Incomprehensible Pudding

When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.

Incomprehensible Recipe
Incomprehensible Pudding Recipe, circa 1785, MS2242, Wellcome Collection.

To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.

Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.

It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.

The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.

I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.

I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.

The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

120g unsweetened apple pulp
1 large egg
20g liquid clarified butter
20g caster sugar

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

  • Heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Add the apple and butter and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a shallow dish and bake for 20 minutes until almost set (slightly wobbly in the centre).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  •  (Optional) Sprinkle with caster sugar (or brulée sugar) and brulee with either blowtorch or grill.

Vegan Lemon Curd

This is a recipe from May Byron’s Rations Book (1918). Rationing during the WW2 is well known, but it was also introduced during the last year of the first world war. Confession time: I’ve changed the title of this recipe from the original. The original recipe is for Lemon Curd Without Eggs, which would have been a concern back then through food rationing. In this day and age, it is mainly be a dietary choice, so I have opted for the (nowadays) clearer and more succinct term, ‘vegan.’

It also has a lot of other things going for it, like being fat free, dairy-free, gluten-free and coconut-free. There are lots of vegan lemon curd recipes out there, but the vast majority seem to employ some kind of fat and many of them also include coconut cream to give body to the finished result and turmeric for colour.

This recipe has none of that, because the main ingredient in this recipe is swede. Yes, swede the vegetable. Also known as rutabaga, or ‘neeps’ if you’re in Scotland (shortened from Swedish Turnips, in case you were wondering). A mild-flavoured root vegetable, it adds body and also colour to the lemon curd. A little sugar, lemon-zest and juice and a gentle thickening with arrowroot, and you have a gloriously golden preserve to spread on your toast, fill your cakes and tarts and drizzle over ice-cream.

It doesn’t have to be arrowroot – although I do like the quick and ‘gentle’ set it has, and it’s ability to go clear when it’s setting qualities have ‘activated’. When cold, its not as firm/rubbery as other thickening agents. You could alternatively use cornflour, tapioca flour, sago, ground rice, etc. These last two were also in the original, but the sago needs to be soaked overnight and then cooked until translucent, and the ground rice made for a slight graininess, all of which takes away the spontenaiety. More cooking might have addressed the texture issue, but any prolonged cooking you run the risk of losing the fresh lemon flavour of the juice and zest.

And the flavour is the best thing about this recipe. It’s bright and fresh without any cloying richness from butter or eggs. It’s practically health-food!

This method could also be used for other citrus/fruit curds.

Vegan Lemon Curd

Makes about 250ml.

225g swede – peeled and diced small
85g caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
15g arrowroot

  • Simmer the swede in boiling water until tender (15-20 minutes).
  • Drain and return to the warm pan. Turn off the heat and allow the excess moisture from the swede to evaporate.
  • Puree the swede. Because it is a small amount, it can be done in a spice grinder or small liquidiser. It is important for the texture to use something with offset blades – that is, blades pointing in different directions – to ensure a smooth puree. A food processor, with it’s flat blades spinning in just one plane, won’t chop things finely enough. Spare a thought for May Byron’s original readers, who had to press the cooked swede through a sieve.
  • Add some lemon juice to make the pureeing easier.
  • Return the puree to the cleaned pan and add any remaining lemon juice, the zest, the sugar and the salt.
  • Mix the arrowroot with a tablespoon of cold water and pour into the pan.
  • Heat gently, stirring, until thickened (4-5 minutes) and you can no-longer see the whiteness of the arrowroot mixture.
  • Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge.