Sussex Pond Pudding

It’s coming into pudding season. My own Christmas pud was made a couple of weeks ago. The Sunday morning routine has had to be altered slightly to feed it a little brandy and sherry. We have been making our own for a few years now, a recipe by Stephen Harris of The Sportsman in Kent, voted more than once as Britain’s’ best restaurant. Every year up till now I have made two. Lesley caused me palpitations the first year when she gave the spare to a dear friend whose son happens to be one of London’s top chefs. It passed his test and it has wowed everyone else since. But I don’t know Stephen and I don’t have his permission to reproduce his recipe. I did, however, get to thinking a bit more on the subject of puddings. Today’s recipe is one of the more intriguing.

Steamed suet puddings are quintessentially British. I’m not aware of any other nation whose cuisine features them. I say British. Perhaps English would be more appropriate, though in Scotland we have our own Clootie Dumpling, boiled in a cloth (cloot). The pond pudding is so called because it releases a great puddle of lemon scented butter when served. Like me you may be wondering what possible connection there is between Sussex and lemons. The answer appears to be none. In fact, although the pud is centuries old, the earliest reference to using lemons seems to have been in Jane Grigson’s English Food as recently as 1974. Clarissa Dickson Wright (of Two Fat Ladies fame) has written that this dish requires “considerable flair to make, as the treatment of the lemon has to be just so to allow the flavours to burst out in the cooking process”. The original recipe enjoins you to prick the lemons “with a larding needle”. I would wager that few of you know what a larding needle is, and that even fewer of you possess one.*

Suet is the animal fat which surrounds the kidneys. You can get blocks of the stuff in the supermarkets (Atora is the most common brand name) but a good butcher should be able to give you some which you can grate. You will need a 1.4kg pudding basin with a lip to tie the string around. For years I found the trickiest bit of making Christmas pudding was sorting the string. Begin by prepping the basin. Butter it liberally. Cut a circle of grease proof paper to the size of the base of the dish. To cover it you will need two layers, the first of greaseproof paper, the second of foil. They need to be large enough to have a pleat in the middle, and to cover the bowl with enough overlap to be tied securely on. You will need more kitchen string that you think.

Ingredients

2 unwaxed, thin skinned lemons; 110g shredded or grated beef suet; 225g self-raising flour; 75ml milk; 75ml water; 110g light brown sugar; 110g butter, chilled and cut into small pieces (plus extra for greasing).

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Pour the water and milk together in a jug. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and suet. Add the liquid a little at a time to make a dough. It should be soft but not sticky, as you need to roll it out. Roll into a circle – you don’t want it too thin. Cut a quarter out of the circle to use as the lid. You should have a convenient shape to ease into the pudding basin, leaving a bit of overlap to attach the pastry lid. Make sure the join is well sealed.

Put half of the butter and half of the sugar into the pie mould. Prick the lemons all over with a skewer and press into the mould. Top with the remaining butter and sugar. Roll the remaining pastry into a round to form a lid. Press on firmly, again ensuring you have a good seal. Now for the fun bit. Place the greaseproof paper on top, with the foil on top of that. The best way to get the string on is to form a slip knot and secure it around the basin, tightening it underneath the lip. (A kitchen assistant can be useful until you get the hang of this.) Take the string around again and tighten. Then take a length of string across the top, under the other side and back. Tie on to form a handle. You will thank me for this when you try to get your cooked pudding out of the pot. Trim off any surplus paper/foil.

To cook you will need a large pot with an inverted plate or saucer on the bottom to stop the base of the pudding touching the pot. I use three or four inverted ramekins. You need enough boiling water to come about two thirds of the way up the pudding basin. Cover tightly with a lid and simmer for about four hours. Keep an eye on it and top up the water if needed.

Remove the basin and dry it. Remove the foil, string and paper. Ease the sides with a knife and tip quickly on to a serving plate. Best to put the plate on top, hold tightly with a cloth and invert in one swift movement. This will get no prizes for looks, but no matter. Cut the pudding open in front of your guests. The juices will pour out to form the pond. Give everyone a piece of lemon. Serve with crème fraiche, ice cream or cream.

*Larding is the process of adding strips of bacon or pork fat to certain cuts of meat to make them more moist. A larding needle is the implement you use. I saw the Two Fat Ladies do it once, but I’ve never encountered it anywhere else

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