Being a long-term ‘no sugar in my tea thank you’/’wholemeal for me’ sort of person I have rather walked on the other side of the road from white loaves, even ‘locally grown’ offerings. When I cultivated a seasonal summer pudding habit I quickly discovered that advice to use any white bread was council of ignorance. Few turn their nose up at summer pudding a dish which is something of a test bed for bread quality. Partly prompted by the subject of this blog I bought a Swansea loaf in the Market. I don’t know of the identity or provenance of this loaf (does anybody definitively?) but it certainly looks magnificent; like a fossilised thunderbolt just flung to earth from the hand of Jove. The dough has been gathered up to make a smooth rounded bottom but left irregular on top. A low-quality loaf (industrially steam-baked) would produce a pappy slime when it absorbed the berry juice; the de-crusted Swansea loaf, I rejoice to say, turns out to be a fine ingredient producing an excellent pudding. The lesson from today’s parable is; you can hardly have good enough bread to make a summer pudding.
What are the councils of the wise? (For a method Delia Smith is, as always, clear) A large proportion of raspberries and no more than a quarter red currents give enough juice to mostly saturate the bread overnight. Set some of the juice from the lightly cooked berries aside to patch up anaemic patches the next morning; resist the temptation to drink this delicious juice but its flavour will give an indication if you have added enough sugar or not. (The last made summer pudding included a good dash of my latest kitchen elixir, meadowsweet cordial, which gave it a decidedly non-puritanical edge.)
The summer pudding pictured here is a big-shouldered number as I moulded it in a soufflé dish instead of a traditional pudding basin to avoid the dangers of grounding of the top plate while pressing. In fact this is the biggest pudding I’ve made, or perhaps will ever make, as it was a repository of mixed berries from the freezer before this autumn’s are at their best. The berries on top are however fresh and were an early harvest from the tiny Edible estate; a container-planted blackberry that was bought as ‘Loch Maree’ but tasting them I have my doubts – as it is said, by their fruits shall ye know them.
Substituting bread for pastry in pies seems to be having a current vogue. The ‘Heavy Pikers’ of tv fame make a meat pie lined with pizza dough in their ‘against image’ diet book, such a cunning ruse that it has apparently sold out online as I write. But this is not such an innovation as it may at first seem.
My ill-informed idyll of the origins of the summer pudding was set in a humble cottage kitchen. When the apples ‘hung down low’ at the end of summer a pudding bowl would be lined with a thinly sliced end of a stale white loaf and a trug taken out to forage for its filling. Weighted down, the moulded pudding was left on the pantry’s cold shelf until next morning, filled with sweetened, lightly-stewed brambles gathered from the hedgerow. Unfortunately, we must wrench ourselves away from this rural scenario as summer pudding’s nativity has apparently more to do with early 20th century health fads; traced back to the wonderfully-named An Olio of Proved Recipes and Domestic Wrinkles (1st ed. 1904) by Miss L. Sykes. Nonetheless, preparing a summer pudding can indeed be a sort of personal harvest festival; produced from modest ingredients, the technique has the form of a ritual that climaxes in something extraordinary and celebratory. Once I shared an evening meal with a farming family in Kent, the dessert was served in large soup bowls and enjoyed in respectful silence; a whole summer pudding each, surrounded by a halo-like moat of spotless cream.