>Half-pay Pudding for the April Daring Bakers’ Challenge

>What do you think of when you hear the word pudding?

Is it Bill Cosby and Jell-O Instant Pudding?
(image courtesy of Imageshack )
I’m sure that’s what many American’s associate when they think of pudding.  Thick, creamy, sweet pudding from a box (or pre-made in a cup) – thickened with cornstarch most likely and flavored with who-knows-what.  
If they’re lucky, some people may think of a lovely banana pudding, rife with sweet bananas and ‘Nila Wafers swimming in thick home-made vanilla custard.
Or perhaps a lovely rice pudding, dotted with raisins and scented with cinnamon.
Or a rich and decadent bread pudding, soaked in a hard Whiskey sauce.
I’m salivating, just thinking about it.
The latter two are probably the closest things we Americans have to a traditional British steamed pudding.  In fact, until very recently, I’d never tried a traditional English steamed pud’. 
This past Christmas, though, my mother decided she was going to “bring us some figgy pudding” for our Christmas Eve feast.  I’m not sure where the recipe originated, but it was somewhat reminiscent of a very moist, very spicy carrot cake (i.e., the spices overpowered everything else in the mix).  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either (she agreed with that assessment, so she won’t be offended by it.  I hope.).
So, when I saw that this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge (and my first) was traditional English suet puddings, I was a little reticent. Only mildly, though, and I got over it pretty quickly.  It is, after all, a challenge for daring bakers looking to try something new and different.  
So I rolled up my sleeves and set to finding some suet.
And I hit a wall.
I started by going online looking for a supplier of suet in the Atlanta area.  I was immediately directed to birding website after birding website, with people discussing the benefits of suet feeders for songbirds.  And guess what?  Suet?  It’s hard to find in Georgia.  Even for birds.
Then I thought I’d check with the butcher at Whole Foods.  Guess what?  Whole Foods?  They don’t butcher their meat on-site.  It comes already trimmed.  So the loin?  Where the suet comes from?  Yeah – it doesn’t come to the Whole Foods meat department with any suet intact.
It was getting down to the wire, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I mean, I figured I could use Crisco, or butter (since our host was kind enough to include some butter-based pudding recipes for folks who didn’t want to use suet), but I really wanted to use suet.
So this past Saturday, in a last desperate attempt, I decided to just do a google search for British grocery suppliers in the Atlanta area.  And guess what?  There was a British specialty grocer fewer than 10 miles from my house.  Who knew?  If you’re looking for canned mushy peas, or Devonshire cream, or meat pasties, or any variety of English, Irish or Scottish tea that you can imagine then Taste of Britain is the place for you.  They also, as it turns out, carry vegetable suet.
Needless to say, I drove over there and purchased said suet post-haste.
The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.
Esther was kind enough to provide us with a variety of recipes, along with a number of alternate sources of recipes for traditional suet puddings.
 Image courtesy of the University of Adelaide eBooks

I was immediately drawn to Isabella Beeton’s The Book of Household Management, originally published in 1861.  Perhaps it had something to do with the full subtitle:

The Book of Household Management

Comprising Information for the

Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and under house-maids, Lady’s-maid, Maid-of-all-work, Laundry-maid, Nurse and nurse-maid, Monthly, wet, and sick nurses, etc. etc.

also, sanitary, medical, & legal memoranda;

with a history of the origin, properties, and uses of all things connected with home life and comfort.

by

Mrs. Isabella Beeton

Nothing lovelier can be found
In Woman, than to study household good.—MILTON.

I especially liked the sound of her Half-pay Pudding.  It’s the end of the month, and anything that helps to save money is always welcome.  I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, so I made a couple of substitutions based on what I had in my pantry – which is, I believe, the spirit of a half-pay pudding anyway. 

I had some home-preserved figs in syrup, so I used those in place of the currants and the syrup from the figs in place of the treacle. 

Half-Pay Pudding adapted from Isabella Beeton’s The Book of Household Management.

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup suet
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup preserved figs (Mrs. Beeton used currants)
2 tablespoons syrup from figs (Mrs. Beeton used treacle)
1 cup milk

Stir together bread crumbs and flour.  
 Add the suet (I used the vegetable suet, which is already shredded pretty finely, but I still used a pastry cutter to incorporate it more completely) and the raisins. 
 Chop the figs and add them to the mixture along with the fig syrup.  Add the milk to moisten, and beat to thoroughly combine.  
 Pour into a buttered pudding bowl (I used a 2-quart stoneware mixing bowl) and cover with foil, cloth or cling-film.  
 Place in a steamer (I used a 4-quart saucepan with an upturned small Pyrex bowl) and let boil/steam for 3-3 1/2 hours.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  The batter had been so loose, I thought surely I’d misread the recipe – I really didn’t think it was going to set up. 
But miraculously it did, and it turned out of the bowl beautifully. It was quite lovely, both in appearance and in flavor.  It wasn’t too sweet and the fig flavor was quite prominent (unlike the figgy pudding we’d had at Christmas). 
I cut into it, and it sliced beautifully also.  I wanted to serve it with a custard sauce, or a whiskey sauce, but I didn’t have any eggs.  I decided to make a quick sauce using a bit of rum, a bit of sweetened condensed milk, and some fig paste I had in the fridge (a mixture of oven-dried fresh figs, brown sugar and orange zest – the filling for my fig rolls).  I just whirred it all up in the food processor until it was smooth.  It was really tasty.
I spooned it over the pudding, and it was delicious.  It added even more fig flavor, and just a bit more sweetness.  The rum didn’t hurt, either.
All-in-all I count this as a success.  The steaming/boiling technique is really intriguing, and I definitely want to try it again, perhaps next time with something a bit richer (when I don’t have to rely on a half-pay end of month recipe).  Thank you Esther for presenting us with this challenge!  
Maybe next time I’ll find actual beef suet. 
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