For the past several years I have been making a searchable index of the digitised household books held at The Wellcome Library. In doing so, I’ve read over 300 manuscripts and logged more than 32,000 food and drink recipes and have a ‘To Do list of interesting recipes as long as my arm.
‘Buttering’ was exceedingly popular in times past, and was applied to numerous dishes: crab, chickens, rolls, loaves, turnips, rice, salmon… For the most part, this consists of a healthy slathering of butter over the dish in question. Buttered Oranges, however, stands apart, since it’s not a pairing that seems obvious. So it was that this year, in the midst of a Seville orange flurry of kitchen activity, I grabbed a net of sweet oranges and determined that Buttered Oranges would be promoted to the top of the To Do list with immediate effect.
I re-read all of the recipes from the collection that I could find, and they were all pretty similar. I selected this one because of the novel presentation suggestion, which is to serve the buttered oranges in candied orange peels. Completely optional, of course, but it does make for an eye-catching dessert.
Which hopefully makes up for what might possibly be a bit of a let-down, because it turns out that Buttered Oranges is pretty much what we today would call a fruit curd: juice and zest, sweetened and thickened with eggs with a generous, but not excessive, quantity of butter melted in.
After experimentation, I found the best way to present this dessert was to make each element separately and then assemble before serving. I felt the original recipe’s instruction to bake the filled oranges until set was a little too risky and prone to mishap to risk all the preparation, but don’t let that deter you from trying it for yourself – I would just advise against a spur of the moment decision during an important social occasion.
Preparing the peels
I chose blood oranges to serve the curd in, as they were a beautiful colour and relatively small, thus being perfect for serving elegant portions of this rich dessert.
1 orange per person
1kg caster sugar
1 litre water
Before you start, you should make a decision on how you will be preparing the peels. The original recipe says to zest the oranges, slice off the top, hollow out the flesh, then simmer in water until tender, then finish in syrup. This gives the skins a pale, almost pastel colouring, which is delightful, and means the whole of the orange is put to good use but also makes them rather fragile during the cooking. One solution would be to tie them lightly in muslin or cheesecloth, to protect them, or alternately, use un-zested oranges, which will have a darker colour, but are also much more robust and less likely to split during the cooking. The results of both are illustrated in the photograph at the top, the zested peels on the right, the un-zested on the left. If you choose to use un-zested oranges, then you will need twice as many oranges overall.
If you’re zesting the oranges, do that now and reserve the zest for later.
Slice a lid off the top of each orange, and scoop out the insides using a combination of sharp knife and teaspoon. Reserve the flesh and juice for later.
Make sure there’s no orange flesh or fibres left inside.
Place the hollowed oranges and their lids into a saucepan of cold water, making sure the water fills the cavities.
Slowly bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until tender. This will take about 1.5-2 hours.
Change the water and scrub the pan every 30 minutes to remove the bitter oil.
When the peels are tender enough to be pierced by a toothpick, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over a low heat.
Add the peels and allow to simmer gently until the peel appears translucent.
Remove from the heat. The peels can remain in the syrup until required.
As already mentioned, this is a variation of Orange Curd, so if you already have a favourite recipe, then by all means use that instead.
2 large eggs
the zest and juice from at least 4 oranges
the juice of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
50g unsalted butter
Add the strained juices and zest to the eggs and whisk thoroughly.
Add the butter and whisk over a gentle heat until thickened.
Add sugar to taste.
To serve, you can either pour the curd into your oranges warm, or fill them and allow them to cool before serving.
I recommend serving some kind of biscuit or shortbread alongside to dip!
This recipe is bonkers: bonkers name, bonkers method. I’ve spent ages trying to work out what, in the 18th century world of erratic spelling, the name is supposed to be, and drawn a blank. I’ve pondered many an hour over the pancake-ception involved in the filling, and been baffled. It’s a true one-off. I’ve never read anything like it – and I’ve read a LOT of recipes. Finally, ealier this month, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and just make it, and see how things go. The result, after a little tweaking, is insanely delicious, so I thought I would share in time for Pancake Day (February 16th), so you can enjoy the deliciousness yourself.
Aside from the already-mentioned bonkers title, the method of this pie is very unusual: make some pancakes, mash them up, mix in yolks, cream and sherry, fry this mixture as thin pancakes, then layer them in puff pastry with candied peel, dried fruit, sugar and butter. When baked, pour a sherry/lemon custard (caudle) through the holes in the lid.
The adding-the-sauce-after-baking was an acceptable approach for pies at this time. Usually the pastry served mostly as a container for the contents and to keep in steam and moisture, and an interesting sauce was added at the end.
It was the pancakes-made-from-pancakes that really intrigued. And so I set to with a vengeance, and initially, it all went swimmingly. Unfortunately, the second batch of batter proved a giant stumbling block. The recipe called for it to be made into thin pancakes, but even using single cream, it was more like bread sauce. Trying to dilute the batter with more cream meant it just wouldn’t hold together. Batch after batch was scrapped, which meant I then had to re-make the first batch and pancakes before working on the second. I must confess, I got a little tetchy, telling myself: it’s a pancake batter! How can I mess up a pancake!?
Eventually, I came up with a compromise, and made just a single, standard pancake batter, but with the flavourings and enrichment that had been used in the second batch. This did indeed make wonderfully thin pancakes, which were delicious in their own right.
