Sussex is the home of puddings – not desserts – puddings. I make this sweeping claim with a degree of authority; authority borrowed from Mrs Beeton who acquired her steak and kidney pudding recipe from a correspondent in Sussex – the county by then having already been famous for its puddings for a good century (Mrs Beeton was writing the articles that were collated in the first edition of her book of household management in 1859-61).
Ashdown Partridge Pudding, Sussex Bacon Pudding, Sussex Hogs’ Pudding, Chichester Pudding, Sussex Blanket Pudding, Sussex Well Pudding and, of course, Sussex Pond Pudding are all listed as traditional dishes with their origins hereabouts.
I’ve made Sussex pond pudding on a number of occasions. There are a few things one must remember. Firstly, and rather obviously, the lemon should be unwaxed. Secondly it’s a really good idea to use a thin skinned lemon. The essential notion with a Sussex pond pud is that the lemon should dissolve. That leads us to point three – that one can’t skimp on the steaming time of three hours.
It’s a range top pud – the sort of dish that, along with proper rice pudding or a casserole, works best of you have one of those smart ranges that is always running; heating the house, drying the dog or simply providing a prop on which middle aged people can make love (having, of course, taken sensible precautions against getting scorched buttocks).
There are other puddings such as apple hat and Kentish well pudding (it uses raisins) that are variations on the theme (the theme of puddings that is and not stove-top love-making). Traditionally such things were wrapped in muslin and steamed. Nowadays we use pudding basins. My guess is that the muslin method is rather trickier but allows the pudding to cook better throughout.
The Wealden pond pudding is my variation – part Sussex pond pud and part apple hat. It uses a simple suet – 400g self raising sponge flour – I add an extra tsp or so of baking powder just to be sure – 200g veg suet and a little water (plus a pinch of salt if you feel your blood pressure could be a little higher), draw them together into a just moist dough and reserve a quarter for the ‘lid’.
Use a large pudding basin, grease it and line it using three quarters of the suet pastry. The filling is simple; fill the bottom sixth to quarter with cubed butter and demerara sugar, fill with roughly cut Bramley apple and grated quince (I used one large Bramley and one smaller quince) and then fill to the brim and beyond with more butter and demerara.
Pop on a suet pastry lid and cover with greaseproofed paper (fold a pleat into the paper) tying it around with string. Steam gently for two hours.
So why call it Wealden Pond Pudding? ‘Cos “I invented it in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot,” if you get my meaning; because I had one last quince in the fridge and some nice looking Bramleys and because midwinter is a perfect time for steamed puds.
The result is nothing short of revalatory. The suet crust is light and moist, the quince gives the whole pudding an otherworldly perfume, the buttery sauce, tipped back over a slice of Wealden Pond Pudding, is an indulgence of a sort over which the Popes themselves once exercised a monopoly.
It is simply the very best pudding I have ever made, so good that it’s almost worth weathering the winter simply to have an excuse to sit next to a roaring fire with a glass of apple brandy and a slice of Sussex heaven.