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Mrs. Beeton’s Valentine’s Day Bake-Off: Lisa’s Half-Pay Pudding

2012 April 22

The Challenge || Lisa’s Half-Pay Pudding || Lucie’s Brandy Pudding || Ryan’s Savoy Cake


Unlike my estimable colleagues, I lack a flair for the culinary arts. In my household, I’m the dishwasher not the chef. However, for you, Dear Readers, and the spirit of academic and culinary inquiry, I was willing to roll up my sleeves, open up Mrs. Beeton’s ubiquitous book, and see if I couldn’t at least create something recognizable and edible. Given these goals, I poured through the recipes, looking for something not entirely beyond my limited expertise.

I decided on Mrs. Beeton’s Half-Pay Pudding because it seemed both interesting and not totally impossible. I’ve always wanted to make something involving treacle because so many British literary characters, from the works of Dickens to J.K. Rowling express cravings/desires for deserts involving it. In addition, I was not a little entertained by the title of the pudding, given the pay-cuts that I, as a professor in the University of Wisconsin Colleges, have faced as a result of the  contentious legislative budget bill recently railroaded through the Wisconsin legislature by Governor Scott Walker (who is now facing a recall election). Conveniently, Valentine’s Day coincided with the one year anniversary of the popular protests over that budget bill in Madison that drew worldwide attention to Wisconsin. I decided that this pudding was, for me, a sweet protest pudding!

The recipe itself is fairly simple and is meant to complement everyday meals:

Ingredients for Mrs. Beeton's Half-Pay Pudding 1286. Half-Pay PuddingINGREDIENTS.

1/4 lb. of suet
1/4 lb. of currants
1/4 lb. of raisins
1/4 lb. of flour
1/4 lb. of bread crumbs
2 tablespoonfuls of treacle
1/2 pint of milk

Mode. Chop the suet finely; mix with it the currants, which should be nicely washed and dried, the raisins, which should be stoned, the flour, bread crumbs, and treacle; moisten with the milk, beat up the ingredients until all are thoroughly mixed, put them into a buttered basin, and boil the pudding for 3-1/2 hours.

Time. 3-1/2 hours.

Average cost, 8d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

All of this seemed fairly simple, except for two key parts: the suet and the boiling. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what suet was and had to do a quick Google search to discover that it’s a form of animal fat often used in British baking. While this knowledge was somewhat helpful, I still wasn’t sure exactly how to procure this clearly critical ingredient. So, I did what so many of us do these days, I posted the question on Facebook and was rewarded with the advice to call my local grocery store’s butcher. The butcher, of course, knew exactly what I wanted and had it ready for me to pick-up later that day.

The pudding inside its pan inside a larger pot of boiling water.

Boiling my first pudding

Having solved the suet mystery, I turned next to the boiling process. This required outside assistance, so I talked with a colleague who is quite the gourmet, and she was kind enough to loan me her pudding pan, which has a locking lid so that it can be put inside a pot of boiling water. I have to admit that I had no clue that such a thing even existed!

Having done my homework and purchased the necessary ingredients, I was ready to make my first-ever British pudding. Though I know it’s cheating a bit, I used two modern conveniences: my food processor to chop the suet and my electric mixer to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients. The shredding blade on my food processor was an absolute life-saver. Fresh suet is basically strips of animal fat, and, as such, it’s extremely hard to chop “finely” as Mrs. Beeton demands. I was more than happy to let the food processor do that work for me.

The electric mixer was less of a necessity. However, since I had to substitute gluten-free flour and bread crumbs due to my gluten allergy, I didn’t want to take any chances with consistency, as sometimes making recipes gluten-free can be a bit dicey.

I’m happy to say that, after mixing everything together and boiling it for three and half hours, I had an entirely respectable pudding! Watch the video to see the response of my Valentine, my wife Lorra Ross, to my Victorian culinary creation.

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