Once this hurdle had been successfully leapt, the rest of the recipe was almost straightforward. The pancakes are layered in a puff pastry case, with each layer being sprinkled with sugar, spices, dots of butter, candied peel and dried fruit. A cut-pastry top, 40 minutes in the oven and the addition of the caudle sauce finished it off quite easily, and I must admit, being rather impatient to taste the result.
Well, gentle reader, you’ll be pleased to discover that it is bonkers. DELICIOUSLY bonkers! The pancake layers keep the filling evenly spread, but are light and delicately flavoured with no hint of ‘stodge’. The spiced filling mixture is reminiscent of mince pies, and rich-tasting and thanks to the sharpness of the sour cherries/barberries neither heavy nor cloying. The sauce/caudle really brings the zing, with the sherry and lemon-juice adding freshness and richness. I commented on Twitter after the first trial that it was ridiculously delicious, and I stand by that claim. I literally had to hold my daughter at bay until I had photographed the smaller pies, as she is so taken with them!
Now that I have sorted out the pancake problem, it’s a very straight-forward recipe: much more an assembly rather than anything complicated. If you’re short of time, you could even opt to buy the pancakes rather than make them, although that would mean on missing out on their delicate flavour.
There are no quantities given in the original recipe for the filling, so you can be as generous or as careful as you like. The quantities below make for a flavourful, rich pie without overdoing it, but for special occasions, you could really layer them thickly.
Banyon Toat Pie
This can make whatever size and shape of pie(s) you like. One large (20cm) pie will serve 8 generously. Due to the richness, a smaller, 10cm pie can be shared between two. The instructions and quantities below are for one large pie, but, as mentioned above, can be scaled up or down easily.
For the pancakes
50g plain flour
1 large egg
1 large yolk
50ml cream sherry
butter for frying
1 x 500g block of puff pastry
40g candied citron peel, diced small
40g candied orange peel, diced small
40g candied lemon peel, diced small
40g dried sour cherries or barberries
4tbs caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
2 large egg yolks
juice 1 lemon, strained
50ml cream sherry
2tbs caster sugar
2tsp cream sherry to finish
Egg white and caster sugar for glazing
Whisk together the pancake ingredients and make four thin pancakes. Use a 1/4 cup measure to ensure the batter equally. Lay the cooked pancakes on kitchen paper and leave to cool.
Grease your pie tin(s) and line with thinly (5mm) rolled puff pastry. Leave a generous edge overlapping the sides of the tins, to help secure the lid. Cut a lid a little larger than your pie. Chill the lid in the fridge.
Pile the pancakes on top of one another, and place your lined pie tin on top. Cut around the base of the tin, to make four pie-sized pancakes. Eat the pancake offcuts and enjoy!
Layer the pie contents as follows. For each layer:
Place a pancake.
Sprinkle 1tbs caster sugar.
Sprinkle ¼tsp ground cinnamon.
Sprinkle ¼tsp ground nutmeg.
Sprinkle 10g candied citron peel.
Sprinkle 10g candied lemon peel.
Sprinkle 10g candied orange peel.
Sprinkle 10g sour cherries or barberries.
Cut 10g butter into tiny pieces and dot over.
Repeat for all 4 layers.
Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
Remove the pastry lid from the fridge.
Cut holes in the lid. You can do this by using a lattice wheel, or by cutting a lattice by hand. Alternatively, use small pastry cutters or even the wide end of a piping nozzle, to cut random holes in the pastry.
Moisten the pie edge with water and carefully lay the lid over the filling. Press the edges together firmly, to seal, and then trim the excess with a sharp edge (I use my metal bench scraper).
Whisk an egg-white to froth and brush it over the pastry lid. Sprinkle with caster sugar.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is crisped and brown. Turn the pie around midway through cooking, to ensure even colouring. When fully baked, it will be easy to lift the edge of the pie and check that the base is also browned. If you’re making mini pies in 10cm tins, cooking time is 25 minutes, turning the tray around after 15 minutes.
While the pie is baking, make the caudle, You can do this after the pie has been turned, so that it is ready to go when the pie is fully baked.
Whisk the ingredients (except the final 2tsp sherry) in a pan over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. It should be of the consistency of single cream. If you think it looks too thin, whisk in an extra yolk. Taste, and add more sugar if needed. When ready to add to the pie, add the remaining sherry.
Remove the pie from the tin to a wire cooling rack. Spoon/pour the caudle into the pie through the holes in the pastry lid. Gently shake the pie to help distribute the caudle.
Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before enjoying.
Best served warm. Delicious by itself, if you wanted to ‘gild the lily’, you could serve it alongside some unsweetened whipped cream.
This recipe comes from the manuscript of Jane Newton dated circa 1675-1700. I like Jane’s manuscript a lot – she has ruled out the pages with red margins, still bright after more than 300 years, and stamps her character on them with occasional personal comments that are a pleasure to find. The one that always sticks in my mind is her snappily titled “To Make the Puffs I was Speaking of Before in my Pottage”.
I chose this recipe this week because tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday and someone out there might fancy something different to the regular lemon & sugar pancakes. (Ratafia Pancakes are another option). Also, Jane’s comment at the bottom of this recipe: “They are the best pancakes that is made if you make them as directed” – quite the gauntlet you’re throwing down there, Jane! I’d have initially made it as written anyways, but now I’m feeling Jane’s beady eye on me. No pressure.
