It’s summer and the supermarkets are full of seasonal fruit which make an appearance during the brief summer months before they disappear off supermarket shelves. Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants… just perfect for a lovely summer pudding.
I think I was probably about five when I first came across a photograph of a delicious looking summer pudding in my mum’s The Cookery Year cookbook. At that age I was a very picky eater who wasn’t happy unless I was stuffing my face with an ample supply of chocolate. So how strange that I should be so enthralled by what is essentially a fruit pudding! I think it was the colours that did it. I was fascinated by the shock of magenta and gorgeous berry tones that made this dessert so appealing which contrasted with the crowning glory that was light, fluffy whipped cream.
Summer pudding is a popular, traditional British dessert although it’s origins are unclear. The earliest published summer pudding recipe was published in 1902 by S. Beaty-Pownall however this dessert could have existed since the nineteenth century. It is made by lining a deep dish with sliced white bread before being filled with assorted berries. It is then topped off with a final slice of bread, soaked in the juices of the soft fruit and left overnight before being turned out onto a plate.
It is unknown exactly who, why, when or where summer pudding was invented. One possibility is that it was a summer substitute for the heavy, stodgy suet puddings that were popular in winter during Victorian England.
It’s also possible that summer pudding could have been served in health farms where people went to be cleansed and aided in weight loss. Then there’s the belief that it was served in hospitals to the old and infirm as it was easy to digest. It’s beginnings may be shrouded in mystery but summer pudding is more than just an invalid’s dessert!
It is better to make this dessert with bread that is slightly stale as this helps the bread to retain a good non-mushy texture once the juice has soaked through. It is traditionally made using raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants though sometimes cherries, blueberries and any other soft fruit that is available can also be used so it’s a great way to take advantage of the fabulous fruit that’s in season – especially as it’s available for such a short time. It is then served with lashings of cream.
As with most well known dishes, different variations of this pudding exist. Any variety of soft fruit can be used. Some recipes call for brioche or pannetone to be used instead of white bread. There are recipes which ask for the berries to be stewed while others use raw fruit. There is also an autumnal version of this summer classic which includes pears and plums as well as berries.
A summer pudding definitely takes me back to my childhood when I was a kid poring over mum’s cook books – at a time when I could barely read! Unfortunately it wasn’t a dessert Mum ever made for us but we did eat quite a few shop bought ones. Believe me – they’re not as great a good old fashioned homemade pudding whipped up from scratch. And the great thing about a summer pudding is that as impressive looking (and tasting!) as it is, it’s so simple to make. And because it’s packed full of fruit, I don’t even think of it as a pudding but one portion of my five a day!
If you fancy whipping up a summer pudding for a new generation to try and making full use of our summer fruits – while we still have them – give this recipe by Gordon Ramsay a go. It tastes amazing!
INDIVIDUAL SUMMER PUDDINGS
1kg mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries)
50g caster sugar
4 tbsp. Crème de Cassis (or water)
800g(approx.) loaf white bread, sliced
Extra berries to serve
- Strip berries from their stalks and hull strawberries.
- Toss berries in a non-stick saucepan with sugar and Cassis or water.
- Heat the pan until it starts to sizzle. Cook over a medium heat until the fruits start to bleed and soften.
- Stir gently, then cool to room temperature.
- Strain fruit through a plastic sieve into a non-metallic bowl until the juices stop dripping.
- Have 8 cappuccino or tea cups (about 200ml) ready.
- Using 2 cutters (approx. 10cm and 6cm, but check against the tops and bottoms of your cups), cut out 8 bread rounds of each size.
- Cut the crusts off 8 more slices and slice in half. These strips should be approximately the same depth as the cups.
- Dip the small rounds of bread into the reserved juices and press into the cups.
- Dip the straight slices in the juice and press around the sides.
- Spoon in the fruits, pressing down with the back of a spoon to firm.
- Dip the last of the bread rounds into the juice; press down on top. Chill overnight.
- When ready to serve, loosen bread tops with the tip of a table knife.
- Hold a dessert plate over the pudding, then turn upside down, shaking well.
- The puddings should slip out easily; if not, loosen the sides gently with the knife.
- Pour any remaining juice over the tops of puddings.
- Decorate with the remaining fruit; serve with pouring cream, clotted cream or mascarpone.