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Suet Puddings

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Soggy Pud Q and A
Spotted Dick - John Drouot
Two Recipes for Spotted Dog - Allison Fitt
Spotted Dog and Jam Roly Poly - Lois
Two Recipes for Spotted Dick, Richard, Dog - Elaine Jones of Walsall, England
Death by Spotted Dog - Sarah Scott
From the Long of Mystic Seaport - Dave Percival
Civil War Pudding - Bruce Trinque
Fat-Free Christmas Cake - Sue Northcott
Sussex Pond Pudding - Julie Hoffman
Pudding Preparation
             Bradley J. Braun
             Bruce Trinque
             Sara Waterson
Anyone for Spotted Richard? - by John Derbyshire, National Review Online, August 30, 2001
Patrick O'Brian Food for work - Boiled Baby, by Simon Fanshawe, The Guardian, Wednesday 10 December 2003
Sweet Puddings in Skins

Soggy Pud Q and A from New Scientist
Q.   The traditional way to cook a boiled pudding is to tie it in a cotton or linen cloth and immerse it in boiling water. If the water goes off the boil, water gets into the pudding and it goes soggy. What prevents the simmering water--undoubtedly a liquid--penetrating the cloth, when the cloth lets in water when the temperature is only a few degrees lower?

A.   Quite a few Christmases have come and gone since this question was first asked on 15 November 1997. Now, at long last, we are not only printing some of the answers but we are also taking the boiled pudding into the New Scientist lab.

A.   Many years ago my wife added warm water to my mother's Christmas pudding and I don't think my mother has ever forgiven her. I can confirm that Christmas pudding is not at its best when it is eaten through a straw!
The secret of keeping the water out of the pudding lies in the preparation, and you must use the best beef suet.
When the pudding mix is ready, lay a rectangular piece of sheeting on the table. Carefully sift a thick layer of plain flour over this sheeting and place the pudding mix in the centre. Now, in a container large enough to hold both pudding and displaced water add boiling, boiling, boiling water.
Two people are required for the next step. One carefully picks up the edges of the sheeting and twists them together, making sure that there is a layer of plain flour all over the pudding mix. The other person winds strong string tightly around the sheeting below the hands of the person holding the pudding.
Then you slowly lower the pudding into the boiling water and cook for the required time. Keep the pan topped up with boiling water. It is absolutely essential that you use boiling water at every stage.
As well as the boiling water, the flour plays a very important role. The boiling water denatures the protein in the flour so that, rather than being clumpy molecules, the protein stretches out. This makes an effective water barrier by entangling water molecules and preventing their further inward movement. Water that is merely warm simply soaks through the flour into the pudding.
The floury water barrier is assisted by the beef suet in the pudding which melts and slowly moves outwards to join it. Here it makes a kind of "hot water pastry". This skin is flexible when warm but becomes more rigid when cool and helps provide some physical strength to hold the pudding together.
Brushgrove, New South Wales

A.   When water reaches its boiling point it begins to boil throughout its volume. The steam bubbles that are generated are created at points of imperfection (nucleation sites) on the vessel wall or on microscopic particles in the water.
Cotton or linen fibres act as nucleation sites for the bubbles on their surface, which push the bulk of the surrounding water outwards. This in turn creates a barrier to the passage of water through the cloth, although there is still a small percentage that passes through.
If the water is allowed to cool below the boiling temperature, the bubbles disappear, allowing more of the water to soak through the cloth to the pudding inside.
Swindon, Wiltshire

A.   As long as the temperature of the pudding is going up, all the gas (water vapour and carbon dioxide from the baking powder) is expanding and migrating outwards, pushing water from its pores. As soon as the temperature starts to drop, the gas starts to contract, drawing water in from the edges.
Dallas, Texas

