One of my favorite things about Isabella Beeton’s 1861 cookbook, The Book of Household Management, is that she lists practical information about the cost, time to make, serving size, and season for each recipe. Knowing the season was especially important; although some fruits and vegetables could be grown in greenhouses all year, others were only available for short windows of time. Even today, that’s still the case with rhubarb, which in my area at least only appears for a few brief weeks in late spring. To make this recipe, I started haunting my grocery stores and local farmers’ markets at the start of April, checking constantly for the first sign of rhubarb’s bright red stalks. Somehow, the excitement of finally finding it after weeks of waiting feels much more gratifying than if I had been able to get it all year round.
- 4 or 5 sticks of rhubarb
- 4 oz brown sugar
- 12 oz flour
- 4.5 oz suet
- about 3/4 cup cold water
- Wash and wipe down 4 or 5 rhubarb stalks. If they are old or seem tough, peel off the outer layer of skin. Cut the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces and mix in a bowl with the sugar.
- To make the suet crust, rub the suet into the flour. Gradually add the cold water a little at a time, using just enough to form a dough.
- Take out 1/4 of the pastry to form the lid. Roll out the lid to fit a 1 1/2 pint pudding basin. Roll out the rest of the pastry slightly larger than the basin, so that it overhangs the edge by about 1 inch.
- Thoroughly butter the pudding basin and line it with the pastry.
- Put the mixed rhubarb and sugar into the pudding basin and cover with the pastry lid. Fold the edges of the pastry over the lid and seal with a little cold water.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the top of the basin, butter it on both sides, and place it on top. Cover it with either a pudding cloth or with foil, making a pleat across the middle to give the pudding room to rise. Tie it tightly around the rim of the basin with string.
- Place a small plate upside-down on the bottom of a large pot of boiling water. Gently lower the pudding in so that it rests on the plate. The water should come about halfway up the basin.
- Boil for 2 1/2 hours, topping up the water level as necessary.
- When finished, let rest in the mold for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a plate.
- Mrs. Beeton suggests serving this with cream and sugar, but since I didn’t have any cream I made the following pudding sauce, also from her book:
- 1 pint milk
- 2 eggs
- 3 oz sugar
- 1 tbsp brandy
- Heat the milk in a saucepan just until it scalds.
- Pour the milk very slowly over the eggs in a separate bowl, whisking constantly to temper them.
- Stir in the sugar.
- Put the mixture in a double boiler or in a bowl over a saucepan with boiling water.
- Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken.
- Take off the heat and mix in the brandy (or leave plain if desired).
- Put in the refrigerator to cool until the pudding is ready.
This pudding isn’t quite as pretty as I’d hoped for; the rhubarb pieces lost their beautiful pink color while cooking and everything turned the same shade of beige. It was also a bit messy to cut and serve. The taste, however, is perfect. I absolutely love rhubarb, so a pudding that’s just rhubarb and sugar with no other flavorings hits the spot for me. The suet pastry was good too, but it’s really just there to hold in the rhubarb. I served my pudding with a custard sauce, which was delicious, but it would also be good with cream and sugar as Mrs. Beeton suggests, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This is a perfect spring pudding.
Beeton, I. (1861). The book of household management. London: S.O. Beeton. https://archive.org/details/b20392758/page/672/mode/2up?view=theater