Long story short – she’s right. They might look fairly ordinary, but they are the first pancakes that I’ve tasted that I could eat with no further adornment. Yes, I know the picture shows them dusted with sugar – I added it for photographic purposes only. The batter is sweetened and spiced, and, as all good recipes using oatmeal, lightly salted which kicks in at the end of each mouthful as a delightful contrast.
60g medium oatmeal flour
150ml single cream
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1tbs plain flour
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2tbs caster sugar
30g unsalted butter – melted
Mix all the ingredients, except the butter, thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
Stir through the melted butter until combined.
Melt some butter in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add spoonfulls of the batter into the pan, you can cook 3 at a time.
Turn the pancakes when the undersides have browned.
Remove cooked pancakes to a sheet of kitchen roll.
Enjoy warm as is (it really is the best way) or with your favourite toppings.
I do love a pickled onion, and not having had any for a while, decided to put to the test some of the old recipes from the Wellcome Insitute Library archives. The methods are a little different from modern recipes and I was curious to see the differences made to the final product, if any.
Some of the pickled onion recipes were too involved for my purposes (and lack of patience), with the brining going on for almost a week before any actual pickling was done. I chose these two recipes because they were both immediate and do-able in a morning, and I liked that they had slightly different aromatics as well as methods.
A lot of pickling recipes take weeks to mature, and originally I hadn’t planned to post these recipes for quite a while. However, after a taste test this morning, the results were so delicious after just 24 hours, here we are.
This is the recipe from a manuscript (MS751) that belonged to one Elizabeth Sleigh, with later additions by a Mrs Felicia Whitfield. The manuscript has been dated to from the middle of the seventeenth century (1647) to the early 18th century (1722). The method involves blanching the peeled onions briefly in two changes of salted water, simmering the pickle with some aromatics and combining the two when both are cold.
This recipe is from MS2323, originally owned by Amy Eyton and subsequenty by Mary Eyton and possibly even Mrs Sarah Justice. With a similar date (1691-1738), it is interesting how closely the recipes resemble one another in terms of method. This later recipe calls for initially soaking the peeled onions in two lots of brine, blanching in brine and then cooling in cold brine, and drying. The vinegar and aromatics are simmered for a while, then poured over the onions.
The results for both are deliciously similar: the onions have crunch and tang from the vinegar, but none of the harshness of raw onion nor eye-squinting ‘burn’ that accompanies the use of malt vinegar. The aromatics give subtle flavouring to the vinegar, which I suspect might intensify as time passes. As already mentioned, and by far the best part of this whole experiment, is they can be consumed almost immediately.
Elizabeth Sleigh’s Pickled Onions
I didn’t think I had any black peppercorns, so I used long peppercorns that were in the cupboard.
500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
9tbs table salt (divided)
800ml white wine vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
4 blades of mace
Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin
Bring the brine to the boil and drop in the peeled onions and cook for two minutes. Drain.
Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
Bring the fresh brine to the boil and drop in the onions and cook for another two minutes. Drain.
Cut the ginger into thin slices.
Add the aromatics and salt to the vinegar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the blanched onions and cook for 2 minutes
Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the vinegar and set to cool on a baking tray or wire rack. Return any of the flavourings to the pickle.
Cover the vinegar pan and allow to cool.
When both onions and vinegar are cold, transfer them to your jar(s) and cover. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.
Amy Eyton’s Pickled Onions
This recipe called for alegar – vinegar made from ale – of which I obviously have none, so I used half cider vinegar, half white wine vinegar. Use whatever light vinegar combination you like/have. Oh, and I found the black peppercorns.
500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
15tbs table salt (divided)
400ml white wine vinegar
400ml cider vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tsp whole cloves
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
the zest of a lemon, cut in strips
Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin. Drop the peeled onions into the brine.
Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
Drain the onions, then add them to the fresh brine for 30 minutes.
Make a third brine (2 litres water, 2tbs salt) and bring to the boil.
Drain the onions, then add them to the simmering brine for 3 minutes.
Mix 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
Drain the onions and drop them into the cold brine for 15 minutes
Add the aromatics and 1tbs salt to the vinegars and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Drain the onions from the brine and dry with a clean cloth. Put the onions in your jar(s).
Turn off the heat under the pickle and allow to cool for five minutes,
Pour the pickle over your onions and seal. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
Whilst poring over old manuscripts, I love finding really early examples of recipes we would recognise today. And so I was delighted to come across this recipe for chocolate cakes. It appears near the front of a manuscript (MS1799, dated 1700-1775) digitised by the Wellcome Collection, and so, in my opinion, is closer in date to 1700 than the latter half of the century. The reason it caught my eye was because it reads as a ‘normal’ cake recipe, very unusual for the time.
Experience has led me to be cautious when it comes to the word ‘cake’ appearing in old recipes. In times past, this word was used for a broad range of ‘items that were circular’, rather than the baked confections of flour and eggs we associate with the word today. In the past I have been thrilled to find early recipes for lemon cakes and gooseberry cakes, only to find that they are for fruit paste and jellies, musk cakes that turn out to be incence, puff cakes that are meringues, rout cakes that are biscuits and spice cakes that are buns.
Even ‘chocolate cakes’ can catch the unwary, as many old recipes sporting such a title are actually instructions for making solid blocks of ‘chocolate’ ready to use in recipes. Unlike the cocoa powder we buy today, these ‘cakes’ were similar to the modern blocks of Mexican chocolate: solid, hard and requiring grating before use. The old recipes for ‘chocolate’ begin with the roasting of the cocoa beans, which are then pounded and ground extremely find and mixed with sugar, vanilla and spices before drying in cakes which are then stored for use, which makes me incredibly grateful that we don’t have to go through such Faff™ today.
