Blueberry Pudding – A Steamed Pudding

Ingredients for the Blueberry Pudding

Ingredients for the Blueberry Pudding

Daunting. That’s all I’m going to say. If you’re at all like me the thought of making a steamed Victorian pudding sends shivers up your spine. You’ve heard about them and they sound mysterious, dark, and difficult. What on earth would you steam the pudding in? For how long? Why?

Luckily, I’d slightly mastered the process thanks to the other side of Dan’s family – the Scottish MacKenzie side. The year Dan and I met, he was to attend a family reunion on Prince Edward Island in Canada. I was lucky enough to go along and there I met the Scottish family. I was smitten since I am also of Scottish heritage.

During our first Christmas as newlyweds I wanted to make something traditional from his family’s Prince Edward Island heritage so I emailed Donald and Marion MacKenzie to see what I could learn. They sent me a recipe for Christmas Plum Pudding and I learned that Dan grew up eating this Plum Pudding that his mother and grandmother (who had immigrated from Prince Edward Island as a young woman) made every year. And it really was quite simple to make and so delicious. I make it every year now.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c molasses
  • 1 lb raisins

Mix all the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Cream butter and add eggs one at a time. Beat in molasses and then add milk alternately with dry ingredients using a mixer on low speak. Mix well. Gently stir in raisins.

Divide batter into 3 well greased tin coffee cans (which are getting very hard to find! Keep them from year to year!)

Cover top of can with aluminum foil and tie tightly with string.

Set the cans in a large pot of boiling water that comes half way up the can. Cover pot and steam for 3 hours on a low boil or simmer.

When pudding is cool turn cans upside down and work pudding out of can. The pudding can be frozen or will keep for a few days in the frig. Each pudding can feed 6 people.

Best served warm with a hard sauce over it! Yum!!!!

I usually divide the recipe in thirds and only make one for Dan and I.

Despite my pudding experience I still was worried about Aunt Lillian’s Blueberry pudding recipe. Or at least her friend’s recipe. The recipe was slipped in the book and was obviously given to her by a friend or relative as there is a note written at the bottom of the recipe to “Lillie”. Which was the first Dan ever knew that his Aunt was called Lillie!

The batter should thick enough o be able to hold up a spoon

The batter should thick enough o be able to hold up a spoon

The recipe is a true steamed Victorian era pudding – the type that fell out of favor in probably in the 1940s or so. Puddings have a fascinating history going back to ancient times. The first puddings were meat puddings steamed in sausage like casings and descend from Roman era sausage. The British seem to have invented the pudding and certainly claim ownership. In Medieval times all puddings were still meat based, but by the 17th century they were beginning to be either meat or sweat puddings. By the late 18th century all puddings were sweat and by the 19th century they were all boiled and cake-like. Today in England they are still quite popular and while I was researching contemporary pudding recipes I found several English sites that helped me figure out how to steam the pudding. I also found English websites that sold ceramic basins in which to steam puddings, which helped me realize that my good heavy pottery bowl would do just fine. There are also numerous fluted tins to steam puddings in.

Interestingly in America, although we also steamed puddings throughout the Victorian period, we also developed a dear fondness for custard based puddings which is what most of us think of when we hear the word pudding. And now of course we think of those little boxes of instant pudding and wouldn’t even imagine making it from scratch. But obviously we still steamed puddings up through the 1930s or so because all my cookbooks have many recipes for these puddings though none quite like Lillian’s Blueberry Pudding.

For one thing, her’s calls for no eggs and for sweetener it calls for either molasses or saccharin. Yep, saccharin. I’m sure if you’re like me you’d be surprised that saccharin wasn’t invented in 1970. Nope, try 100 years earlier in 1879! It was discovered by accident and then patented and was pushed quite heavily as a sugar substitute especially during World War One. Thanks to the help of Lynne Olver and the Food Timeline she helped me date Aunt Lillian’s recipe to c. 1920 just after the War.

Here’s the recipe with my modifications:

Blueberry Pudding

  • 1 1/4 c. milk (her recipe called for 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup molasses (or use saccharin) (I used molasses)
  • 1/2 tsp each of cassia (this is cinnamon), cloves, and nutmeg
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 2 cups blueberries
Making hard sauce is easy

Making hard sauce is easy

Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the milk and stir just enough to form a stiff batter. Fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into a well greased pottery bowl. Cover with aluminum foil very tightly. Place in a large pot of water, with a trivet of some kind for the pottery to rest one and with the water coming halfway up the bowl. Cover the pot and steam the pudding for 3 hours.

(Lillian’s friend wrote in one long sentence at the bottom: “Lillie I had to use a little more milk perhaps that flour I used took up more anyway it served to stiff.” And boy was she right! More on this a bit later.)

Serve with hard sauce.

Hard Sauce Recipe from 1924 Fanny Farmer

  • 1/3 c butter (softened)
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/3 tsp. lemon extract
  • 2/3 tsp vanilla
Steaming the Pudding in the Covered Pottery Bowl in the Water Steamer

teaming the Pudding in the Covered Pottery Bowl in the Water Steamer

Cream butter and gradually add sugar then add flavoring until all is mixed. (The secret to this is to have super soft butter and then its a breeze).

This was a two try recipe. The first time I tried it I tried following the recipe and yes, it was too little milk so I get adding a bit more, than a bit more and a bit more each time beating and beating. Well, anyone who knows cakes knows that the more you beat it the more chewy and touch the cake will become. When the cake came out I also was too exhausted to make the hard sauce and so we tried it without. BIG MISTAKE! The combination of the very tough cake without the sweetness of the hard sauce frosting made this horrible! I almost didn’t make it again.

The finished pudding - not beautiful but so delish!

The finished pudding - not beautiful but so delish!

But I persevered and am so glad I did. The second time worked like a charm and the cake was moist with the hard sauce adding just the right amount of sweetness to this lovely Victorian-style steamed pudding. Some cautions – its very hard to pull out the finished pudding from the steam bath as there is not much room for your oven mitts and the water if very hot! Another tip – I had a heck of a time finding something large enough to steam the pottery bowl in and finally remember the huge covered pan we bought for canning. It even comes with a trivet like thing that I rested the pottery bowl on! Without this I would have been pretty stymied.

I’m super proud of myself for making this dish and feel like I’ve over come a major hurdle in Victorian cooking! What next?

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