A.   These three answers focus on three different effects that occur while the pudding is cooking: the formation of an impermeable layer, bubbles created at nucleation sites slowing water entry, and expansion of gas within the pudding driving water out. Are all correct? We turned to our lab.
To recreate a boiled pudding sitting below the surface of the cooking water, New Scientist carried out the following experiment.
Four old, 100 per cent cotton airtex T-shirts (minus sleeves), with an area of about 1.7 square metres, were wrapped around cricket balls--which are heavy enough not to float--to form spheres that were about 15 centimetres in diameter. The T-shirts were held in place by elastic bands.
Two of the "puddings" were rolled in a mixture of melted butter and olive oil until their surfaces were totally covered. Then all four puddings were wrapped in pudding bags made from an old cotton sheet and tied with string.
Water was heated in a large aluminium pan until it was boiling ferociously. One non-oily and one oily pudding were lowered into the boiling water for 15 minutes. The two remaining puddings (one oily, one non-oily) were immersed in cold water for 15 minutes.
When the 15 minutes were up, the puddings were removed from the boiling water, the pudding bags stripped away and the T-shirts unfolded. On the non-oily pudding, there was a noticeable dry area of T-shirt--about 0.4 square metres--in the centre surrounding the cricket ball. The oily pudding had a larger dry area, about 0.5 square metres. What was also noticeable about these two puddings was that, as they boiled, a layer of bubbles built up beneath the outer pudding bag and the T-shirt, making them more buoyant as they "cooked". This suggests that the layer of air contributed to making the pudding far less saturated with water in the middle and that the layer of butter/oil added to this effect.
Both of the puddings placed in cold water were totally saturated with water and no dry area of T-shirt remained.
It would appear that both air bubbles and fat help to keep the pudding dry as it cooks.
Anyone who would like to make a real pudding rather than boil old T-shirts and cricket balls can take a look at a number of 19th-century recipes for traditional boiled puddings in SOAR, the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes.

Spotted Dick - John Drouot
An old manual of Naval Cookery says that for spotted dick for 16 men (is this contagious?) you will need
4lbs flour
1lb suet
1.5 Ibs currants
1.75d lbs sugar
.5 oz baking powder
Mix together moistening with sufficient milk to make a stiff dough. Tie in a floured cloth and boil for 4 hours for a round pudding and 2.5 hours for a long one.

Two Recipes for Spotted Dog - Allison Fitt
I have 2 recipes for Spotted Dog. One fancy and one plain. Take your pick.
Since the first uses suet, I suspect it is closer to what is mentioned in The Ionian Mission.
Spotted Dog I
1/2 lb. beef suet
1/2 lb. sultanas
1/2 lb. currants
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. bread crumbs
1/4 lb. flour
1/4 lb. chopped candied peel
1/4 lb. blanched almonds, chopped
1/4 lb brown sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
3/4 Cup brandy or rum
6 eggs
2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. mixed spice
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and spice together. Add the finely grated suet and rub it into the flour. Add the fruit and other ingredients. Mix all well together. Add the brandy. Tie in a greased and floured pudding cloth or basin, and boil for 6 hours. NOTE: A 3 hours' steaming before use is recommended for the pudding.

Spotted Dog II
6 slices stale dry bread
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup raisins
1/2 lb. brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp nutmeg
1/2 lb. butter
2 apples
Beat eggs and mix with milk; break bread into pieces and soak in this mixture. Melt butter and add all other ingredients together. Bake in well greased 2 quart casserole dish, covered, at 450 degrees for 45 minutes.

