A regular reader who I will call Bob M (you know who you are, Bob!) responded to yesterday’s post by asking about, or suggesting “Spotted Dick.” I am not sure that this represents an ethnic slur, but it certainly sounds like it is intended as a slur to someone. The very name can trigger everything from sniggers to blushes to extreme rapidity in covering the childrens’ ears (which is not for fear that they will be frightened, but that the parents will be embarrassed by the loud questions as to what is so funny about it that everyone else is giggling.)
Spotted Dick is an English pudding. It is not to be laughed at. It is a very serious suet pudding studded with spots of currants, rolled into a a …. log or sausage shape, and steamed or boiled. Occasionally it is called Spotted Dog: there are two occasions when this is permissible. Firstly, the legitimate variation produced when the currants are sprinkled generously over the outside after the dough is rolled up, giving a Dalmation-like appearance. Secondly, when the grandchildren, the maidenly aunt, or the vicar are visiting.
There are all sorts of theories about the name. The spotted part is obvious. Moving quickly away from the obviously graphic to the wimpily linguistic we have:
- The idea that ‘dick’ is somehow derived from ‘dough’. Now, ‘dog’, I can believe comes from ‘dough’, but the other is difficult to appreciate no-matter what the accent.
- That it derives from ‘pudding’ via ‘puddink’ to ‘puddik’ to ‘dick’. An explanation which just may get it ethnic slur status.
- Reverse nomenclature. The Dalmation dog when it was introduced was named the Pudding Dog because of its curranty spots. Which gives us, perhaps, Spotted Dog, but not the other.
It is quite obvious that linguists are desperately scraping the bottom of the barrel for explanations, isnt it?
Oddly, ‘dick’ also used to refer to a type of hard cheese (the OED says so), which has almost certainly got nothing to do with the pudding, but which I thought you would find interesting. Specifically, it used to be a skim-milk cheese also called “Skim Dick”, in several English counties. It was poor cheese made too early in the season from poor milk from poor cows before they could get out in the spring pasture, the poor milk being made even poorer by skimming.
On second thoughts, it is always possible the cheese idea is related. The French call a number of things fromage because they are compressed or shaped like cheese – fromage de fruits for example. A pale slab of dough has its pale slabbiness in common with the cheese – and if the local dialect word for the latter is dick, then it is possible that this also became the nickname for the pud. It is no sillier than fromage de fruits.
‘Dick’ also can mean a leather apron, a ditch or dike (or the bank thereof), a short way of saying dictionary, and a slang name for a detective. I cant see any pudding clues there.
I offer you two recipe variations of Spotted Dick. The first is a cheat because it uses butter, not suet. What you gain in flavour you lose in stodgy texture.
6 ounces of flour
3 ounces of butter
4 ounces of sultanas or raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
Chop the butter as you would suet, and mix into it the flour with the sultanas or raisins, and the baking powder. Add as much water as will make a paste thick enough to roll out, as for roly-poly pudding or jam roll. When rolled out, fold over, and put into a pudding cloth, and boil for about one hour.
Meatless Cookery. Maria Gillmore. 1914.
The second is a cheat as the mixture is cooked in a basin rather than the traditional elongated shape. It will give you the correct flavour with less embarrassment.
4 oz. self-raising flour
4 oz. (or 2 level teacups) fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz. shredded beef suet
2 oz. castor sugar
3 oz. cleaned currants
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
milk to mix.
Sift together the flour and salt into a mixing basin. Add the breadcrumbs, suet, sugar, currants, and lemon rind and mix well. Stir in enough milk to mix to a soft dropping consistency, then spoon into a well-buttered 1 ½ pint pudding basin. Cover with buttered double-thickness greaseproof paper – buttered side inwards, and with a pleat to allow pudding to rise and tie securely. Steam gently for 2 ½ hours.
The Times, November 1968.
Quotation for the Day …
“Hallo! A great deal of steam! the pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding.”
Charles Dickens in 'A Christmas Carol'