Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bring Us a Figgy Pudding

It started with this website discussing various English pudding techniques:

Then it got pushed along when I broke all the "rules" and started listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that I really wanted to make a boiled pudding for this blog and do it early enough that it could be posted before Christmas.

I have many recipes for puddings but what I really wanted was the classic "figgy pudding" referenced by my beloved Christmas songs.  Or at least what I imagined was classic!

There was really only one source I felt was worthy of this:  Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump.  Ms. Crump, a culinary historian, does historical cooking demonstrations (and thus is near and dear to my heart); this book is a compilation of her research which includes recipes from colonial Virginia families.  The treat is that all her recipes first have instructions for cooking at the hearth and side notes for using more modern equipment.

ISBN  0-914440-94-2
In particular, on pages 244 and 245, she gives detailed instructions on how to make a pudding cloth, prepare it for use, and how to actually boil a pudding.  This was what I had been looking for when I acquired her book.

Ms. Crump did not disappoint.  On page 257 is:

Mrs. Alexander Cameron's Fig Pudding

Original recipe:
1/2 lb stale bread crumbs.  1/2 lb figs put through meat chopper.  2 eggs.  6 oz. brown sugar, 2 oz. flour  1/4 lb suet, a little milk, about half a cup.  flavor with nutmeg.  Boil 2 hours & serve with or without sauce.   (From the Shirley Plantation Collection, link: Shirley Plantation)

What excited me was the tiny footnote:  "Best cooked a week or two before use.  Wrap and store in air-tight container.  Warm through before serving."  Hey, I can make this in advance!


1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half, rather than non-fat milk)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup finely chopped suet (I used solid shortening, just a little less than a cup)
4 cups stale bread crumbs
2 teaspoons nutmeg  (one "nut" made about this much)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped fresh figs or 3/4 cup dried (I used dried)

(My note:  I bought a loaf of French bread the night before I made this, sliced it thinly, and laid the slices out on a tray to stale overnight.  Then I processed them to crumbs.)

1.  Combine egg, milk, and brown sugar, blending well.

2.  Combine suet, bread crumbs, and nutmeg in a bowl.  Add liquid and mix thoroughly.

My Notes:  Since I used solid shortening instead of suet, I felt it was important to make sure it was well-distributed throughout the bread crumbs.  So I put it in a spoonful at a time, "mashing" it through the nutmeg and crumbs mixture, sort of like the way I would mix a pie crust.  At the end of the mixing, it looked pretty uniform.

I mixed in one little spoonful at a time

Crumbly like a pie crust

3.  Combine flour with figs, mixing well.  Fold into batter.

4.  Wet and butter a pudding cloth and gather around the batter.  Tie secure with string, leaving room for pudding to expand.

Dip the heavy linen cloth in boiling water, drain, spread with butter, dust with flour
Pudding mixture
Make sure ALL edges are tied up so nothing comes out during boiling

5.  Set an iron pot of water on crane and bring to a boil over flames.  Drop in pudding and boil 2 hours, turning occasionally and keeping water at a boil.  Replenish with additional boiling water as needed.

I have no crane, but this will do.  It barely fit in my biggest pot.

6.  Pull crane away from fire and carefully remove pudding.  Drain thoroughly in colander, then cut away string and put pudding in serving dish.

Steaming while draining

Unwrapped and cooling

7.  Serve hot, with or without sauce.

I want to serve it at Thanksgiving, so I am wrapping it and storing it away as per the footnote.

Other notes:
I made my first boiled pudding last spring in my own Tudor kitchen (see June 1, 2012 posting) and the recipe I used said to put a ball of butter in the middle of the pudding.  When that butter was seen in the boiling water, you knew the pudding was done.  That worked well.  This time I just went with the recommended two hour time.

Since my pot was so full during the boiling, I had to decide how hot it should really be.  I couldn't do a full, rolling boil without splashing all over, so I made it as hot as I could without making a mess.  I kept the pot very full of water, adding hot water from a kettle as needed, and turning the pudding every 15 minutes or so.  It swelled up visibly.

Post-Thanksgiving Feedback 

Here is the pudding after about 10 days of being tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator:

It was firm and smelled nice.

I heated it up (first in the oven, then in the microwave oven to get it thoroughly hot) and served it at Thanksgiving dinner without any sauce.  I considered it a side dish.

The Verdict:  I liked it!  The flavor with definitely "figgy" with a mild spice complement.  The texture was firm and slightly creamy.  The bread crumb "matrix" that held the fig bits was a little bland, which was a good thing.  It was only mildly sweet so the figs could add their sweetness and keep it from being more of a dessert.

In summary, I would recommend it.  It was easy to make and fun to serve, as a bit of true England.  Success!

If I were to make it over again, I think I would chop the figs finer, so you don't get such a big bite of all fig when you do hit a chunk.  However, that would spread the fig bits more thoroughly through the whole pudding -- I'm not sure if that would be good or not!

One thing I like about figs is how their seeds crunch, and I got that in this pudding.

A quote from Ms. Crump's book:  "Blessed be he that invented pudding, for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people."  Happy Holidays!


  1. It's good to find someone else who made a figgy pudding for Christmas! I bought a vintage pudding mold last summer, so I used it for my figgy pudding last Christmas. I used a recipe from Warne's Model Cookery from 1890 or so and it went well. My friends liked it too!

    1. Ooo! Did you boil, steam, or bake the pudding in the mold? I don't have the Warne's book but it sounds like a good one. Congratulations on a job well done!