Spotted Dog and Jam Roly Poly - Lois
Last March, Gourmet Magazine, no less, had recipes for Spotted Dick, Roly Poly Pudding, Suet Pastry, and rendering suet.
The Mesdames Grossman sent a letter to Gourmet's editor the following month, objecting to the instructions the magazine gave for working with suet. Gourmet's English recipe person responded with justifications, stating her recipes took into account the inferior suet available in the US, and gave the proper method for making the deserts in the US approximate the ways they came out in their county of origin, etc. etc. She said using US suet and not working it the way Gourmet recommended, would result in a heavy unauthentic dish.
Here are Gourmet's recipes.
Spotted Dick
Active time: 40 min Start to finish: 2 1/2 hr
1/2 cup mixed currants and golden raisins or other assorted dried fruit
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
Suet pastry dough
Custard sauce
Special equipment: 1-quart ceramic pudding mold
Fill a large heavy pot (at least 8 inches across by 6 inches deep, with a tight-fitting lid) with 1 1/2 inches water. Make a platform for pudding by setting metal cookie cutters or egg-poaching rings in bottom of pot. Knead fruit and zest into dough and form dough into a ball. Put into well-buttered pudding mold and flatten top. Top dough with a round of buttered wax paper, buttered side down, and cover top of mold with heavy-duty foil, crimping tightly around edge.
Bring water in pot to a boil and set mold on platform. Steam pudding, covered, over simmering water 1 1/2 to 2 hours (add more boiling water to pot if necessary), or until golden and puffed. Transfer pudding in mold to a rack and let stand 5 minutes. Discard foil and wax paper and run a thin knife around edge of pudding. Invert a plate over mold, then invert pudding onto plate. Serve immediately with custard sauce.
Cooks' note:
Coarsely chop any large pieces of dried fruit.
Makes 6 servings.

Suet Pastry Dough
Makes enough for 1 spotted dick or jam roly-poly
You can order ground fresh beef suet from your butcher. The suet will not be rendered; the process of rendering suet is a simple one and will yield a lighter, cleaner-tasting pudding.
Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 15 min
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold finely chopped rendered beef suet (4 oz)
8 tablespoons whole milk
Pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Add suet and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Drizzle evenly with milk and stir with a fork until incorporated. Knead until a slightly sticky dough is formed.

To Render Beef Suet
Active time: 10 min Start to finish: 3 hr
1/2 lb ground fresh beef suet
Cook suet in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat until melted and clear and cracklings are golden, about 20 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl, then cool. Chill until firm and white. Finely chop suet.
Cooks' note:
Rendered suet keeps, covered and chilled, 1 month.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

A Cook from Chicago says:
Put a half cup of water in the saucepan also. This will allow the suet to heat up evenly and will eventually steam off. Rendered suet is excellent for sauteed potatoes.

Jam Roly-Poly
Active time: 45 min Start to finish: 2 1/2 hr
Suet pastry dough
6 tablespoons thick strawberry jam
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
Custard sauce
Fill a large heavy pot (at least 10 inches across, with a tight-fitting lid) with 12 inches water. Make a platform for pudding by setting metal cookie cutters or egg-poaching rings in bottom of pot.
Center a 10- by 8-inch sheet of wax paper or parchment paper on top of a 14-inch square of heavy-duty foil with a short edge toward you.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to form a 10- by 6-inch rectangle. Spread jam over dough, leaving a 2-inch border around edges, and brush border with water. Starting with a short side, roll up dough to form a 6-inch log. Gently pinch seam to seal.
Center log, seam side down, on wax paper and brush with melted butter. Fold short sides of wax paper loosely over log and wrap log loosely in foil, crimping edges together over top to seal completely and leaving space in package for pudding to expand slightly.
Bring water in pot to a boil and set mold on platform. Steam pudding, covered, over simmering water 1 1/2 to 2 hours (add more boiling water to pot if necessary), or until golden and puffed. Transfer pudding in foil to a rack and let stand 5 minutes.
Unwrap pudding and gently slide onto a platter. Slice and serve immediately with custard sauce.
Makes 6 servings.

Custard Sauce
Active time: 20 min Start to finish: 20 min
1 1/2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Bring milk just to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl and add hot milk in a slow stream, whisking. Pour custard into pan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and a thermometer registers 170 degrees F. Pour through a fine sieve into a pitcher and serve warm.
Cooks' note:
Custard sauce keeps, its surface covered with plastic wrap and chilled, 2 days.
Makes about 2 cups.

