’s Island and in the unlit streets of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, where many had made him their model. And oh, he had made them laugh when he stood in the dock, for Fagin – the leader of the pack of young pickpockets in Oliver Twist – had said that he would never peach, not the Dodger, even if he were for the drop, and he never did. But Fagin was dead, stretched a week before, so it was the transports for the Dodger. His passage, HMS Penitent had gone down in rough seas. Captain and crew had abandoned ship, but the cargo had not been saved, and the cargo was prisoners, flesh and blood, men and boys, chained and shackled, and the great weight of iron had dragged them down and the Artful Dodger had sunk where there were no snuff boxes, nor candlesticks, nor silverware, nor bright kerchiefs, and the Dodger’s nimble hands lay among the coral where denizens of others depths picked at him, until he had no more to give.‘ Transportation is business as usual for Judge Hungby. He had ‘shown as little interest in the welfare of those he sent on their way as he showed now that their voyage had come to its brutal end.’ But a change of attitude is near, although Judge Hungby’s mindset is still anti-prison: ‘it was well known that prisoners were better fed than the law-abiding poor‘. Until a drip strucks Judge Hungby from the ceiling on the forehead. A leak! Judge Hungby can not suppress a shiver ‘as he now remarked a striking resemblance of the dark patches on the ceiling to the eyes and mouth of a skull. From the mouth the drips had become a steady stream whilst the drops from the eye sockets might have been mistaken for tears.‘ Very soon Judge Hungby’s chambers are full with water and because the door is locked by clerk Dism who was summoned to investigate the leak – Judge Hungby needs to climb on his desk to safe his soul from the water and the flotsam that bumps about ‘the wooden island‘. While Judge Hungby tries to retrieve his barrister’s wig from the water, he to his great horror spots a corpse floating in the water, and what a corpse: one with chains hanging from ankles and wrists that above all speaks as follows: ‘My snuff’s all wet, you wouldn’t ave a pinch would yer? Enchanté, says the corpse, don’t you know me, I am the Artful Dodger: ‘I was to be the greatest of my time. Didn’t the gaffer ‘imself say so? Worth fifty times the tuppenny halfpenny snuff box what you lagged me for. Oh, but you could teach the gaffer a thing or two, I’ll bet you made a bit of blunt a sending of boys on the transports.‘ The – floating-on-his-back-in-the-water – Artful Dodger turns the tables: the sobbing Judge Hungby becomes the suspect, whilst the Artful Dodger puts on the Judges’ wig (‘Tears in the court? You won’t fool me, you old cur. Call the first witness‘)And look who emerges from the water: Fagin. ‘Thank ee, Fagin. Can you tell the court, in your own words, Mr Fagin, the particklers of the crime.‘ No problem, your honour: ‘Yes, my dear, I was minding my own business, a planning of your release, when that villain put this rope about my neck and sent me for the drop. Oh, ladies and gentlemen of the court I did suffer in extremest’. No time for tears orders Judge Artful Dodger, could you please mr Fagin indicate the villain who did this to you: ‘That’s ‘im – pointing to Judge Hungby – a more bloodthirsty devil, or tidier murderer I’ve never seen.‘ The ‘verdick’ is a piece of cake: guilty and sentenced to death by hanging: ‘A noose fell from the darkness above and hung before the judge’s face. While the condemned man begged for clemency, and promised an end to transportation, the huge convict tied the judge’s arms, fastened the noose about his neck and then stepped down into the water to join company with his fellow phantoms.‘ A bad phantom day in the office one could say: Judge Hungby drops, and while the tightening noose cuts short his scream, Tobias Hungby loses consciousness, with a terrific convulsion of the limbs.