Happily, this recipe omits the time-consuming ‘make your chocolate’ part, but in adapting this recipe for modern use, if an authentic 18thC flavour is required, the spices that would be part of the original cakes of ‘chocolate’ need to be added in. The quantities below might seem a lot, but there’s also a lot of cocoa, so to make sure they can all sing, the quantities need to be generous. You can play around with the spices to your taste – other chocolate recipes I’ve read include one or more of the following: allspice, cloves, aniseed, cardamom, musk, ambergris, and either achiote or cochineal for a reddish colour.
So what are they like? Well, to be honest, it took several batches of tweaking before I was happy with the result. The taste is intensely chocolate-y, and the addition of the spices makes for an unusual and rich flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, as can be seen from the photo, these are dense cakes, and are most definitely not of a lightness of a Victoria sponge, or even a sturdy Madeira cake. But to be frank, that is part of their charm. Since they are made without butter, I would recommend serving/eating them with some lightly whipped cream, or ice-cream, for the mosture as well as the contrast in texture and temperature: the rich warmth and spiciness of the cake against the cold cream is deliciously satisfying.
These cakes include ground almonds, which help to enrich the texture, but also require a little time to work their magic. Consequently, if you’re not eating them straight from the oven, these cakes benefit from being kept 1-2 days in order for them to soften. Freshly-baked, but cooled, they are rather – ahem – ‘firm’, but stick them in a ziplock bag for a day or two and they soften and become glossy and a little sticky (in a good way).
If you’d like to make a less sturdy, more modern sponge version, all it takes is the addition of 1.5tsp baking powder, sifted with the flour.
I used a silicon cupcake mould with straight sides, which look great, but, even thoroughly buttered, proved challenging when it came to getting the cakes out in one piece. Other options might be ‘regular’ bun/cupcake moulds, or use paper liners.
Circa 1700. Makes 8-12, depending on your small cake tin size.
30g melted butter
3 large eggs
1tbs vanilla extract/paste/seeds of 1 vanilla pod
40g cocoa powder*
2tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
75g plain flour
1.5tsp baking powder (optional)
75g ground almonds
Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
Grease your moulds with the melted butter.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and foamy (5 minutes or so).
Sift together the flour, cocoa, spices, salt and baking powder if using.
When the eggs are foamy, use the whisk attachment (or a balloon whisk) to gently fold in the flour mixture.
Stir in the almonds.
Portion the batter out into the greased moulds.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the moulds around after 10 minutes to even the baking.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
Run a thin blade around the edges of the cakes (if not using cupcake papers) and gently ease the cakes from the moulds and cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy warm with cream, or place in an airtight container for 1-2 days to mellow.
* Modern cocoa is very drying, so if you’d like to use more than this amount, reduce the quantity of flour by that same amount. i.e for 50g cocoa, use just 65g flour.
In times past, when secular life intertwined much more with the religious, and life was closely linked with the land, Plough Monday was the first Monday after (the) Twelfth Day (of Christmas), the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th. It was supposedly the day when work in the fields resumed for the men with spring ploughing and is a tradition that stretches back centuries. It is mentioned in the writings of Thomas Tusser in 1580:
“Plough Munday, next after that Twelf-tide is past, Bids out with the Plough; the worst husband is last: If Plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skrene, Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen:”
An explanation of these lines is provided by Daniel Hilman in 1710 (in his publication Tusser Redivivus) as follows:
“After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the men and the maid servants strive who shall show their diligence in rising earliest. If the ploughman can get his whip, his plough-staff, hatchet, or anything that he wants in the field, by the fire-side, before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maid loseth her Shrove-tide cock[¹], and it wholly belongs to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On this Plough Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink.”
Despite the mention of ‘a good supper’, I’ve been unable to find any mention of precisely what this consisted of, and most recipes for Plough Monday Pudding, or just Plough Pudding date no further back than the mid 20th century.
In December, 1960, Folklore magazine published[²] the following recipe that had appeared in The Times newspaper on the 8th August of that year. Although titled ‘Plough Pudding’ the introductionry paragraph indicated it was a recipe to be found in Sussex farmhouses.
Subsequent versions all appear to be based on this recipe. Mary Norwak’s 1979 version[³] (below) made the very practical change of transferring the cooking vessel from a cloth to a bowl, and was ascribed to Norfolk. Mary Norwak lived in rural Norfolk, so perhaps this was a nod to her home county. She also quadruples the amount of sausage meat to make a very substantial pudding indeed.
By the time her English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury was published in 1981, she has adjusted her recipe to reduce the cooking time to three hours and included some stock in the filling, for added moisture. She also comments “Some Plough Puddings are suet rolls wrapped around bacon rashers with onions, sage, pepper and a little black treacle.”
All other recipes appear to be variations of Mary Norwak’s, although few acknowledge it. The one exception I managed to find was in the Archers’ Country Kitchen by Angela Piper. This version uses cold roast beef, presumably the remains of the Sunday roast and nothing like the original: sausagemeat and bacon being a much more believable stout yeoman’s supper than prime beef.
This recipe is also far from perfect in the method, in my opinion. The instructions for using a pudding cloth lack essential details (should be scalded and floured, to prevent the pudding from sticking), the illustration clearly shows a lidless saucepan, which no-one in their right mind would use to cook a STEAMED pudding, and the pan itself is on what appears to be a professional chef’s griddle rather than something more believable for a farmhouse dish. We’ll draw a discrete veil over the ‘pink beef gravy’ serving suggeston, as this page is the only one in the book which mentions it, so it will be forever a mystery.
