Bread and Butter Pudding

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In cool weather, bread puddings provide an inner furnace. They’re cheap and quick to make and if you don’t finish them, they can be put in the fridge and eaten later. The first recipe (or receipt) comes from The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife by Anne Hughes, dated 25 August 1796. Anne Hughes decided to start a diary to “set down all that I do every day” and so, for 13 months she wrote about her daily life, of the butter maken that sometimes “was longe time cummin” of collecting honey, pudden making, making merrie and all the social activities and hard work that was the lot of a farmer’s wife. This extraordinary document was rediscovered in the 1930s on a farm in Oxfordshire. The spelling is wonderful but not difficult to understand.

BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING WITH PEARS

You doe peel some pares, then putt sum peeces of breade and butter in thee bottom of a deep dyshe, ande laye thee pares on toppe, then more bredde and butter, throwing on sum sugger ande a pinsh of cynamon. Then you doe take 4 eggs and beate them harde for a bitt then putt them in a messure of mylke ande beate uppe till frothie, then poore over thee puddinge in thee dyshe and cooke itt gentlie for an hower bye thee clocke.

Try greasing the dish before you add the mixture. You could put it in the microwave for 20 minutes on low heat but wouldn’t get the crispy top. Apples would substitute for pears.

The second dish is unrecognizable as a bread pudding. It’s rich, spicy, delicious and Mexican. It’s also a very old recipe. The ingredients are local and the same as those used in the 1640s to make bread and cakes. The recipe was recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved in the archives.

Generally eaten at Lent, the ingredients symbolise the Passion of Christ. Many Mexican families see the dish as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the raisins are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.

CAPIROTADA: MEXICAN BREAD PUDDING

1 cup rich brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon (or sticks)

1 cup water

2 ½ cups French bread cubes (stale is fine)

1 cup raisins or currants

¾ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup diced sharp cheddar

In a large pan combine brown sugar, cinnamon and water. Boil gently until the sugar is dissolved. Add the bread cubes and toss gently. Add raisins or currants, walnuts and cheese, and toss. Turn the mixture into a large greased casserole or baking pan. Bake at 375ºF for 15 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Each cook has a different recipe for Capirotada, so experiment with fennel or cloves, apples or lemon juice, toasted almonds, and goat’s cheese.

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The Proof is in the Summer Pudding

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Summer pudding originated in spas and nursing homes in mid-18th century England, where it was served to patients as an alternative to heavy, fattening puddings made with pastry, suet or butter. It was known as hydropathic pudding but summer pudding was obviously a better name.

Although water spas have always existed, bathing was frowned upon for decades until 1702 when Queen Anne visited the ancient Roman city of Bath. When the fashionable Richard “Beau” Nash arrived in Bath two years later, the new regimen was established. Suddenly the health benefits of drinking water and bathing were all the rage. Bath became the social capital of Britain, attracting the rich and famous over the summer to bathe and drink the water in the pump room, while amusing themselves with gambling and gossiping. The pump room has been seen in many Jane Austen movies.

Diet was an important part of this health-based regimen so the traditional puddings were now frowned upon. It is not known when fresh fruit became part of the mix and scholars argue over when the summer pudding, as we know it, originated.

Before bread had additives to prevent it from drying, summer pudding was a good way to use up stale bread and summer fruit. It’s an old favourite in my family and has the advantage that it can be made any size with any fruit. In late summer, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, black/red currants and gooseberries make a wonderful mixture. Once pitted, cherries, plums and apricots would also work. In winter, use canned fruit and omit the cooking. You can make one large pudding or individual teacup puddings for an event.

Combine a mixture of soft berry fruit (2-3 lb) lightly cooked with sugar in a saucepan (don’t let the fruit lose its shape) or in the microwave.

Cut a loaf of white bread (no crusts), brioche or sponge cake into thick slices. Line a pudding basin with the bread, making sure there are no gaps.

Pour in the fruit and juice but keep back some juice and a few berries for decoration. Cover the pudding with more bread (cut slices to fit). Put a plate on top of the pudding and a weight on top. Leave it in the fridge overnight.

To serve, take the weight and plate off. Put your serving dish on top of the pudding and flip the pudding. Pour over the reserved berries and juice if needed. The pudding usually turns out with a spectacular marbled white and burgundy look. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or Bird’s custard.

Bird’s Custard is the original version of custard powder, which is cornflour-based and thickens to form a sauce when mixed with milk and heated. Bird’s Custard was formulated in England by Alfred Bird in 1837 because his wife was allergic to eggs, used to thicken traditional custard. He did the world a service because now you can make custard in a matter of minutes. I’m ashamed to say my father and I used to fight over the skin on the top of the jug.