In the 1800s (Victorian England) Plum Heavies were given to children in Sussex, South-East England, as little snacks and treats, so they were always made small; they were also commonly given out at Halloween to trick or treaters. They were also made to be eaten by farmers, shepherds and woodsmen, who would take a pocketful off to work with them in the morning. See this section of regional recipes to read more Sussex Regional Recipes.
The original Plum Heavies were made with plain flour and no raising agent, creating ‘heavy’ and dense little fruit biscuits – crisp when first baked, and very moreish and chewy when eaten on the next day. They were also traditionally made with whatever excess pie or tart pastry was left over (as I have done below); the left over pastry was re-rolled and baked with a handful of currants or raisins pressed into them and sugar sprinkled over. The traditional look is to make them small, i.e. cut out of the re-rolled pastry with a small pastry cutter circle.
From the ‘Dictionary Of The Sussex Dialect’, By Rev. W. D. Parish, Vicar Of Selmeston, Sussex, published by Farncombe & Co. Lewes, printed in 1875
Plum-heavy. A small round cake made of pie-crust, with raisins or currants in it. [In 1859] Dr. J. C. Sanger, of Seaford, when Government Surgeon at the Cape of Good Hope, [South Africa] was sent for to see an English settler. Reaching the house at tea-time, he joined the family at their meal, and on sitting down to the table he said, “You come from Sussex.” ” Yes,” was the answer, “from Hurstmonceux, but how did you know that?” “Because you have got plum-heavies for tea,” said the doctor, ” which I never saw but when I have been visiting in Sussex.”
Plum Heavies Recipe
Below are two methods: one for making Plum Heavies with left over pastry the traditional way, and the second method is to make them purposefully from scratch.
Using Left Over Pastry Recipe Ingredients:
- Extra Left Over Pastry (whatever type)
- 30g Sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- 50g Currants or Raisins
- (optional) 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Using Left Over Pastry Method:
Grease a baking tray and pre heat the oven to 180C.
On a floured work top roll out the extra pastry pieces left over from making a pie or tart etc. into a large rectangle about 3mm thick.
Brush the pastry all over with a little milk then a little beaten egg yolk. Scatter over the pastry some currants or raisins (tip: plump the currants or raisins up before use by soaking them in 3 tbsp of water for an hour). Use the back of a pallet knife to press the currants or raisins firmly into the pastry.
Sprinkle over some sugar, and (optional) a little cinnamon if you like. Re apply a little more egg yolk, milk, and a little extra sugar. Use a small pastry cutter and cut out small circles from the pastry. Lift the small circles onto a greased baking tray with a pallet knife.
Bake the Sussex Plum Heavies in an oven at 180C for ten minutes, or until golden brown. Remove them from the oven once done and allow to cool on a wire rack. Once cooler place them in an air-tight tin or eat straight away. They will last a few days in the tin like this.
From Scratch Recipe Ingredients:
- 500g plain flour
- 115g butter, softened
- 85g lard, softened
- 115g sugar – extra for dusting
- 115g currants or raisins
- a little milk to bind (about 30ml)
- 1 egg, beaten to glaze
- (optional) 1 tsp ground cinnamon
From Scratch Recipe Method:
Preheat the oven to 160C and grease a baking tray or tin with a little butter
In a mixing bowl sift in the flour and rub both the softened butter and softened lard into it with your fingers. The flour and fats should resemble fine breadcrumbs.
Mix in the sugar and currants or raisins (and the ground cinnamon if adding) and bring it into a soft dough by mixing in a little milk – a small amount at a time. Take the soft dough and gently knead it in your hands – then put it back in the bowl and place it in the fridge, covered, for about 20 minutes to chill.
After 20 minutes place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it out to about 5mm thick and cut out rounds with a small (3cm) pastry cutter – re-roll as necessary to use up all the dough.
Brush over the top of each round with a little beaten egg and sprinkle over a little sugar. Place the rounds on the buttered baking tray and bake in an oven at 160C for about 10 minutes until light golden brown.
After being baked remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Eat warm or cold and keep in an air-tight cake tin for a few days.