This was the first nominally, specifically Sussex-in-origin recipe I tried, years ago, when I first bought the ‘The Pudding Club Cookbook’* by Keith and Jean Turner.
In their intro to the recipe (I do like a bit of blurb), the Turners say “Some brisk correspondence exists in the archives over this pudding. Purists declare the edition of a lemon to be the ‘twentieth-century whim of a seriously misguided cook,’ and furthermore ‘the pudding dating from the seventeenth century is served with roast Southdown lamb, and the pudding crust dotted with currants, the centre oozing with butter and sugar’.”
Further variables are recorded. The version in Hannah Woolley’s ‘The Queen-Like Closet’ (1672) has it made with a whole apple inside instead. Certainly apples would have been easier to source, and afford, for many 17th century cooks.
MK Samuelson’s ‘The Sussex Recipe Book With a Few Excursions into Kent’ (originally published 1937, reprinted 2005) does corroborate that the recipe was made without lemon and with currants. Ditto Florence White’s ‘Good Things In England’ (originally 1932), which lists another recipe early 20th century version that involved currants and no lemon. Though the inclusion of currants was vehemently denied by a Wikipedia contributor who said this made it a Kentish pond pudding. (I’ve revised that Wikipedia page.) The lemon seemed to arrive in the recipe in the mid-20th century, with some crediting it to Jane Grigson’s ‘English Food’ (published 1974). “The genius of the pudding is the lemon,” which would be fairly immodest if it was her innovation.
Such is the nature of debate about historical recipes. And, as I’ve said before, surely any dish is going to be mutable depending on season, availability, what’s in your cupboard, what your family prefers, what your family can afford, how your granny did it, etc.
A pond of sugar and butter
Suffice to say, the word “pudding” traditionally referred to boiled items that, in Medieval cooking, could feature dried fruits, meats, spices, sugar and spices. This hybrid of flavours isn’t common in English cooking these days though I discussed the whole relationship between pudding and sausages, etc, over here.
Retaining the legacy of meat products in puddings, the fat used for the pastry or dough of English puddings of a say 19th century and later traditional, when they had evolved into something sweet, was likely suet. Suet is raw animal fat from around the kidneys of cow or, less commonly, sheep.
These days a pond pudding is most likely to be sweet. I would say that what defines a pond pudding is an oozing of buttery sugary sauce, which gestates inside the crust while the dish is steaming and streams out when the pudding is upturned and cut for serving. The Samuelson recipe calls for 1/2 lb (225g) to 1/2 lb of Demerara sugar. I’ve used a little less.
250g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
120g shredded suet**
140ml milk and water, mixed. Don’t worry too much about the proportions.
120g Demerara sugar
1. Grease a 1 litre (2 pint) pudding basin. The original recipe called for a 2 1/2-3 pint basin, but I found this too big.
2. Sieve the flour and add the pinch of salt.
3. Add the suet to the flour, then bring to a dough, using a knife, by slowly adding the milk and water mix. Don’t add too much, as you don’t want a sticky dough.
4. Turn out the dough and work to bring together into a ball.
5. Roll out the dough to about 6-8mm thick, in a roughly circular shape.
6. Cut a quarter out of the dough, and form this back into another small ball.
7. Line the basin with the 3/4 portion of dough, bringing the edges together and sealing them using a little more of the milk and water mix, or just water.
8. Cut the butter into small cubes, and mix with the Demerara.
9. Put half the butter and sugar mix in the basin.
10. Prick the lemon all over with a large skewer then put this in the basin.
11. Cover the lemon with the rest of the butter and sugar mix.
12. Roll out the final portion of dough and use it to create a lid, closing up the sides, again, dampened with some milk and water or water.
13. Cover the dish tightly. I generally do this with foil, with a pleat in it, though you can use baking parchment, and tie it off.
14. Steam the dish for about 3 hours. I do this in the top of a vegetable steamer, but you can also sit the dish directly in simmering water in a large saucepan. Make sure the saucepan doesn’t boil dry.
15. When cooked, remove the cover and turn the dish out onto a plate with enough of a rim to collect all the butter lemon sauce that flows out.
16. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard. We had clotted cream.
Apparently, Heston Blumenthal was inspired by this type of pond-pudding-with-a-lemon-inside to create a Christmas pudding with an orange inside. I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t do this recipe with an orange inside either. Or indeed add currants to the crust paste. As long as it gushes butter and sugar, you’ll have your own bespoke pond pudding.
* The Pudding Club, “est. 1985”. Their recipe book was revised in 2012 and is now published as Great British Puddings. Strangely there’s a maternity-wear brand that’s nicked the same name, muddling the British desert curator’s Google viability. Ma dai! Come on! Give over!
** I do eat some meat, but only good quality local, free range products. So here I used vegetable fat suet as I’m struggling to find good quality, non-industrial versions of both suet, and lard, as used in my previous recipe. It’s funny, as the real food movement, and all us (middle-class) consumers, have made sure good quality, free range and/or organic meats are commonplace these days, but lard or suet from well-husbanded animals is less available. Strange really, as you’d think if a farm was rearing free range pigs, it’d have some free range lard. Ditto farms with well husbanded cows – what happens to all that kidney fat? Of course using vegetable fat suet is also ethically problematic as it likely contains some portion of palm oil, and palm oil is notorious for being grown on plantations created in cleared and burned tropical rainforest, one of planet earth’s most important types of ecosystem.