English Summer Pudding

As mentioned in the previous post, raspberries are massively popular in Great Britain. Knowing that, it should not come as too much of a surprise that raspberries feature prominently in this classic English summertime dessert. And while it may sound terribly quaint and British to call a dessert like this “pudding” (and the British do now call virtually any dessert “pudding”), my 1967 Webster’s dictionary still identifies pudding as being the cereal-based soft food that the English still think it is.

This is a perfect dessert for celebrating the abundance of summer fruit–and it’s much easier than you might guess from the number of notes following the recipe. It’s just that this dish has many possible permutations, depending on what is ripe and available, so a few comments were necessary. I have made this dish with a variety of berries (and drupelets), but have always included raspberries. Enjoy.

English Summer Pudding

Approx. 1-3/4 to 2 lbs. berries (see notes)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar (see notes)
8–10 slices white bread, crusts removed
whipped cream, crème fraîche, thick cream, or Devonshire cream

Wash and pick through berries, removing any unripe or moldy ones. If using currants, remove stalks. If using strawberries, hull and quarter. Put all the berries in a saucepan with the sugar, and cook over medium heat for 3–5 minutes, just until the sugar has dissolved and the juice has begun to flow. Do not overcook, or you will spoil the nice, fresh flavor.

Line a bowl or pudding basin with the bread, overlapping the edges and pressing to seal. Fill in any gaps with smaller pieces of bread, if necessary. (You don’t want the fruit slipping through.) Pour in the warmed berries and juice. Put a couple of slices of bread on top of the fruit, to cover, and fold over any bits of bowl-lining bread that stick up above the level of the berries. Place a small plate (one that fits exactly inside the bowl) on top of the layer of bread. Then, on top of the plate, place a weight (a large jar or can of something) of 3 or 4 pounds. Leave the weighted pudding in the refrigerator overnight.

Just before serving the pudding, remove it from the refrigerator and turn it out onto a large serving dish. (You may need to warm the bowl slightly with your hands to get the pudding to “let go.”) If there are any white spots left on the bread, use a little of the escaping juice to “paint” the spots. To serve, cut into wedges and serve with your chosen form of cream. Serves 6–8.

Notes: The most traditional combination is red currants, black currants, and raspberries. Many versions add blackberries, cherries, or quartered strawberries. American versions include blueberries (yep, they’re North American natives). There is almost no wrong way to make this (though berries that are too dry would be a problem). You also want to use primarily red fruit, because too many black currants, black raspberries, or blackberries will make the dessert look muddy, instead of a brilliant, appetizing pink. A weight range is given because some berries are denser, weighing more for the amount of space they take up. For the traditional currant/raspberry mix, you’d use about 3/4 lbs. of currants to 1 lb. raspberries. When I made a “red, white, and blue” version (with whipped cream for the white), I used 3/4 lb. blueberries, 1 lb. strawberries, and 6 oz. raspberries. (A little over the 2lb., I know, but this is not a recipe where precision is important, as long as your bowl is big enough to hold the fruit. Your main focus is good, ripe, juicy berries.)

The range for sugar is because some berries are sweeter than others. If you use currants, you’ll need more sugar, as they are considerably tarter than, say, blueberries or strawberries. You can start at 1/2 cup, and then taste the mixture, adding more as necessary.

If you do choose to try this with currants, in case you haven’t worked with currants before: currants come in small clusters of several berries ranged along a thin stalk. Picking them off the stalk one at a time is tedious, but you can make this task easier with a fork. Grasp the thicker end of the stalk, slip the stalk between the tines of the fork, and simply move the fork down the stalk to strip all the berries off, quick as you please.


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