Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Origins of the English Classic, Herodotus' Pudding.

The Origins of the English Classic, Herodotus' Pudding.

A Traditional English Pudding

In her book, Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in 1845, Eliza Acton published a recipe for what she termed Herodotus' Pudding. The full recipe is given here, as Eliza Acton wrote it:

(A Genuine Classical Receipt.)
"Prepare and mix in the usual manner one pound of fine raisins stoned, one pound of minced beef-suet, half a pound of bread-crumbs, four figs chopped small, two tablespoonsful of moist sugar (honey, in the original), two wineglassesful of sherry, and the rind of half a large lemon (grated). Boil the pudding for fourteen hours."
Obs.—This receipt is really to be found in Herodotus. The only variations made in it are the substitution of sugar for honey, and sherry for the wine of ancient Greece. We are indebted for it to an accomplished scholar, who has had it served at his own table on more than one occasion; and we have given it on his authority, without testing it: but we venture to suggest that seven hours would boil it sufficiently.

The quotation marks mean that she was given the recipe by someone else and simply gives it verbatim in her book (you can find the full text here: Herodotus' Pudding from Chapter 20, Puddings of Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery).

I scoured my copy of Herodotus' 'Histories' and eventually came upon the right paragraph:

Writing about 325 BCE, the Greek writer, Herodotus, (Ἡρόδοτος Hēródotos) [c. 484 BCE – c. 425 BCE], who has been termed the 'father of history' wrote the folowing in the second book of his 'Histories' when the sacrifice of kine by the Egyptians:

The disembowelling and burning are, however, different in different sacrifices. I will mention the mode in use with respect to the goddess whom they regard as the greatest, and honour with the chiefest festival. When they have flayed their steer they pray, and when their prayer is ended they take the paunch of the animal out entire, leaving the intestines and the fat inside the body; they then cut off the legs, the ends of the loins, the shoulders, and the neck; and having so done, they fill the body of the steer with clean bread, honey, raisins, figs, frankincense, myrrh, and other aromatics. Thus filled, they burn the body, pouring over it great quantities of oil. Before offering the sacrifice they fast, and while the bodies of the victims are being consumed they beat themselves. Afterwards, when they have concluded this part of the ceremony, they have the other parts of the victim served up to them for a repast.

In effect, in the description above the pudding mixture is cooked in the fat of the inside of the animal's stomach and though the Victorian recipe may look very different, in fact it's not that far away.

The recipe next turns up in a recipe from Brasenose College Oxford for a meal in 1846 that were discovered in 1944:

That solid puddings of this kind became a part of everyday College fare is suggested by the survival of just one Brasenose recipe, from 1846, for 'Herodotus Pudding'. The ingredients were to be mixed well together, put into a mould or basin and boiled for seven hours:

250g/2 cups suet
250g/2 cups raisins
125g/2 cups fine breadcrumbs
125g/1 cup sugar
4 fi gs, chopped
Grated rind of one lemon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
4 tablespoons of brandy
2 eggs

Mix the ingredients together, put them in the pudding basin, tie a greaseproof paper circle over the top of the basin and steam for five hours.

You can find more about this here.

This is very similar to Eliza Acton's recipe, except that eggs are added to help bind the mixture and allspice is used as a flavouring.

In 1861, Mrs Beeton, in her Book of Household Management, publishes her own version of Herodotus' Pudding:

1287. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, 1/2 lb. of good figs, 6 oz. of suet, 6 oz. of moist sugar, 1/2 saltspoonful of salt, 3 eggs, nutmeg to taste.
Mode.—Mince the suet and figs very finely; add the remaining ingredients, taking care that the eggs are well whisked; beat the mixture for a few minutes, put it into a buttered mould, tie it down with a floured cloth, and boil the pudding for 5 hours. Serve with wine sauce.
Time.—5 hours.
Average cost, 10d. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time.

The recipe is much better presented, but the raisins of the original have been omitted, there is no mention that it is based on a recipe published by Eliza Acton and there is no mention that Herodotus is the ultimate source. So the recipe now is devoid of its context. You can see Mrs Beeton's version of this recipe at: (Mrs Beeton's Recipe for Herodotus pudding from Chapter 27, Pudding and Pastry Recipes, Book of Household Management). Again, eggs are used as a binding agent and the amouont of suet has been reduced and nutmeg is used as a flavouring.

An adaptation of this version appears in a 1947 in a book called 'Good Puddings and Pies'. Again this is essentially a copy of Mrs Beeton's recipe (figs but no raisins). However, this is so distant from Eliza Acton's original that the author no longer has any idea that it originates from Herodotus' Writintgs:

Mix together half a pound of suet, a quarter of a pound of breadcrumbs, a quarter of an ounce of allspice, one egg, the grated rind of half a lemon, a glass of sherry, and five figs chopped very finely. Beat all together until quite smooth, put into a greased mould, and boil for six or seven hours. Serve with a Wine Sauce (page 86). But why Herodotus?

So, Herodotus' pudding has been published for almost a century. I am therefore in very good company in publishing my own adaptation of this classic recipe here that sticks a little bit more true to both Herodotus' and Eliza Acton's writings.

At least, I have published all the sources and given a history of the evolution and adaptation of the pudding!

Herodotus' Pudding

225g seedless raisins
200g shredded suet (beef is best)
120g fine breadcrumbs
3 dried figs, finely chopped
2 tbsp runny honey
70ml dry sherry
1 egg, beaten
finely-grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine the fruit, suet, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and spices in a bowl. Mix thoroughly together then add the sherry, beaten egg and honey. Mix thoroughly until all the ingredients have been well moistened then turn the pudding mixture into a pudding bowl or basin.

Cover with a lid or tie securely on a sheet of greaseproof (waxed) paper (fold a pleat in this to allow for expansion. Cover the pudding basin with a double layer of foil (again fold a pleat in this to allow for expansion) then tie string secruely around the rim of the bowl and use a loop of this string to form a handle.

Sit the pudding on a trivet or an upturned plate in a deep pan. Pour in boiling water to come 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pudding bowl. Place on the heat and bring to a bowl. Cover with a lid and boil for five and a half hours (top up the water as needed and ensure that the pudding does not boil dry).

To be true to the Victorian origins of this pudding serve it with a sweet wine sauce. Of course, custard also works well.

I hope you enjoyed this little article about a classic English pudding and that the question of Why Herodotus? has how been answered.

You can also find this pudding at its home on the Celtnet Recipes site: Herodotus' Pudding Modern Recipe, where modern versions of Eliza Acton's Herodotus' Pudding and Mrs Beeton's Herodotus' Pudding are also available.

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