The joys of suet crust and other steamed puddings

My friend Marie-Anne’s sojourn in Edinburgh bringing to mind gingerbread made using real treacle and golden syrup, memories progressed to steamed puddings, especially suet crust.

Steamed puddings can be made based on a sponge mixture or suet; sponge gives a lighter but richer result while suet puddings are real rib-stickers but probably a lot cheaper to make originally and the ingredients easier to come by in post-war Britain when eggs butter and sugar were all rationed. Both lend themselves to similar variations of putting golden syrup (Tate & Lyle’s) or jam in the basin before adding the pudding mix, my childhood preference included ginger (powdered) in the mix with the syrup topping, marmalade instead of jam, dried fruit added to the mix, chopped apple, cocoa powder to make a chocolate pudding, lemon, coconut, date – the list is endless.

Another childhood favourite was apple pudding. The sponge variant used a greased bowl which was lined generously with sliced cooking apples, more in the base than the sides, the basic sponge mix placed within the apple “lining” and the whole thing steamed to a glorious fruity sponge covered in near-pureed apple because we’d use Bramley cookers which are not only tart but break down to a “fluff” easily on cooking. The suet version was also very good: this time the bowl was lined with a suet crust pastry and sliced cooking apples placed inside, leaving sufficient room to seal the apple in with a suet-crust lid. After steaming, the result was a lovely soft fruit-infused spongey pastry filled with apple sauce. Served with custard which in post-war 1950s Britain meant Bird’s – an eggless, coloured corn-flour powder which was mixed with sugar and milk before cooking to a yellow glutinous sauce. Nostalgia suggests it was not quite so bad as it sounds….

The recipes come from the 1967 edition of Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Book which was preceded by numerous editions from the late 1940s onwards.

Sponge mix: 4oz butter or margarine (originally a hard fat), 4oz caster sugar, 2 eggs, beaten, 6oz self-raising flour, A few drops of vanilla essence, A little milk to mix

Suet pudding mix: 6oz self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 3oz shredded suet, 2oz caster sugar, ¼ pint milk approx.

Suetcrust pastry: 8oz self-raising flour, ½ level tsp salt, 4oz shredded suet, 8 tbsps cold water approx

Reducing the salt and adding a little sugar gives a pastry for endless stodgy but delicious puddings. The thickly-rolled out pastry can be spread with jam, marmalade, sliced apple, golden syrup as your fancy and larder take you, rolled, sealed and steamed. For serving it was released from its cloth, set on a plate like a giant sausage and sliced like a Swiss roll, with the inevitable custard.

Using the above suetcrust recipe (although I don’t think that amount of salt necessary), the rolled pastry could be spread with a savoury mixture such as cooked leek and bacon or mushroom. Of course, it is the ONLY type of pastry to use for making a steak and kidney pud!

The link below is to scanned pages from the above mentioned cookbook of recipes for various steamed sponge and suet puddings.

The basic method is to put the prepared mixture in a heatproof bowl (china or Pyrex), capacity 1 to 2 pints for above quantities, place a circle of greaseproof paper over the top, followed by a larger piece of foil which is secured under the rim of the bowl with string, extended to form a handle for lifting it in and out of the saucepan. We always placed the bowl direct in the boiling water, about 1 to 2 inches deep, in a saucepan large enough for its lid to be well in place over the pudding bowl. The puddings were boiled 1½  to 2 hours, ensuring the water did not boil dry.

steamed puddings

Greaseproof paper seems to be a British thing; if unobtainable, baking parchment makes a satisfactory, if expensive, substitute. It is used to prevent fruit acids from penetrating the foil. My mother had neat little cotton “hats” (probably made from old teatowels) for her steamed puddings. They were circles of fabric larger than the top of the bowl, with a drawstring edge and handle on top for lifting the pud from its pan.