Friday, July 1, 2011

Suet Pudding

I was the cook yesterday, and the timing was right to gather the ripe berries needed to create a traditional Schaub family dessert: suet pudding. The direct lineage for this recipe comes through my Aunt Hennie (my mother's older sister), who made this summer treat with Stendhalesque proportions: red & black raspberries, combined with red & black currants.

The roots of this concoction go back centuries into English cuisine (Hennie was born a Howard), and can be made in a wide variety of ways. Most commonly, it relies on a sweet biscuit-like topping that is steamed atop a base of small fruit—fresh in the summer, or dried if featured at Christmas. However, it can also be offered in savory forms, such a steak & kidney pie.

While for the most part suet pudding is steamed—that's the way Aunt Hennie prepared it—I've come to favor baking, and presenting this dish as a cobbler. (Where do these English names come from? When, for example, dried fruit is used instead of fresh, this offering is sometimes called "spotted dick," the etymology of which I'm going to refrain from exploring.) As yesterday was sunny and in the 90s, I was easily able to accomplish the baking in our solar cooker (which has no trouble reaching 250 degrees in such conditions) thus neatly shunting BTUs from a kitchen that was already plenty warm. It's fun employing modern technology in service to the adaptation of a traditional dish.

While the recipe that Hennie passed down to me calls for the traditional beef fat (suet), I long ago switched over to butter—which is still beef fat if you're willing to stretch a point. It says something profound about the origins of a recipe that its name highlights fat as its most salient feature. In the context of 15th Century England, the rural peasantry would not frequently enjoy desserts as part of their meal, and beef fat would be a treat more prized than fresh berries.

In today's world—where a third of Americans are considered overweight—it's the other way around, and I only dust off this recipe when there's a convergence of the ripe fruits featured in the Howard version. Yesterday was that day. Some years I'm not home at the right time and it doesn't happen at all.

The key to this fruit mixture is the pleasing flavor of the raspberries commingled with the piquancy of the currants. Over the years I've learned to use just enough honey to bring the taste into a balance of tart and sweet. Yum!

This year's edition was on the dark side, as the blacks (both raspberries and currants) were far more prolific than the reds, yet the taste was exquisite nonetheless. One more time I was able to evoke Aunt Hennie at a meal, and keep alive the homesteading heritage that she passed to me.

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