Berry and currant season is in full swing and so far this summer1I use the term in its strictly calendrical sense, rather than to reflect the weather conditions that we’ve been experiencing in our neck of the woods for the past few weeks… I’ve been picking whitecurrants, redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and the earliest raspberries. I’ve been bottling, jamming, freezing, and of course eating them straight off the bush or cane, but I’ve also been on the look-out for tasty recipe ideas to help me make the most of my fruit-garden glut.
Something that did occur to me was summer pudding and, most likely, the name conjures up the sort of bright pink, slightly sticky-looking, bread and fruit confection that you see in the screenshot of random summer pudding images at the top of this post. It’s the sort of thing that pops up on Sunday morning cookery shows, turns up in work-a-day cook books, and was probably your granny or grandad’s favourite when they were nippers. Summer Pudding is easy to make, as the recipe on the BBC Good Food website suggests, and probably tastes quite lovely2I say ‘probably’ because I have to admit I’ve never sampled a summer pudding. It wasn’t a thing we had when I was a kid and isn’t something I could eat these days due to wheat gluten really not liking me. And I rather suspect that gluten free bread would have zero chance of holding it shape if it was soaked through with fruit juices. Although it does sound like an experiment I might have to try some day..
Summer pudding is one of those classics – like spotted dick, bread and butter pudding, or lemon meringue pie – that feels as though it must have been a kitchen staple for centuries, surely. Well, hold that thought, because in my quest for a historical summer pudding recipe I’ve been rambling through some of the old cookery sources on Google Books, and it turns out that summer pudding, at least in its present form, isn’t quite as long-established as you might think.
The oldest recipe I could find with ‘summer pudding’ in the name is for ‘Queen Mab’s Summer Pudding’, which was first published in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery in All its Branches, the earliest available edition of which is the second, which was published in 1845. The recipe, which can be found on p. 440, is quite long and convoluted3I’ve posted it separately, here, if you’re interested…, but it features milk, ground almonds, and egg yolks. The result is a fruit-flavoured set custard, with no bread involved, so it’s a long way from the modern summer pudding.
Flour was introduced as a main ingredient in the next phase of summer pudding’s evolution, but this time the end result was a stick-to-your-ribs boiled pudding; a summer version of the plum pudding that was hugely popular in colder months. This example can be found on p.194 of Cre-Fydd’s Family Fayre (1864):
The text in the image reads:
“Make a batter as follows:- Moisten five tablespoonfuls of dry flour with a gill of new milk; stir till quite smooth; then add three quarters of a pint of boiling milk and five ounces of sugar. Boil five minutes. Beat three fresh eggs and add to the batter while warm but not boiling; beat for ten minutes; stir in three quarters of a pint of any kind of summer fruit. Butter a basin, put in the pudding. tie a cloth (dredged with flour) over securely, plunge the basin into plenty of boiling water and boil fast for an hour and a half. Turn out carefully and serve immediately with sweet sauce poured over.”
Similar boiled versions of summer pudding can be found in other volumes, such as Henry Southgate’s Things a Lady Would Like to Know Concerning Domestic Management and Expenditure (1876) and Cassel’s Dictionary of Cookery (1883).
Bread seems to have been introduced as a main ingredient not long after Cre-Fydd’s boiled pudding version, the earliest example I’ve found being ‘Minnie’s Fruit Pudding’ in Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (1866) by J. C. Croly. Here though the finished dish is much closer to a classic bread and butter pudding than the summer pudding I’m searching for:
The text in the image reads:
“Mix a pound of red currants stemmed with an equal quantity of raspberries, have ready bread and butter in slices ; place a layer of bread and butter in the bottom of a buttered pudding dish ; then a layer of fruit, covered thickly with sugar, then another layer of bread and butter, and so on till the fruit is used up, and the dish is full. A thick layer of fruit and sugar should complete the top. Bake slowly for an hour and serve in the same dish. It is delicious and wholesome.”
It does indeed sound both delicious and wholesome, as do similar bread-and-fruit baked layer puddings such as: ‘Hamilton Pudding’ in New Peterson Magazine (1868), ‘Summer Pudding’ in Cookery From Experience (1875) by Sara T. Paul, and ‘Summer Pudding’ in vol. 101 of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Ladies American Magazine (1880).
I was getting closer, but I still hadn’t arrived at the classic ‘bread dome’ version that’s known and loved today. Then I finally remembered to check Glyn Hughes’ fabulous Foods of England website. There I found two recipes for the ‘bread dome’ version of summer pudding, both published in 1893; one from the Burnley Express for Saturday 10th June that year and another from the Blackburn Standard for Saturday 1st July.
The Burnely version calls for a basin to be lined with bread, filled with raspberries and redcurrants, the top sealed with bread, and then for the pudding to be steamed rather than boiled… close, but no cigar. The Blackburn version has a basin lined with buttered bread and filled with alternate layers of buttered bread and fruit, which is then put aside until the next day and served cold. Almost there! But there’s a lot more bread involved than the modern version calls for.
Finally, just as I was about to give up and assume that the origins of the modern summer pudding must lie in some still-in-copyright – and therefore inaccessible online – cookbook from the 1920s or 1930s, I stumbled across a short recipe in the ‘Domestic Economy’ column of the Pacific Rural Press for September 27th 1890:
Here’s the text version:
“Butter a plain mold and line it with neat slices of bread; then fill it up with any kind of stewed fruit (currants and raspberries, plums and apples, apples and blackberries etc). Lay a piece of crumb of bread on the top, cutting it to fit exactly (all crust must be removed from the bread used for this pudding), and stand the mold in a cool place till next day ; then it out, and serve with custard or cream over it. Choose juicy, well-colored fruit, so to completely saturate and color the bread.”
So there we apparently have it. Despite quite a few references to the chilled, ‘bread dome’ version as ‘English Summer Pudding’ in various American magazines of the 1990s, it seems that the recipe for what we now understand to be a summer pudding was first printed in an American newspaper column in 1890. Unless anyone has an earlier, verifiable recipe source that they can point me in the direction of? If so, please do let me know and I’ll be very happy to edit your contribution in.
How about you? Do you enjoy a summer pudding? What sort of fruit do you make yours with? Are you tempted to try the custard, boiled, or bread-and-butter pudding versions above? Do please let me know if so, via the comments, below.
- 1I use the term in its strictly calendrical sense, rather than to reflect the weather conditions that we’ve been experiencing in our neck of the woods for the past few weeks…
- 2I say ‘probably’ because I have to admit I’ve never sampled a summer pudding. It wasn’t a thing we had when I was a kid and isn’t something I could eat these days due to wheat gluten really not liking me. And I rather suspect that gluten free bread would have zero chance of holding it shape if it was soaked through with fruit juices. Although it does sound like an experiment I might have to try some day.
- 3I’ve posted it separately, here, if you’re interested…