With that state of mind the second trial starts. Judge Hungby clearly wakes up from a bad dream which has awoken Hungby’s compassion. ‘Sir, the court is waiting‘, calls clerk Dism at the door. ‘What day is it?‘ ‘Why it’s Christmas Eve, sir’ ‘Then there has been no inundation of my chambers?‘ ‘No sir, the leak was occasioned by the clerks above, sir, upturning a jug of porter in premature high spirits of the season’ ‘Then I have not been on trial for my life. O glorious day, o wonderful clerk, Dism, o season of joy, quick, quick help me into my gown’. And with his wig on (‘showing an expression of such contentment that I doubt has ever been seen beneath that token of authority in general and I am certain had never been seen beneath that token in particular‘) Judge Hungby sets to work on the case of the boy that stole the ingredients for the concoction of plum pudding (four ounces of raisins and currants each), Tom White. ‘Poor boy. Hunger, Dism is a terrible thing. Would that Famine might stand one day before me in the dock. Now is the season to chase him from the world.’ The courtroom is packed to capacity: ‘Outside the sun struggled to make himself known from above the cloud that has settled over Holborn and the city, and could do little to raise the temperature on such a cold December morning. The clean white snow sat high up on the rooftops and dripped down into the dirty snow that lay in the streets and found itself churned and begrimed by the passing traffic. Shoppers performed like circus entertainers as they carried improbable numbers of parcels, and grocers and poulterers watched queus form as they struggled to cope with the demand at this time when all eat more heartily than on any other day of the year. Yet some still found leisure to fill the gallery for a chance to see the guilty pay for their crimes, or to warm their hands and feet before the spectacle of the law. A young boy of eight or nine years of age stood in the dock, his face so wan, so prematurely old, like so many of his kind. Only a wooden crate enables the little creature to be seen behind the iron spikes that served to keep such ferocious creatures from the good men of the bench.’ Judge Hungby can not reconcile a conviction of the boy with his conscience, but there is strong evidence against the boy, presented by prosecutor Mr. Bisquiz (‘Bisquiz’s techniques rarely failed in the court of Judge Hungby‘). The evidence of the shopkeeper – Mr Tartberry – is straightforward: he caught Tom in the act while he was serving Mrs Chickenstalker, but Tom managed to escape and was later on found in the basement of a building ‘tending a pudding‘ holding a scrap of paper upon which was written ‘Mace and Nutmeg’. ‘I hesitate to encourage the ladies and gentleman of the court to imagine what violence our young plotter intended for Mr Tartberry and those who would stand in his way. Harmless he may look, but I never saw a juvenile more bound for the gallows. Who here would care to see the prisoner at liberty, armed with mace and ready to nutmeg us in our beds for a pound of raisins.‘ Judge Hungby is an awkward predicament, but fortunetaly for Hungby the boy faints, which offers Hungby a possibility to take the boy to his chambers and to interrogate mr Tartberry with regard to the appearance of the ‘thief’. Although Mr Tartberry declares that he would know him anywhere he is unable to describe the boy in particular (‘I have a pretty large experience of boys and they’re a bad set of fellows at that, but that they are small, with a roguish look, would appear to be an aspect common to all boys.’). Upon the return of the boy in the courtroom he turns to wear a brown faded coat and to have rich brown eyes ‘that gazed out fearfully on all the majesty of the law‘ instead of a green coat and blue eyes. ‘At this manifestation of the shopkeeper’s error, a great roar rose up from the gallery and broke like a wave upon the court and over its foam and surf came the judgement of Hungby: ‘Case dismissed! Tartberry, bring the pudding.

The third trial deserves to be ‘served’ completely (the proof of the pudding is in the eating as we all know):

So clerk and counsel, judge and gaoler, prisoner and policeman gathered in the judge’s chamber. Tom took his place at the table where sat the pudding, and Mr Bisquiz inquiring as to its manufacture learned how Tom had sifted the flour, salt and baking powder and had mixed these with breadcrumbs, suet, dried fruit, sugar and spices.

“Does that not make for an awful dry mixture?” inquired the judge.

“No sir, not once I added the egg and milk and mixed it well. Please, sir, then I turned it into a well-greased basin, which I covered and steamed for five hours.”

And old Bisquiz, holding up his portion before the lamp to examine its colour, and poking and prodding its surface to test its texture, finally consented to place a morsel in his too hollow cheek where he could find no false note in the flavour of the pudding. And even Tarberry, who was in no small hurry to return to his busy shop, allowed that if they were his dried fruits then they were put to uncommon good use and that he might shift a good many of the puddings next season if Tom White had a mind to make them with good ingredients, honestly come by. And all agreed that there had never been a better pudding nor a better Christmas Eve. And the ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed pudding sat and gleamed to hear itself talked of in such terms, shining in the fatness of its new steamed glory and urging and beseeching one and all to share its eating. As for Judge Hungby, looking on as his companions laughed and feasted about the same desk upon which, only that morning, he had feared to breathe his last, he could find in his heart no word of criticism for the pudding, that he judged to be a good one. In such company even Dism caught a taste of optimism for the new year, and young Tom, who had never before sat among such gentil folk was so exceedingly grateful for his deliverance from the charges, for the warm fire at his back and for the laughter that shook the judge’s desk, but most of all for the rich, sweet comforting taste of the plum pudding, one mouthful of which was as good as safeguard against hunger and low spirits as a man can hope for, that he cried aloud,

“God bless us, every one.”

Gino van Roeyen


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