What can we learn about the Empire from a Christmas pudding?

This lesson starts with a simple fun activity, working competitively in teams to locate the source of ingredients for an Empire Christmas pudding using a world map to help. Pupils are then introduced to the changing nature of the empire in the inter-war years before considering a number of adverts produced by the Empire Marketing Board. The lesson finishes with pupils writing an expert caption to accompany a significant painting from the time. They must show the significance of the date and the real purpose of the authors in producing it.

Learning objectives

  • to consolidate pupils’ understanding of the vast range of the empire in the Inter-War years
  • to help pupils to understand how the empire constituted three different types of possession
  • to make judgements about the health of the empire at the time
  • to grasp the growing economic rather than military function of the empire and to explore the role of women in this


You might make this dramatic by bringing in a selection of ingredients from the recipe on the PowerPoint presentation and ask pupils if they can work out what they might be used for. Just a few would do supplemented by cards with the names of the more perishable items! How many will guess it is a Christmas pudding?

Step 1

Now explain that in the Inter-War years households were encouraged to use ingredients from the empire in their baking. Show the ingredients for the Empire Christmas pudding of 1925. Stress the fact that the Empire Marketing Board that produced this described the empire almost as if it were a family. I wonder how accurate that was?

Step 2

Now show pupils the ingredients for the Christmas pudding using slide 3. Ask pupils if any of them can guess the country that provided them. Use slide 4 and 5 to give them a few hints. Now the fun starts. Put pupils into pairs and explain that they are to compete to see which is the first team to guess them all correctly, using the initial letter of the country shown on slide 6. The map on slide 7 (which you will need to print off, preferably to A3), gives most clues.

Step 3

Now ask pupils to check their own answers, using slide 8 to help them. Have a small joke prize for the winning pair. Discuss any issues arising, anything that surprised or perplexed them.

Step 4

Now for something more serious! Showing the map again explain the different colours and shading in the key. Emphasise that the empire in this period, (remind them that it is 1920-30 they are looking at), can be seen as falling into three categories. Refer to the situation in Iraq to help make this relevant. Pupils should grasp that many parts of the Empire are becoming increasingly self-governing.

Step 5

Now show slides 9 and 10 examples from the Empire marketing Board from 1929. Ask the pupils to think about what these sources tell us about empire at this time? Why was the advert produced? Why was it necessary to produce them at this time, when they hadn’t been produced before?

Step 6

Now return to the painting shown on slide 4 and 5. Can pupils write an expert caption for this? To strengthen their contextual knowledge, explain that the 1930s was a time of high unemployment. Remind them of the fact that the empire was described as a family. Show the lady making the pudding mixing all the ingredients together as a metaphor for mixing of races. Stress also that this was a time when the constitutional ties that bound the empire together were being loosened (as explained in step 4).

Step 7

Remind pupils to explain the importance of the date and the purpose of the painting as well as the content. Print off slide 11 onto an A4 sheet and ask pupils to write their expert caption underneath. If time ask pupils to evaluate the quality of each others’ captions.


  What can a Christmas pudding tell us about the Empire


Many of the resources featured in this lesson came from the following website. I am very grateful for their permission to reproduce selected images here.

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