Plough Monday Pudding 2021
My version of Plough Monday Pudding is yet another adaptation, this time for individual steamed puddings. My version also includes an alternative cooking method: the slow cooker. The great danger with the long steaming a suet pudding requires is the need to ensure the water doesn’t boil dry. Honestly, I find it rather stressful. Enter the slow cooker, where you can leave your pudding blissfully unattended, secure in the knowledge that the water will remain largely unevaporated from the moment you switch it on, to the time you haul out your golden delights.
It’s actually better than the traditional method. In support of this statement, I’d like to offer the following photograph:
The pudding on the left was cooked for 4 hours in the slow cooker on High. The pudding on the right was steamed for 2 hours. Both are fully cooked, but the longer, slower approach of the slow cooker makes for a richer, more golden crust. Another option is to cook on Low for 8 hours – perfect to come home to on a cold, winter’s night.
Don’t think you HAVE to cook your Plough Monday Pudding in individual dishes, or indeed in traditionally-shaped bowls. I have acquired a number of Victorian and later jelly moulds, which sadly sit unused for weeks at a time. Although the pastry needs care to ensure it nestles in all the nooks and crannies of the mould, the result is delightfully grand. Best of all, it can sit quite happily for up to 12 hours in the slow cooker on Low.
Plough Monday Pudding
You can choose any of the above recipes, or follow mine below. I have cherry-picked from all.
For 4 individual puddings or 1 large one.
250g self-raising flour 125g suet ½tsp salt melted butter for the moulds 1 pork sausage per individual pudding, or 6 for a large one. 2 large onions, chopped finely 125g lean bacon, chopped finely 2tbs chopped fresh sage or 1tbs dried 150ml chicken stock 1tbs treacle
Mix the flour, suet and salt together and add sufficient cold water to bring it together in a soft dough.
Grease your pudding moulds well with the melted butter.
For individual puddings, divide the pastry into 4 and roll out and line your dishes. Let the excess pastry hang over the edge until your puddings are filled. If you’re making a large pudding, cut off 1/4 of the dough for the lid and roll the rest and line your mould.
Remove the sausage skins. For each individual pudding, roll one sausage between clingfilm to about 5mm thickness. Line the pastry in the moulds with the sausage meat. For the large mould, you can press the sausagemeat in by hand, or roll them out and ‘patchwork’ it in.
Mix the chopped onion and bacon and add the sage and black pepper.
Spoon the onion mixture into the middle of your puddings.
Press down gently but firmly. You don’t want to be too rough, because you might tear the pastry, but the filling needs to be firmly packed to give structural integrity when they are turned out, and the raw onion will soften and shrink during cooking.
Add the treacle to the stock and heat gently until the treacle melts in.
Spoon the dark brown stock into your puddings, allowing time for it to seep down into the gaps, until you can see liquid level with the top of your filling. It should be 2-3 tablespoons for each individual pudding.
Cover the ‘top’ of your puddings. You needen’t be too precious about this, because when the puddings are turned out, this ‘top’ will be hidden underneath. For the small ones, fold over the excess pastry from the sides, and use water to moisten and seal the edges. For the large pudding, roll out the reserved pastry to size and again, use water to moisten and seal the edges.
Tear off some kitchen foil for each pudding. Brush the underside with melted butter and make a large, single pleat in the foil, then press on top of your puddings. The pleat will allow the pastry to expand as it cooks, without running the risk of the foil tearing and allowing water to get in.
For ease of lifting from the hot water at the end of cooking, you might want to tie string around the edge of the foil and create a loop over the top to grab onto.
Put your puddings into your slow cooker, ensuring there is space around them for the water to circulate.
Add sufficient water to the cooker to come ¾ of the way up the bowls/mould.
Turn the heat to High for 4 hours, or Low for 8 hours.
When ready to serve, lift the puddings from the cooker and set on a towel to drain and rest for 10 minutes.
Turn the puddings out and serve with either a hot tomato sauce (Norwak 1979) or gravy (Norwak, 1981).
Top Tip: If your puddings are looking a bit anaemic, you can brush them with melted butter and set into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 5-15 minutes (depending on size), to give them a bit of colour.
Top Tip: If you’re making the version of the pudding using cooked beef, toss your diced beef in cornflour before mixing with the onion. It will thicken the stock, stop your pudding becoming waterlogged and help hold it together when turned out.
[¹] It was a tradition that the local lord gave a gift of a cock hen to the woman of the house at Shrovetide. The Plough Monday friendly competition was a race to see who could get up earliest on that day, and either have their work implements ready (men) or have water on to boil (women). The winner received the prized chicken for that year.
[²] Folklore, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), p262. All thanks to Dr Annie Gray for helping me get my hands on this article.
[³] The Farmhouse Kitchen, Mary Norwak, (1979), Warwick Press, p49.
 English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury, Mary Norwak, (1981), London : Batsford, p109
 Archers’ Country Kitchen, Angela Piper, (2011) Newton Abbot : David & Charles, p84
A new variety of rice arrived in Carolina in the 17th century that was to become incredibly popular for almost 200 years. However, it’s popularity dwindled in the 19th century, first with the abolition of slavery and secondly when the waterlogged lands of the Carolinas proved unsuitable for the heavy harvesting machines developed as part of the mechanisation of farming. The grain all but disappeared, but Carolina Gold has now seen a resurgence thanks mainly to the work of one man, Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills. You can read about him here.
