Monday, December 14, 2009

Bespoke Suet.

I dedicate today’s story to those of you who have had the purity and foresight to order bespoke suet for your Christmas pudding, as well as to those who have ever tried to earn a living wage from their writing.

From the New Monthly Magazine in 1822, I repeat for your enjoyment, the following letter to the editor:


MR EDITOR, - For the sake of giving harmonious clearness to this Essay, let me describe the circumstances that have induced me to send it. This is beginning ab ovo, or from the egg; but what then? is a fresh egg an unimportant ingredient in a plum pudding? I must also speak of myself. But be so good, Sir, as to respect me; for though poor, I am a gentleman. I am no admirer of such vulgar plum puddings as are doled out to the unwashed artificer from the common cook's shop or the wheelbarrow. No, Sir, I love only such as breathe, like Milton's music, “a steam of rich distilled perfumes.” Such were those which were once revealed to me from beneath the silver cover of my friend; - but he is gone, and with him the days of pleasurable and pudding recollections - perhaps never to return.
I live genteelly in an attic lodging up three pair of stairs, and support myself and a grey cat in a state of honourable independence and sleekness - (I apply the sleekness to my cat and not myself.) Necessity, however, drove me lately to make a sly attempt at employment from a bookseller. I called on Messrs. Blank and Blank – (well may I call them blank, for they sent me away very blank, and I could have piously tossed them in a blanket.) I inquired about literature, and how authors contrived to live. “On bullock's liver,” said the bookseller. “We have two hundred sermons a year from the Reverend Hum Drum, and fifty volumes of history from Dr Dryrott , warranted to us better than Hume's, or Robertson's, at the rate of a halfpenny a paragraph. High feeding Sir, makes authors abdominous and stupid. What clever selling elegies Boyce would have written, with his hand stuck through a hole in the blanket, had you kept him from porter. But we are liberal, Sir, - nobody more so.” I thought to myself, there is no plum-pudding to be found here; and went home chop-fallen to dine on a solitary chop. But the thoughts of plum-pudding still haunted me. Next morning came the red-cheeked and curly-pated butcher's boy to my door, and hinted his expectation of a Christmas-box by a message desiring to know if I wanted any suet for a Christmas-pudding; for that the apothecary over the way had bespoken nine pounds of suet for the aforesaid dish. “Go,” said I, “boy, learn of the apothecary's cook how many guests are to consume this pudding, and be assured of thy Christmas-box.” He returned like lightning. Cook was positive that the dining room could dine only eighteen persons. Now then began I to reflect. Nine pounds of suet, suppose as many of flour, and twice as many of fruit, besides etceteras. Here is half a pound of suet to each particular stomach, without reckoning other things. Let me call upon you Mr Editor, by all that is dear to you in Christmas revels, to reflect on the sublime and beautiful conception of this apothecary's plum pudding. What “double double toil and trouble” to his cook, and what clanging of pestles and future employment for his prentices, thus providently stored up by his hospitality in the bowels of his friends and customers! - I meant to have written a long Essay on the subject, but hope that what 1 have written will bring me a sum sufficient to save me from the horrors of spending Christmas without a pudding. And with respectful compliments from my grey cat, which a punning friend calls a cat of praise-worthy humour, (or laudable pus,) I remain your respectful humble servant,

There are instructions for many suitably suety puddings in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive. Here is a nice way to ring the changes to any one of them, from The Times of December 18, 1939.

A Good Way with Plum Pudding.
For a change, when dishing up plum pudding, scoop a piece out of the top as large as a teacup. Put four ounces of Demarara sugar in this cavity, and fill up with either clotted cream or brandy butter.

Quotation for the Day.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.
Peg Bracken.

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