Sir Robert Walpole’s Dumplings

In the 18th century, naming foods after celebrities and political figures was still relatively rare. The practice became much more common in the 19th century, particularly with the myriad of foods named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This recipe from Susanna Maciver stood out to me as an unusual example of an 18th century recipe named after a politician: Sir Robert Walpole.

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, by Arthur Pond, 1742. National Portrait Gallery.

Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) is popularly known as Britain’s first prime minister, as well as the longest-serving prime minister. He dominated British politics for 20 years, a time known as the “Robinocracy.” By 1774, when this recipe was published, he had been dead for about 30 years, but most people reading the cookbook would have still remembered his name and his politics. Unfortunately, without more information, it is difficult to know what the cookbook’s author, Susanna Maciver, thought of him. The recipe could have been named simply to honor him, but it’s also possible that it represented a subtle criticism. Walpole was well-known (and frequently criticized) for his wealth and extravagance. Susanna Maciver may have linked this fairly decadent recipe, with expensive ingredients such as wine and sugar, to Walpole because of his association with wealth and excess. Or, she may have just wanted to attach her recipe to a name her audience would instantly recognize.

Sir Robert Walpole’s Dumplings:

  • 8 oz suet
  • 6 oz bread crumbs
  • 8 oz currants
  • 2 oz candied orange peel and citron, chopped fine
  • 2 whole eggs and 1 to 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 oz brown sugar

Wine Sauce:

  • sugar
  • butter
  • white wine
  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Add the whole eggs and 1 egg yolk and stir together. Add the 2nd egg yolk if it seems too dry. The mixture should be just wet enough to stick together.
  3. Pack the mixture together in your hands to make balls about the size of apples.
  4. Tie each ball tightly in a square of cheesecloth. (I used a double layer of cheesecloth, and buttered and floured it first so it wouldn’t stick).
  5. Place the dumplings in a pot of boiling water and boil for about an hour.
  6. To make the wine sauce, heat equal quantities of sugar, butter, and wine together until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.

Tasting notes:

The flavors in these reminded me of Christmas pudding – they do share a lot of ingredients, such as currants, candied peel, and suet. Unfortunately, the texture of the dumplings was not nearly as nice. They were fairly dry, especially in the middle. I’m not sure if this means I should have boiled them longer, or if they would have turned out like that anyway. The wine sauce helped a lot with the texture when they were warm, but the leftovers weren’t very good the next day (unlike the Christmas pudding, which was delicious all week!).

Forming and wrapping individual small dumplings was also a lot more work than just making one giant pudding. It was fun to try these, but I think I will not be making them again. Sorry, Sir Robert Walpole – as far as boiled puddings go, Christmas pudding is still my favorite!

References:

Maciver, S. (1774). Cookery, and pastry. As taught and practised by Mrs. Maciver, teacher of those arts in Edinburgh. Edinburgh: printed for the author. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Cookery_and_Pastry_As_Taught_and_Practis/RqZkAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1

Taylor, S. (2008). Walpole, Robert, first earl of Orford. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

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