This recipe caught my eye as I was transcribing some newly (to me) digitised manuscripts at the Wellcome Library. Although MS1810 is inscribed and dated on the inside cover with “J. Hodgkin. Oct. 2. 1913”, the recipes within have been dated to the middle of the eighteenth century.
As a child, I was a huge fan of the classic rice pudding, with my favourite bit being the darkly caramelised skin that would form on the top. The cottage that we lived in for a while had a Rayburn – a smaller, low-budget version of an Aga. Since it was on all the time, it was no bother to throw some rice, sugar, milk and butter in a dish and pop it in the low-heat oven and let it do it’s own thing. Nowadays, preheating and using the oven for over an hour for a pudding is a little more effort and also more expensive. Consequently, alternative methods have been developed in order for us to continue to enjoy this classic and simple dish. Slow cookers are very useful, as are the various stove-top methods. For this recipe, I opted to steam the rice in individual-sized pudding dishes. I’ve managed to acquire some fancy-shaped ones, thanks to ebay, but you can also use classic, smooth-sided pudding bowls.
As much as I love traditional rice pudding, it is very carbohydrate-heavy, and it’s a short hop and a skip from that warm, fuzzy, comfort feeling to carb-coma. This recipe unwittingly addresses that – deliciously. The inclusion of apple and spices makes for a creamy cross between apple pie and rice pudding. By using Bramley apples, the pudding becomes positively light, as the cooked apples disappear into a froth of freshness. Dessert/eating apples can also be used, but the relatively short cooking time means they don’t break down as completely as the Bramleys do. But that might be just the bite you’re looking for, so have at it. Alternately, make a large pudding and steam/boil for an hour.
When eaten hot, they need no further adornment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘gild the lily’ as it were. Fresh double cream, as in the photo, is simple, delicious, and being cold, is a fabulous contrast against the heat of the rice and apples. Caramel sauce, home-made or spooned out of a tin of caramel condensed milk, steers them towards toffee apple territory. A drizzle of more evaporated milk can add creaminess without the calories of cream.
Spiced Apple Rice Pudding
The recipe predates pasturisation, so would originally have been made with raw milk, much richer than our modern-day whole milk. I’ve tweaked the original and replaced (approximately) half the milk with evaporated milk. Next variation I plan on trying is all condensed milk and dark brown sugar, for a real caramel-y treat.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar. Taste the rice mixture before filling your moulds and decide.
Makes 4 individual puddings.
60g short-grain, pudding rice 1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk 130ml whole milk ½ tsp ground nutmeg ½ tsp ground cinnamon 50g soft, light-brown sugar 1 x 250g Bramley apple zest of ½ a lemon 2 large yolks
4 individual pudding moulds butter for greasing foil to cover steamer saucepan
Put the milks and the rice into a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the rice is mostly cooked and the mixture has thickened (15 minutes or so).
Remove from the heat and stir through the spices and the sugar.
Peel, core and chop the apple finely. I find a food processor is best for this, as a couple of pulses can reduce it to fine pieces without pureeing them.
Add the chopped apple, and lemon zest to the rice mixture and stir well. This will have cooled the rice a little, so you can now also beat in the yolks.
Butter your pudding moulds well. Be thorough, as this is key in getting your puddings to turn out once cooked.
Fill your pudding moulds with the rice and apple mixture.
Tear off some foil and divide it into four. Make a fold in piece of foil and then cover your puddings, scrunching the foil round the sides to form a seal. The fold will allow for the rice expanding, whilst preventing any water getting in.
Arrange the covered puddings in your steamer pan and cover with the saucepan lid.
Bring some water to a boil and put your steamer pan on for 30 minutes. Make sure your water doesn’t boil away. A brisk simmer is all that is needed, not a raging, rolling boil.
When your puddings are cooked, remove from the pan and peel off the foil. Gently ease the edges of your puddings away from the sides of the mould, then turn them out onto your serving dish.
This recipe appears in the 17th century manuscript book of Lady Anne Fanshawe (MS.7113 at the Wellcome Collection), and is attributed to Lady Scarborough. What might appear, from the name, at first to be something pastry-based, is in fact a form of meringue.
Unsweetened fruit (I used apples) pulp is mixed with sugar and eggwhites and whisked until stiff and white. The recipe calls for this to be dropped in spoonfuls onto glass and dried in the oven, although I made adaptations for the modern kitchen. After a couple of practice runs, the result is, to all intents and purposes, an apple-flavoured meringue. Not as sweet as regular meringues, with the pleasantly tart flavour of sharp apples.
It is from the same recipe family as Apple Snow, with a slight alteration in porportions and a spell in the oven, and to my mind would be delightful served alongside that ethereal confection.
The main challenge with this recipe was the missing details. Apple and sugar quantities are given, but the instruction to beat them ‘with white of egg’ is open to interpretation. Additionally, “dry it in a stove” is hardly suffering from an over-abundance of detail. Hence the trial runs.
One of the batches I made whilst juggling baking times and temperatures turned a light caramel colour, which I suspect is not how the finished puffs should look, but proved to be absolutely delicious – crisp, delicate with a whisper of toffee apple. I’m counting that particular error as a win!