Two Recipes for Spotted Dick, Richard, Dog - Elaine Jones of Walsall, England
I have two recipes for Spotted Dick, Richard, Dog, etc. The first, genteelly named "Sultana Roll" comes from my husband's late grandmother who was once "in service" at one or two big houses just outside Newbury, Berkshire. She was 5 foot nothing and raised a large family. Her strapping sons must have enjoyed this recipe many a time (I certainly did when she made it for me once).
8oz self-rising flour
Pinch of salt (optional)
4 oz margarine or butter
2oz caster sugar (optional)
4-6 oz sultanas
6 tablespoons water
Sieve flour and salt. Rub in the margarine or butter (or mix with fork). Add sugar and sultanas. Mix in water to make a soft dough. Turn onto floured board and form into a roll. Wrap loosely but securely in greaseproof paper, foil or a clean cloth. Tie or seal ends. Place in steamer and cover tightly. Steam for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

The second recipe from Caroline Conran's "British Cooking" is as follows:
3oz self-rising flour
2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs (or omit breadcrumbs and use 5oz flour)
3oz chopped suet (reduced fat vegetable suet is healthier, but drier)
3oz raisins
3oz currents
2oz sugar
pinch of salt
vanilla essence
1/4 pint milk
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix them together well. Add the milk and vanilla essence and mix to a fairly soft dough. Put the mixture in a greased 2-pint pudding basin and cover with kitchen foil, making a pleat across the centre to allow the pudding to rise. Tie the foil firmly in place with string, forming a handle across the top so that you can lift the pudding easily.
Place in steamer (or stand basin on inverted saucer in the bottom of large pan of boiling water) and let it steam, covered, for 2 hours.
Serve with custard sauce.
(My adaptation of the above is to pour Golden Syrup liberally in the bottom of the basin, so that it runs down the outside of the pudding when it is turned out.)

From the Long of Mystic Seaport - Dave Percival
The Spring 1996 issue of the Long of Mystic Seaport contains a lengthy article entitled Roly-Poly, Spotted Dick, and Toasted Cheese by Sandra L. Oliver. Included are POB references to various dishes and contemporary recipes. The spotted dog (dick) recipe comes from Alison Uttley's Recipes From an Old Farmhouse, 1966.
"The pudding was a mixture of a cupful of flour and a cupful of suet, a cupful of currants, an egg and a little milk to mix. It was a boiled dumpling pudding for a working day, to appease the hunger of farm men, a primitive pudding known through the centuries, boiled in a cloth.
"The recipe really does work. Use a standard measuring cup for the "cupful" measures, tossing all ingredients together and adding the milk gradually until you have a sticky dough. Put into a greased and floured earthenware bowl. Dampen a piece of muslin large enough to cover the bowl generously, lay it over the top doubling it back on itself for an inch or two to allow room for expanding. Tie it down with string. Use a bow to tie it so you can open the pudding easily to check for doneness. Boil for an hour and a half. If a skewer or knife inserted comes out clean, the pudding is done.
"This is rich and will serve 6-8 people generously. As with roly-poly, a melted jam or jelly sauce is nice."

