Well, here we are, in our last month of our adventures in household management with Mrs. Beeton. This month, as promised, I have decided to give a nod to the holidays by trying my hand at cooking Mrs. Beeton’s Christmas Pudding (rich) which is recipe number 1812 on page 939 of the 1912 edition of the Book of Household Management. There are actually three recipes in this edition of the book – a Christmas pudding without suet, also called a fruitarian pudding; the rich version, which includes suet and lots of dried and candied fruit and peel; and Christmas Pudding (inexpensive) which includes a few less ingredients and less expensive dried fruits. I decided for this celebration of our year with Mrs. B., I would take on the full rich and expensive version!
Christmas pudding is surprisingly easy to make, just like most cake-type recipes, you mix all the wet ingredients in one bowl, mix the dry ingredients in another and then join them together in one massive mix. The hardest part of this process was getting the correct ingredients to make sure this recipe is as close to the original as possible. The Bulk Barn turned out to be the right place to start as they had almost all the dry ingredients I needed and most of the dried fruits. A few things stymied my shopping progress:
Firstly, the recipe calls for both raisins and sultanas. As far as I knew, sultanas are a type of raisin. So, what to do?! I chose to buy both sultana raisins and a type of raisin I had never encountered before – flame raisins. These are sun-dried raisins made from red-skinned grapes and are much larger than sultanas and a very dark red colour. The reason I chose to buy both is that the recipe calls for two types of raisins and their quantities, so I didn’t want to be short on that overall ingredient.
Secondly, the recipe calls for desiccated coconut. Here is where the Bulk Barn failed me! While they had several kinds of coconut, nothing called desiccated coconut. I was even obliged to search the internet and find out what desiccated coconut actually is, in order to see if I could get the closest thing. According to the internet, desiccated coconut is fresh coconut that is shredded, flaked and dried and is finely ground rather than in strips. It is usually unsweetened. So, I found dried, shredded coconut that matched that description and was ready to get to work!
The third challenge related to suet. Those who have worked with suet will know that it is not a common ingredient in your regular grocery store. I started with a local butcher and was able to purchase suet pellets. These were roughly the size of rabbit food pellets. The butcher assured me that I should be able to grind these down to smaller size with no problem at all. It turns out that is not actually accurate! The block of suet pellets was essentially fused together in one large mass that could not be budged. I gave it a short blast in the microwave and was able to break off some pieces but when subjected to the food processor to get it to a finer grind, I essentially created suet paste, which had a similar consistency to lard. This is not what I needed. This recipe calls for suet in a more powdered form, otherwise I would end up with large pockets of fat throughout the pudding as it cooked – not at all appetizing! So, I was obliged to trek to the grocery store once more and hope to find suet in a smaller-sized pellet, which I was able to find in the frozen food bin where all the frozen turkeys were hanging out!
As mentioned above, the recipe is pretty easy – put all the dry ingredients in a basin and mix well. I started with adding all the dried fruits – a half a pound of raisins, a quarter pound of mixed peel, half a pound of sultanas, and a quarter pound of currants. Then the rest of the dry ingredients were added. For this recipe that included 2 ounces of flour, half a grated nutmeg, half an ounce of mixed spice (which I interpreted as Allspice), an ounce of ground cinnamon, half a pound of breadcrumbs and half a pound of beef suet, 2 ounces of desiccated coconut, the grated rind of one lemon and a pinch of salt.
Next mix together in a separate bowl all the wet ingredients: 1 gill of milk, 1 wineglass full of rum or brandy (I used white rum), and four eggs. Add this mix to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Once this is well mixed, place the whole pudding mix into a buttered and floured cloth or a pudding mould. I used a pudding mould which was buttered and floured well to keep the pudding from sticking. This is a steamed pudding so will essentially steam inside another larger pot.
Place the mould on a trivet into a large pot with water in the bottom. The trivet keeps the mould off the bottom of the pot so it doesn’t burn. Pour about 2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot. Heat the water until it is simmering and creating steam. Cover the pot and steam the pudding for 5-6 hours until the top is shiny and the pudding is springy and a skewer poked in it comes out clean – like any cake recipe. Make sure throughout the cooking time you check the water in the pot to make sure it doesn’t dry up.
The moment of truth comes when your pudding is cooked and you need to turn it out onto a plate! I was concerned it might stick just because the shape of the mould but was pleasantly surprised when the pudding came out perfectly with a pop!
Christmas pudding is supposed to be served with brandy poured over it and lit on fire at the table for great effect! You can also create any kind of Anglaise sauce or butterscotch sauce and that would be very nice, just less accurate to Mrs. Beeton’s directions. It just depends on your preferences!
In taking a look back on our year with Mrs. Beeton, what can we take away from these adventures in housekeeping? Mrs. Beeton and her book were extraordinary for her time. She pulled together not just a book of advice on cookery but also she put that together with advice on all aspects of household management, This was a whole new concept at the time. The book is long and includes a lot of extraneous information that we really don’t need – most specifically the ancient history of every food type – but at the same time, she was writing to her audience. This book is aimed to the upwardly mobile, newly affluent who were learning to navigate the up to then, unwritten rules of how to manage the household in the proper fashion.
Thanks go out to Mrs. Beeton for providing us with many hours of adventure this year!
Kathleen Powell is the Supervisor of Historical Services / Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and a proud owner of a 1912 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.