This is a very old and simple Plum Pudding recipe from John Nott, published in 1723; a recipe which could well have been served at the Christmas and New Year festivities by Sir Ralph Verny at Claydon.
In the 1730’s Sir Ralph Verny wrote of the New Year Celebrations: “Last Monday I entertain’d the Tenants of Middle Clayton and invited yours at Steeple Claydon who all came and seem’d well pleased. I gave ’em a Sirlion of Beef and five Ribs roasted, four geese and 4 Plumb-Puddings. They behav’d very well and were moderate both in eating and drinking and came at one o’clock and went away at six. They drank in all but four dozen of Strong Beer and the rest of Ale”
You could easily replicate this New Year feast from the 1730s for the tenants of Clayton by roasting a beef sirloin, some beef ribs, one goose and then make this Plum Pudding for dessert, washed down by some strong beer and ale.
Note: Plum Pudding is what a Christmas Pudding was called before the 1800s and John Nott’s recipe is one of the earliest recipes written down. Before the 1700s Plum Pudding, (it is thought) evolved from a recipe for Plum Porridge – in, “Poor Robin’s Almanac” for 1695, there is a carol which begins: “Now thrice welcome, Christmas, Which brings us good cheer. Minced pies and plum-porridge, Good ale and strong beer,’ … etc.
Written in, ‘The Leisure Hour’, by By William Haig Miller, James Macaulay and William Stevens, published in 1859: “The first glimmering which we have been able to obtain of the modern plum pudding is in a popular cookery book, published in 1714, which gives this receipt for “a most excellent plum pudding:— ‘Take one pound of suet, shred very small and sifted; one pound of raisins, stoned; four spoonfuls of flour, and four spoonfuls of sugar; five eggs, but three whites; beat the eggs with a little salt; tic it up close, and boil it four hours at least.’ … To its eggs and raisins, it ventured, in 1747, on the addition of currants—an innovation to be marked. By successive innovations were added candied lemon-peel, citron, spices, brandy, and, lo! the pudding had its throne upon the Christmas board. It has become our national dish.”
Original Plum Pudding Recipe 1723
From John Nott in, ‘The Cooks And Confectioners Dictionary’, published 1723
A Plum Pudding
Shred a Pound and half of Suet very fine, and sift it; add a Pound and half of Raisins of the Sun ston’d, six spoonfuls of Flour, and as many of Sugar; the Yolks of eight Eggs, and the Whites of five, beat the Eggs with a little Salt, tye it up close in a Cloth, and boil it for four or five Hours.
Plum Pudding 1723 Recipe
Without alcohol added this pudding will not keep as long as the later Plum or Christmas Puddings. Serve straight away or make it a few days to a week in advance and keep it in the fridge until required.
- 750g shredded suet
- 750g raisins
- 200g plain flour
- 200g brown sugar (Demerara)
- 8 eggs – 8 yolks and 5 whites
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
In a large mixing bowl beat the 8 egg yolks and 5 egg whites, with the sea salt, with a whisk until frothy. Add in the sugar and whisk, then add in the flour, whisk, and then finally stir in the shredded suet and raisins until everything is coated and thoroughly mixed. Add some extra flour if the mixture is a little wet.
Method 1: Pudding Cloth
Traditionally you would take a very large square piece of clean and washed muslin cloth, dip it into a bowl of hot water and then ring it out so that it is still damp. Flour it all over with plain flour, spread it out flat, then re-flour the central area – add the Plum Pudding mixture into the centre – make sure the pudding mixture is not too wet, firm it up with some extra plain flour if needed.
Gather up the four corners of the cloth, tightly twist them to seal and very tightly pack the pudding mixture down into the center of the cloth, making a round ‘cannon-ball’ shape. Tie a double tight loop of string (use some butchers string) around the gathered corners to hold the pudding together.
To keep the round shape the pudding should be boiled suspended by a string so that it does not touch the bottom of the saucepan. Choose a large enough pan (ideally a very tall pan) that will hold the pudding easily, leaving a good 2.5cm space around, below and a large gap above the pudding when suspended. Tie the pudding to a long handled wooden spoon (or similar) so that it spans the saucepan with ease, while suspending the pudding by the string into the pan.
Pour in enough boiling water to cover the pudding when suspended.
Cover the saucepan with a double sheet of foil and put the lid on. Boil it like this for 5 hours – check every hour or so to make sure the water has not boiled dry, top it up with boiling water from the kettle when it needs it – the water should always just cover the pudding.
If not serving straight away: Drain off the water and leave the pudding suspended until fully cold. Over-wrap with grease-proof paper then foil and store in the refrigerator until needed. To reheat take off the paper and foil, suspend the pudding from the spoon once more on a shorter string, with less water in the pan, and steam above gently simmering water once more for 2 or 3 hours until completely heated through.
Method 2: Pudding Basin
Spoon the mixture into a greased pudding basin, and pack it down a little, level the surface with the back of the spoon – the level of the pudding should be about 3cm (1.5 inches) below the top (or less) of the basin. I like to use an oven-proof clear glass pudding basin so that I can see what is going on during the steaming time. Cut a round, large sheet of baking parchment (or greaseproof paper) and one of foil slightly bigger so they will come down at least 10 cm (4 inches) over the sides of the basin.
Lay the baking parchment on top of the foil and fold a large pleat down the centre of both (to allow for any pudding expansion). Lay the sheets over the top of the pudding basin (foil side up) and secure around the sides with string – wrap the string around the pudding basin several times tightly and tie the string off to make sure the foil top is secured down firmly and the pudding is sealed. Trim off any excess foil and paper if it is too long. You can even make a string handle by looping it over the top and tying it off under the string going around the basin.
Stand the pudding basin in a deep saucepan (which has a tight fitting lid) on an upturned heatproof plate (or metal bars etc.) to raise it off the bottom of the saucepan – add a little water under the plate to get rid of any air pockets. Pour in boiling water to come just under half way up the side of the pudding basin.
Keep the water at a medium simmer and a gentle bubble, cover with a tight fitting lid and steam for 7 or 8 hours, topping up with boiling water from time to time. It is important to keep checking the level of the water so that it does not run dry.
Serve: Once boiled or steamed remove the pudding from the cloth, or tip out the pudding from the pudding basin, and use a spoon to spoon the pudding into bowls.