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
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
- 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 parchment for each pudding. Brush the underside with melted butter and make a large, single pleat in the parchment, then press on top of your puddings. Repeat with some foil. 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. Press the foil closely around the pudding basin to keep both parchment and foil in place.
- 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