Category Archives: Food

Victorian Cooking – the Plum Duff and the Spotted Dick


Traditional English Plum Duff

Plum Duff is a type of boiled pudding involving dried fruit. Despite the inclusion of the name ‘plum’,  the pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word ‘plums’ as a term for raisins and other dried fruits. ‘Duff’ is a Northern Britain dialect word for ‘dough’.  Suet, citron and spices are always part of the recipe. Contrary to what you might see on the internet, a Plum Duff isn’t quite the same thing as a Christmas plum pudding.

The plum duff became popular around 1830, as sugar became more available in the marketplace. Because plum duff is a boiled pudding, you didn’t need an oven. Make a jug of custard, and you were right as rain. This might explain the popularity of the Spotted Dick pudding. The main difference between these pudding are the spices, the duff is  richer and spicier version of the dick.


Spotted Dick


Like the plum duff, the Spotted Dick’s name is a misnomer. ‘Dick’ in this case is another word for ‘dough’, same as ‘duff’. The spots are caused by the dried fruit like currants or raisins. Again, the pudding is made with suet and boiled, and is usually served with custard. A recipe for spotted dick is first described in Alexis Soyer’s The modern Housewife or ménagère, published in 1849. It has the alternate names of plum bolster and spotted dog. When you think about the spots on a Dalmatian, spotted dog makes a lot of sense, but doesn’t have the double entendre fun factor.

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A Snapshot of a traditional Victorian Dessert: the Queen of Puddings


two cups of stale breadcrumbs (you can whizz them up in the blender from stale bread)

one tablespoon of castor sugar

two teaspoons of vanilla essence/or a vanilla bean

one tablespoon of grated lemon zest (usually from one large lemon or two small ones)

two and a half cups of full cream milk

three tablespoons of butter, do not substitute margarine (level, not heaped)

four medium-to-large eggs separated into yolks and whites

a quarter of a cup of rosella, blackcurrant or raspberry jam (or any jam you prefer; home-made is optional)

three quarters of a cup of caster sugar for the meringue topping

two teaspoons of crystal sugar and food colouring (pink is pretty), or you can buy ready-made coloured sugar.

Combine the breadcrumbs, the tablespoon of castor sugar, vanilla essence and lemon zest in large bowl. (Instead of the essence, you can stick a vanilla bean – cut open lengthways – into the caster sugar a day or so before cooking this recipe. Remember to take it out before using the sugar.)

Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan, but take care not to let the mixture boil. If it boils, it will develop a scum on the top. Some cooks preferred to mix the butter with the breadcrumbs and the lemon zest with the heated milk. This second method tends to make the milk curdle.

Stir the heated milk and butter into the dry ingredients and allow the mixture to stand for ten minutes, or until all the liquid has soaked into the breadcrumbs.

Stir the yolks into the bread mixture, or for an extra gooey base, you can add an extra unseparated egg. Pour this into an ovenproof pie dish.
Bake uncovered in moderate oven (180 to 200 degrees Celsius) for about 35 mins until this base is set to a point to where it doesn’t wobble. It often helps if this base is cooked with a pan of water at the bottom of the oven, or cooked in a bain-marie.

Meanwhile, heat the jam; it is perfectly okay to microwave it, but cover it as it will spit and be certain not to burn it. For the purists, heat the jam in a saucepan sitting inside another, larger saucepan filled with hot water. Don’t get any water in the jam, as it will spit and burn you. The double saucepan set-up prevents the jam from burning, in theory.

Carefully spread the top of set pudding with the warmed jam. Then let the pudding cool down – you could even refrigerate it at this point. However, don’t try to freeze it or it will go soggy.

Beat the four egg whites in a small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form, and then gradually add the extra castor sugar, beating the mixture until sugar is dissolved. This is a meringue topping, so it has to be perfectly smooth. (You can cheat and use a bought pavlova mix.)

Spread the meringue mixture over pudding, bake in moderate oven about ten minutes or until the soft peaks of the meringue turn a light brown (just like they have been stained with weak tea). The whole pudding should be warmed through.

If the pudding is for a special occasion, you can tint the crystal sugar, and sprinkle it over the hot pudding. This pudding is good on its own, or with non-traditional vanilla ice-cream or thickened cream. It doesn’t keep well, so invite friends and family to share the pudding while it is still hot. It should serve six to eight people.

This pudding  was a favourite of Queen Victoria, and hence, very fashionable in the Victorian era.

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