Although I have only used apple here, the recipe does state that any fruit pulp can be used. My advice would be to choose pulp that has some bulk to it. Berries might prove too moist. Stone fruit, rhubarb and gooseberries would all be suitable, especially if tart, as the sugar content is quite high, and it would ‘cut through’ it nicely.
340g cooked cooking apples 225g caster sugar 2 large egg-whites (about 80g)
Puree the apple smooth with a stick blender. Sieve the puree if liked (I didn’t, but I was very thorough with the blender).
Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until light, white and stiff. I used a stand mixer on High and this took 10 minutes.
Heat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan. This temperature will be for the white puffs, for caramel puffs, increase the temperature to 140°C, 120°C Fan after 2 hours.
Add a decorative nozzle to a piping bag and spoon in some of the mixture. Pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. There will be some shrinkage as the puffs dry out, so pipe them on the large side. For example, the white puffs in the top photo were 5cm tall when first piped. When dried, they are about 3cm tall.
Dry in the oven for 5-6 hours, depending on the size and how moist they are. Prop the oven door ajar by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon, for the first hour or so, to help dispel the moisture, (otherwise it stays trapped in the oven and slows down drying time).
After about 4 hours, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. The puffs should be firm enough by this stage to gently peel off from the parchment. Turn the puffs upside down and lay them back on the parchment, so that the bases can dry (about an hour). If you don’t let the puffs cool down first, you will squish them as you try to remove them from the paper. If the puffs aren’t firm even when cooled down, put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again.
For Caramel Puffs, bake as above for 2 hours, then increase the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan and bake for 1 hour. Check the colour/dryness and bake a little longer if still sticky.
Once the puffs are dried to your liking, store them in an airtight container. They will absorb moisture and become sticky if left in the open air for any length of time.
I was surprised to read recently that Soda Bread is considered to have migrated from the US, based on a notion that the early settlers used potash to improve their baking. Amelia Simmons (1796) uses potash in some of her gingerbread recipes and Mary Randolph includes a recipe for Soda Cake in her 1824 book The Virginia Housewife.
These notwithstanding, the earliest Soda Bread recipe that I have been able to find in print is a letter published in the Newry Telegraph, dated September 2nd 1836. The correspondant, who signs him/herself “M.D.” gives the following recipe:
Having tried a fair few soda bread recipes over the years, I was struck by how minimalistic this recipe is – literally four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, buttermilk. Over the years, modern recipes have managed to sneak in a myriad of embellishments – white flour, sugar, honey, egg, butter, cream of tartar…. but this, this appears to be soda bread in its earliest and purest form. I had to try it. And I was not disappointed.
I followed MD’s recipe as written as closely as possible, and the first batch was fine, but not, in my opinion, the best it could be. The mixing of the soda in water was, for the time, an acceptable way to remove lumps, but it meant for an uneven distribution of soda throughout the flour, which resulted in blotches of yellow crumb amongst the wholemeal. Sieving the soda into the flour with the salt was a much better approach. In addition, buttermilk is not as freely available nowadays as it once was, so my solution was to mix equal quantities of whole milk and low-fat, plain yogurt. Lastly, as the recipe stated that the buttermilk should be very sour (which is what reacts with the soda to give the rise), I stirred in two teaspoons of vinegar.
Halving the batch made two mini loaves of dimensions 14cm x 8cm, which took, rather surprisingly, almost an hour to bake. If you wish to make the full batch, or bake in larger tins, you will need to increase the baking time accordingly.
The result is delicious. The crust bakes to a browned, knobbly crispness and the crumb inside is close-textured, but not claggy. Just warm from the oven and lightly spread with, as MD suggests, some fresh, salted butter, it is delicious with no further adornment. If, like me, you have occasionally read accounts of 19th century afternoon teas where guests are served ‘brown bread and butter’ and been rather puzzled at the plainness of the fare, having tasted this bread with butter, it all makes sense now.
If you’re a fan of modern soda bread recipes, this might not be to your tastes, but I would urge you to try it just once to enjoy the simple pleasure of this diamond in the rough, craggy crust.
These litte loaves will almost double their size during baking, but only if you get them into the oven promptly. The soda will start reacting as soon as the liquids are added, so be sure the oven is at temperature before mixing wet and dry together.
340g stoneground wholemeal flour
1 level teaspoon of salt
1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150ml whole milk
150ml low-fat, plain yogurt
2tsp white wine vinegar
a little milk (maybe)
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
Grease and line two mini loaf tins (14cm x 8cm) with baking parchment. Grease the parchment.
Sieve the flour, salt and soda together twice (to spread the soda evenly).
Mix the milk, yogurt and vinegar until smooth.
When the oven is hot, add the liquids to the flour mixture and mix into a soft dough. You may need a little extra milk.
Put half of the dough into each prepared loaf tin and smooth over.
Using a sharp knife, cut a deep slit down the centre of each loaf.
Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Turn the tins around and bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove the loaves from the tins and place them back in the oven on a rack to crisp up the crust – a final 5-10 minutes.
Set to cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy just warm on the day of baking, or toast the following day for breakfast.
Back in 2013 I wrote an article on the history of Chelsea Buns, ultimately included in my book Great British Bakes which culminated in a recipe suggestion for the original Chelsea Buns.
