‘When Voltaire made his often-quoted statement that the country of Britain has “a hundred religions and only one sauce”, he was saying something which was untrue and which is equally untrue today, but which might still be echoed in good faith by a foreign visitor who made only a brief stay and drew his impressions from hotels and restaurants.’
– George Orwell, 1946 – the opening lines to his unpublished essay on British food
Not for no reason is British cuisine the envy of the world. In 1945, writer George Orwell (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), who referred to his country’s cooking as “simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous”, was commissioned by the British Council to write about food in Britain at a time of food rationing and austerity.
Alas, his work, British Cookery, was never published. But we do have his recipe for Christmas pudding. Non-British readers will note the use of suet (cooking fat made from beef or mutton that is obtained from the area around the kidney and loins), of which Orwell noted in an article for the London Evening Standard newspaper in December 1945:
South of, say, Brussels, I do not imagine that you would succeed in getting hold of a suet pudding. In French there is not even a word that exactly translates ‘suet’. The French, also, never use mint in cookery and do not use black currants except as a basis of a drink.
But if you can get it, do so. And now read on or how to make George Orwell’s Christmas pudding.
In the second half of the midday meal we come upon one of the greatest glories of British cookery—its puddings. The number of these is so enormous that it would be impossible to give an exhaustive list, but, putting aside stewed fruits, British puddings can be classified under three main heads: suet puddings, pies and tarts, and milk puddings.
Suet crust, which appears in innumerable combinations, and enters into savoury dishes as well as sweet ones, is simply ordinary pastry crust with chopped beef suet substituted for the butter or lard. It can be baked, but more often is boiled in a cloth or steamed in a basin covered with a cloth. Far and away the best of all the suet puddings is plum pudding, which is an extremely rich, elaborate and expensive dish, and is eaten by everyone in Britain at Christmas time, though not often at other times of the year. In simpler kinds of pudding the suet crust is sweetened with sugar and stuck full of figs, dates, currants or raisins, or it is flavoured with ginger or orange marmalade, or it is used as a casing for stewed apples or gooseberries, or it is rolled round successive layers of jam into a cylindrical shape which is called roly-poly pudding, or it is eaten in plain slices with treacle poured over it. One of the best forms of suet pudding is the boiled apple dumpling. The core is removed from a large apple, the cavity is filled up with brown sugar, and the apple is covered all over with a thin layer of suet crust, tied tightly into a cloth, and boiled.”
CHRISTMAS PUDDING RECIPE
1 lb each of currants, sultanas & raisins
2 ounces sweet almonds
1 ounce bitter almonds
4 ounces mixed peel
1/2 lb brown sugar
1/2 lb flour
1/4 lb breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoonful salt
1/2 teaspoonful grated nutmeg 1/4 teaspoonful powdered cinnamon
6 ounces suet
The rind and juice of 1 lemon
A little milk
1/8 of a pint of brandy, or a little beer.
Wash the fruit. Chop the suet, shred and chop the peel, stone and chop the raisins, blanch and chop the almonds. Prepare the breadcrumbs. Sift the spices and salt into the flour. Mix all the dry ingredients into a basin. Beat the eggs, mix them with the lemon juice and the other liquids. Add to the dry ingredients and stir well. If the mixture is too stiff, add a little more milk. Allow the mixture to stand for a few hours in a covered basin. Then mix well again and place in well-greased basins of about 8 inches diameter. Cover with rounds of greased paper. Then tie the tops of the basins over [with] the floured cloths if the puddings are to be boiled, or with thick greased paper if they are to be steamed. Boil or steam them for 5 or 6 hours. On the day when the pudding is to be eaten, re-heat it by steaming it for 3 hours. When serving, pour a large spoonful of warm brandy over it and set fire to it.
Before cooking, you can then stick in a silver sixpence into the mix – whoever finds it in their dish can consider themselves blessed by good fortune.
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