‘Bag’ puddings, or puddings simply steamed in a tied cloth rather than placed into a pudding basin, bowl or mold, are the oldest of pudding dishes and date to the seventeenth century. Do not be alarmed by the lack of solid borders; the pudding will not leak or leach into the simmering liquid. This may seem like alchemy but the technique has worked for centuries, sometimes at the hands of cooks with decidedly modest skills.
The earliest puddings originally were shaped into a ball and tied at the neck like a hobo’s bag on a stick; eventually the cylindrical shape, which cooks more evenly, evolved. This one is an old Sussex recipe that makes a nice weekend lunch or light supper with a green salad. It may sound strange to American ears and takes a while to cook but this pudding tastes good and is easy to make.
- 8oz self-raising flour
- Scant ¼ tsp baking powder
- 4 oz shredded suet
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Water to bind
- Mix the solid ingredients together, then gradually add enough water to form a dough that just holds together: It should feel a bit firm.
- Sprinkle a board or other hard surface with flour and roll out the pastry into a roughly rectangular shape ¼” thick. If cracks or fissures appear just pinch them together.
- 8 oz bacon, Irish bacon or ham, chopped into small pieces
- 1 large or 2 smaller onions, chopped the same size
- 2 apples, peeled, cored and also chopped the same size
- Rubbed sage to taste (anywhere from a pinch to ½ tsp or more)
- Black pepper to taste
- Mix everything together and spread it evenly over the pastry.
- Gently roll up the pastry: You may need a thin spatula (or two) to help you keep the pastry together.
- Lightly flour a clean dishcloth and tie the pudding up inside. Do not tie it too snugly or the pastry will not be unable to expand and become light and spongy.
- Boil the pudding for about 2 hours, then remove the cloth and slice the pudding like a jelly roll.
-It is satisfying to return to the original means of production and forgo a basin once in a while; puddings with a moister filling, however, like steak and kidney pudding, are too difficult to handle in cloth and probably evolved only after the ‘invention’ of the cooking basin, so do not attempt to prepare them in a bag.
-Unfilled puddings, in practical effect big dumplings made entirely from pastry incorporating flavoring and seasonings, are even easier to cook in a cloth. If you are making dumplings with something like boiled beef for a crowd, it is a handier technique than dropping spoonfuls of dumpling directly into the stock; they do not jostle and stick and you need not fish them all out of the pot separately; just open the cloth and slice even, pretty discs with your sharpest knife.
-Good with brown sauce or creamy horseradish sauce.
-Sometimes I add a little grated lemon zest, some chives or both to the filling.