Making Eliza Acton’s ‘Essex Pudding (Cheap and Good)’

For a while now, I’ve been posting Historical Orchard Recipes that have caught my eye whilst browsing through old cookery books, but so far I’ve not actually tried to re-create any of them. Until now!

Yesterday, after yet another session of chopping and cooking windfall apples into compote for the freezer, and with mashed spud on the menu for tea[1], I thought I’d try my hand at Eliza Acton’s Essex Pudding from the recipe in the 1845 edition of Modern Cookery in All Its Branches.

Here are the ingredients:

½ pound / 8oz (approx 225g) minced apples
¼ pound / 4oz (approx. 115g) mashed potato
¼ pound / 4oz (approx. 115g) dark brown sugar
4 small eggs, well beaten
grated lemon rind and/or nutmeg (or cinnamon, ginger etc.) to taste

A couple of notes on the above: rather than mincing the apples, I used a portion of the apple compote I’d made earlier. I opted for a half-teaspoon of both cinnamon and ginger for the spicing (I’d run out of nutmeg and didn’t have a lemon to-hand). And because I’d already sweetened the compote with dark brown sugar, I probably should have reduced the amount I added to the pudding mix, but that didn’t occur to me until later. Also, there’s no flour, breadcrumb etc. involved, so it’s gluten free.

The preparation and cooking method is simplicity itself:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a baking dish – I used a large, glass pyrex dish, one that would allow the mix to spread and thin out a bit, rather than a deep dish, as I wasn’t sure how long it would take to bake and wanted to give the middle a good chance of cooking through – and stir well:

2. Bake in the oven for half an hour. Now, Eliza Acton doesn’t say how hot the oven should be, assuming that her audience would know what sort of heat to apply to this sort of dish. So I took a chance on fan-assisted 180°C – 190(ish)°C conventonal / 356°F / gas mark 4 – which seems to me to be a good sort of heat for cooking this sort of thing.

And it worked!

Please excuse the hole in the middle, I stuck a fork in it to make sure it was done.

How did it taste? Well, I absolutely loved it. It had a light texture, definitely a baked batter pudding rather than a cake, so not too doughy or stodgy. The spices and the dark brown sugar give it a lovely caramel-esque flavour, and there are bursts of fruity sweetness from the lumps and chunks of apple that remained whole in the compote. It reminded me vaguely of the curd tarts I used to enjoy when I was a lad, and vaguely of my favourite school dessert – from when I was a really small lad – which was a spicy apple upside-down pudding. Probably a bit on the sweet side – I really should have reduced the amount of added dark brown sugar to compensate for the compote – but nothing I couldn’t handle.

I also asked my wife to try it (before I told her what was in it) and she spotted straight away that it was a batter pudding, said it was “tasty, interesting”. An eyebrow was raised when I mentioned the mashed spud – but when you think about it, that’s just a starch replacement for the flour you’d find in most other puddings and cakes – and she was keen enough to finish her the portion and ask if we could have custard with it next time. So if that’s not a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is.

All in all, I’m putting this down as quite the success. I’ll definitely be adding this one to my gluten free dessert repertoire, and next time I bake an Essex Pudding I think I’ll either use unsweetened compote or a bit less dark brown sugar, and might add in that lemon rind, and a few blueberries as well – not something Eliza Acton would have had access to, but I think they’ll work really well, as would blackcurrants, or raisins – and definitely serve it up with custard, or maybe a dollop of good vanilla ice cream. Yum.

How about you? If you find yourself inspired to try this incredibly simple and rather delicious pudding, please do leave a comment below to let me know how you get on, or email me with notes and photos of your own Essex puddings. I’d love to see your results.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Along with sea bass fried in chorizo butter, courgettes and green beans… it wasn’t just mashed spud for tea.

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