Death by Spotted Dog - Sarah Scott
In a fit of midwinter pique, yesterday I made a Spotted Dog that would have done Jack proud. It was a beautiful brown with "glistening, faintly translucent sides", as fine a spotted dog as could be wished. Everyone liked it - as L&SD says "a moist, dense, cake-like texture; it is sweet but not too sweet, spicy, but not too spicy, and altogether satisfying."
We each ate a most moderate slice-- my custard sauce was lovely. "They ate this on your ships?" my husband asked, Jack-like helping himself to a second slice.
Then it settled lower in our stomacks. "Hmm. Rich." I said, "Solid."
Half an hour later I lay out flat on the bed, in a heavy, Spotted Dog-induced stupor. Thirty five percent of me struggled to throw up that great rich mass that was throwing my system into revolt. My husband, an active man, sat on a chair with a groan, a look of concentration on his face. We sat, or lay still.
Eventually I fell into a troubled sleep, the moderate slice having somehow seemingly grown, tumor-like, into a giant mass that stole my rest. When I rolled over it shifted weight like a five-month pregnancy.
In sleep-deprived desperation, I fought the urge for a black draught.
Unrested, I rose this morning, contemplating a hearty breakfast of celery
and water.
As a Spotted Dog Survivor I would like to urge these words upon would be nautical cooks, whose 20th century diet, replete with fresh vegetables and reasonable portions, would replicate Jack's dinner:
1) for anything less that 30 strong, physically hardworking men, half the recipe.
2) wafer thin slices-- even though it tastes good.

Civil War Pudding - Bruce Trinque
Not only the Royal Navy enjoyed a good pudding. While reading a new book about the American Civil War (A. Wilson Greene's "Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion: The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign" -- and a very good book it is) I ran across the following reference from a Wisconsin soldier in the trenches before Petersburg in the winter of 1864-65:
"... we bought 7 pounds of indian meal and 1 pound of raisins and 1/2 pound of butter and 3 eggs and 1 nutmeg ... we mixed up our pudding with the eggs and rasins and boild it in a bag ... we had a capitol dinner of soft bread and butter plumb pudding and apple sauce."
I presume the "indian meal" was corn [maize] meal.

Fat-Free Christmas Cake - Sue Northcott
My mother-in-law had a huge heart operation last September and also suffers with gall stones so we're becoming familiar with fat free cookery. I managed a really good (virtually) fat free Christmas cake based on a 'Bara Brith' (speckled bread) recipe that I use.
3 cups of self-rising flour
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of dried fruit
1 cup of milk (skimmed)
1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice.
To make it more 'chrismassy' I used lots of different sorts of dried fruit, soaked overnight in brandy, plenty of nuts, and I 'fed' the baked cake with brandy for the few weeks before Christmas. It certainly didn't taste fat free, and I'll be doing it again next year.

Sussex Pond Pudding - Julie Hoffman
Sussex Pond Pudding
I can highly recommend this and it will make a suet pudding lover out of anyone (or that which are not vegetarians). It may not be of the time period, though it's so good many lissuns may ignore the fact. The outside of the cake is crispy, the next layer moist and cake like and the inside..................molten bliss.
Lashings of heavy cream not required.

Pudding Preparation
Bradley J. Braun
On Basins: Any lipped Corningware ceramic baking dish will do that comes with a resealable lid as there is a rim there that the cloth can be tied over. Modifying a coat hanger as hooks to the twine before lowering into the pot is another good hint. The pudding is more cake-like the finer the semi-frozen suet is chopped and grated. Less chopped = a greasier pudding slice. The basin will rattle in the boiling pot but a couple of marbles or a trivet in the pot helps. Use a enameled pot to save on clean-up time as the ladies say.
On Suet: I had to go to Fulton Market in Chicago to a meat packing supplier to find the suet. At .25 cents a pound I now have more than I need but it freezes well and is very much like a durable wax.

Bruce Trinque
As Dudley Pope put it, the ship's cook only real duty was to watch water boiling. The actual preparation of food (like the mixing of a pudding) was done by the individual mess cooks, then delivered to the ship's cook who would boil it (along with every other mess's food). No particular training or talent was required for the job.

Sara Waterson
Maybe the problem is that for naval authenticity they are boiled in a cloth in the water, whereas in traditional suet pudding cookery in the home, they are wrapped in a cloth then put in a pudding basin and steamed for several hours in a steamer above the saucepan of boiling water, like Christmas pudding. Nowadays in fact people just tie the folded cloth over the top of the pudding basin.

Corner image from my personal collection.