A young man called James Letcher left his home in
June 6th Saturday: This day we have a good breeze gained more today than we have before since we left Liverpool, my turn to be cook today, had meat and fig puddings boiled in a bag with a plenty of suet, but I don't like the mode they have for dressing the meat here, put into a large chaldron called copper many hundreds in bags and boiled with sea water, a very pig like way to me, we have a plenty of sugar, tea and coffee and oatmeal served out every week and good many other things but there is so many passengers on board this ship that we can[t] get our meat dressed as we ought, a person that goes to sea he must be rough both in manners and appearance and eat everything that will come along for the first, I can get along very well, but I have to eat here what I should not at home, but some folks here can't eat the meat we have.
Victorian men (unless they were professionals) did not normally cook, and elsewhere in the journal James notes the mild amusement of some of the women aboard ship at seeing him elbow deep in flour. It was probably good training for making damper – the fireside bread which was a staple of the bush and the goldfields. I wonder if his wife had given him a few hints before he left?
Suet pudding was a Victorian staple. There was an almost infinite number of variations both sweet and savoury, and they were all hearty, stick-to-your ribs kind of fare. No need to look any further than Mrs Beeton (1861) for a version such as James might have cooked.
Ingredients: 2 lbs. of figs, 1 lb. of suet, ½ lb. of flour, ½ lb. of bread crumbs, 2 eggs, milk.
Mode: Cut the figs into small pieces, grate the bread finely, and chop the suet very small; mix these well together, add the flour, the eggs, which should be well beaten, and sufficient milk to form the whole into a stiff paste; butter a mould or basin, press the pudding into it very closely, tie it down with a cloth, and boil for 3 hours, or rather longer; turn it out of the mould, and serve with melted butter, wine-sauce, or cream.
The other famous mid-nineteenth century cookbook was Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845). Eliza’s book is the finer there is no doubt, and many of Mrs Beeton’s recipes are taken from it. There is no shortage of suet pudding recipes in Modern Cookery, but Eliza also gives this lovely compote made from figs – again, the dried sort of course, not the fresh.
Stewed Figs (A Very Nice Compote)
Put into an enamelled or a copper stewpan, four ounces of refined sugar, the very thin rind of a large and fresh lemon, and a pint of cold water. When the sugar is dissolved, add a pound of fine
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Quotation for the Day …
Your face makes my soul want to eat chocolate pudding!