I based the recipe on anecdotes that appeared in various publications on the borough of Chelsea and its surroundings, mostly written in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
“Before me appeared the shops so famed for Chelsea buns, which, for above thirty years, I have never passed without filling my pockets…. …….These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth; to four generations of the same family; and it is singular, that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated.”i
“To be good, it should be made with a good deal of butter, be very light and eat hot”ii
“The old Chelsea Buns were greatly in demand and were a superior kind to our common buns, more like Bath Buns. Old people say they were very rich and seemed full of butter. They were square in form and were made with eggs, with the kind of sugar, lemon and spice but without fruit.”iii
“Note that the true Chelsea Bun of the Hands family was by no means the darksome and dismal lump which is now sold us as a hot cross bun. On the contrary, it was specially famous for its flaky lightness and delicate flavour.”iv
“It was not round, but square in shape, and it came into the world in batches, the several individuals crammed as close together as the cells of a honeycomb…..Excellent they were—light, sweet, glistening as to their crowns in a sort of sugary varnish, and easy of digestion.”v
There was no mention of the fruit which adorns the modern version of the bun, neither was there mention of the spiral. The recipe I came up with was therefore fruitless and a regular bun shape. I couldn’t quite let go of the iconic spiral shape, though, so baked a version in this shape, too. Below is one of the original photographs taken for the book.
Fast forward to 2020 and last week I discovered a recipe for Chelsea Buns in a manuscript (MS10979) held by the National Library of Scotland. This was very exciting, because the manuscript was dated circa 1827, which is a time when the original Chelsea Bun House was still in business. (It was eventually torn down in 1839). Prior to this, the earliest recipe available had been the one published in 1854 in George Read’s The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant (p103).
The recipe itself is rather challenging to read, but there are a couple of details that I think deserve pointing out. The recipe title “Chelsea Bunds for shops” suggests that the recipe was for an independant baker, who sold his/her wares wholesale. Perhaps s/he only had a baking premises and not a shopfront. The other detail is the tiny diagram on the bottom left of the page, showing how the buns are to be laid out: laying the buns like this will ensure the characteristic square shape once the dough has risen.
As luck would have it, and paraphrasing the well-known bus analogy, you wait seven years for a recipe, and then two come along at once. Also last week I spotted another early Chelsea Bun recipe, which had heretofore hidden from my internet searching by the cunning ruse of calling itself Chelsea Bunns. It appears in A Treatise on Confectionary, in all its branches, with practical notes, etc (1817) by Joseph BELL (p36, see below).
The previous recipe referred to is one for London Buns – flour, sugar, butter, yeast, and no spice. The shaping of the buns in this recipe is also unusual: I’ve never heard of Chelsea Buns being diamond-shaped, and it makes me wonder whether the author was confusing them with another bun, and if so, which?
I used to be rather evangelical about recipes for things being the PROPER recipe. Seven years ago, I was very firm in my conviction that a fruitless Chelsea Bun was the PROPER recipe and the fruit-filled, overblown, too-heavily-glazed monstrosities on sale in bakeries were borderline abominations. Now I’m much more laid back, having come to understand that, just like us, recipes have a lifespan, some longer than others, over the course of which changes happen. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the light and gently-spiced Chelsea Buns were extremely popular. Over time, personal taste, or possibly economics (costs of dried fruit & sugar) saw a change to fruit-filled buns being favourite. It is absolutely possible to like one style of Chelsea Bun over another, and liking one style doesn’t invalidate the other in the slightest.
So enjoy whatever floats your boat – or in this instance, fills your bun.
This recipe doesn’t contain any lemon, as mentioned in one of the anecdotes. Since it was the only reference I found that did mention lemon, I’m reserving judgement on whether it was a regular ingredient in the original. However, if you’d like to include some, I suggest the zest of one lemon, and just one teaspoon of spice.
1 sachet fast-action yeast
150ml hot water
500g strong bread flour
75g unsalted butter
110g soft brown sugar
2tsp mixed spice
150g melted butter for glazing
1 large egg
3-4tbs icing sugar
Mix the milk and water together, then add the yeast, 1tsp of sugar (from the listed amount) and 3-4tbs of flour (again from the given amount).
Whisk all together thoroughly, and stand aside for 15 minutes until the mixture starts to froth.
Put the rest of the flour, sugar, butter and spice in a food processor and blitz until thoroughly mixed.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the mixture seems a little too soft. If using a machine with a dough hook, make the last 2 minutes maximum speed, to pull the dough together.
Tip out the dough and roll into a thin (5-10mm) sheet on a floured surface.
Cover the whole surface with melted butter, using a pastry brush.
Roll up the dough from the long side, keeping it tight. This will be a little tricky to start, on account of the butter making it slippery.
Brush the outside of the roll with more melted butter.
Grease a 24cm square tin.
Starting from the centre of the roll, slice off 4cm rounds and place them cut-side upwards in the tin. You should get 16 well-shaped slices. The smaller end pieces can be placed in cupcake tins to bake.
Whisk the egg and the milk together to make a glaze and paint the cut surfaces of the buns.
Cover the glazed buns lightly with greased clingfilm and allow to prove for 45minutes or until doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
Glaze the buns again just before going into the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. The smaller bun offcuts will only need 20 minutes
As the buns are baking, mix the sugar into the remainder of the glaze, and brush over the cooked buns as they come out of the oven. The heat of the buns will set the glaze and the sugar will make them extra shiny.
Cool in the tin to keep the sides soft. Cover with a clean cloth to cool if you like the tops soft as well.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
i“A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew”, p22, Sir Richard Phillips, J Adlard, London 1817
iiGentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11, 1839, p466.