Suet dreams

03rd February 2018

Once derided as stodgy and lacking in finesse, traditional British food is enjoying a reappraisal. Here we uncover four “lost” Sussex recipes

Words by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

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The Slow Food movement is responsible for much of the renewed interest in our culinary heritage, not least in tracking down some of the “lost recipes” – many of them from Sussex – that have disappeared from our dining tables. The calorific punch these dishes deliver, not to mention their time-consuming preparation, means they’re unlikely to return to being weekly staples – apparently 18th-century labourers needed to consume 6,000 calories a day, rather than our own 2,000-2,500, such was the energy-burning impact of their daily workload and unheated houses. However, after The Great British Bake Off aired in 2016, sales of classic British puddings rose by 20 per cent, so maybe the Great Pudding Revival is just around the corner. Here are some of our favourites.

Sussex Pond Pudding
Arguably one of the most famous recipes to come out of the county, Sussex Pond Pudding, first recorded in 1672, is still cooked today and has an interesting background. A suet pastry that encases a whole lemon, with butter and sugar, the lemon is actually a contemporary addition – the earliest recorded use of it was in a recipe from Jane Grigson’s English Food in 1974. The name derives from the original 17th-century recipe, where the centre was filled with a pound (pond) of butter, that would ooze out once the pudding had been cut into. Later recipes suggest sprinkling rosewater and sugar into the centre before eating, or baking an apple or gooseberries inside instead. Today the recipe features on menus from time to time, such as at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant, The Gilbert Scott, in London. It was also the inspiration for Heston Blumenthal’s popular Waitrose Christmas pudding, which had a whole orange inside.

Sussex Bacon Pudding
Another suet-based pudding, Sussex Bacon Pudding is a dough covered with rashers of bacon, slices of onion, and sometimes sage, before being rolled up into a horseshoe shape and steamed in a bag on a stove. Pudding basins were invented later, as dishes with more moist fillings, such as steak and kidney pudding, became more common. There were variations, including sweet fillings, as well as one made with meat dripping. In the years before sophisticated solid fuel and gas cookers, ovens were very difficult to use, according to Glyn Hughes, who edits the Foods of England website, one of the most valuable food-history resources in the UK. Stove- simmered puddings were popular due to their simplicity, and were a useful way of making scarce ingredients stretch further. “Suet was popular back in the 18th century because a lot of animals, particularly pigs, were much fatter, so there was plenty to go around and it kept well,” he says, noting that vegetable oil wasn’t commonly used in households until around the 1980s. Slow-cooked dishes were also prevalent, as they meant labourers could leave things to cook while they were out.

Plum heavies
Regional specialities were far more common during the 18th and 19th centuries. “People didn’t travel, so they’d use local ingredients and local cooking techniques,” notes Hughes. A plum heavy was a small round cake, made of pie-crust, that was filled with raisins or currants and was unique to Sussex. While the main meal cooked at home, these portable snacks were designed for shepherds and woodsmen, who would set out to work with them in their pockets.

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Sussex churdles
Similar to plum heavies, Sussex Churdles were also taken by labourers for their lunch. As with Cornish pasties, the scone-like outside of the pie provided an edible wrapper for the dish, which was filled with lamb’s liver, bacon and apple. Dating back to the 17th century, its name may be connected with the old word “churd”, meaning to turn over.

Glyn Hughes’s book, The Foods of England will be out in November. foodsofengland.co.uk

This article is taken from the Goodwood magazine, Winter 2018 issue

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