Friday, January 29, 2010

Plum Duff to Go.

Buying take-out on the way home from work is not a twenty-first century idea. The workers of Victorian London could buy a great variety of cooked food from street vendors who cried their wares from their regular pitches around the city. Make no mistake, this was not the gourmet end of the food spectrum. The arrangement was strictly for the “poorer sort” – which included the vendors themselves. The day to day life of these folk was a constant struggle to maintain a viable business, and the details are told most poignantly in an amazing sociological work by Henry Mayhew published in 1851. The full title is:


Many of the street sellers of food are described in Mayhew’s work. In a previous post we learned something of the sellers of hot cross buns, but there are many more. Amongst them are the vendors of curds and whey, hot elder wine, cakes and tarts, fried fish, hot eels and pea soup, rhubarb and spice, roasted chestnuts and apples, sheeps’ trotters, hot baked potatoes and pickled whelks. Today, to follow-on from yesterday’s story, I want to give you some of the details of the life and business of the street sellers of Plum “Duff” or Dough. It was very much a case of niche-marketing in those days – the Plum Duff vendors were separate from the vendors of “Boiled Puddings” (i.e meat puddings “which might perhaps with greater correctness be called dumplings”.)

Mayhew’s words on the plum duff sellers includes a “recipe” and costings:

“Plum dough is one of the street-eatables – though perhaps it is rather a violence to class it with the street-pastry – which is usually made by the vendors. It is simply a boiled plum, or currant, pudding of the plainest description. It is sometimes made in the rounded form of the plum-pudding; but more frequently in the "roly-poly" style. Hot pudding used to be of much more extensive sale in the streets. One informant told me that twenty or thirty years ago, batter, or Yorkshire, pudding, "with plums in it," was a popular street business. The "plums," as in the orthodox plum-puddings, are raisins. The street-vendors of plum "duff" are now very few, only six as an average, and generally women, or if a man be the salesman he is the woman's husband. The sale is for the most part an evening sale, and some vend the plum dough only on a Saturday night. A woman in Leather-lane, whose trade is a Saturday night trade, is accounted "one of the best plum duffs" in London, as regards the quality of the comestible, but her trade is not considerable.
The vendors of plum dough are the streetsellers who live by vending other articles, and resort to plum dough, as well as to other things, "as a help." This dough is sold out of baskets in which it is kept hot by being covered with cloths, sometimes two and even three, thick; and the smoke issuing out of the basket, and the cry of the street-seller, "Hot plum duff, hot plum," invite custom. A quartern of flour, 5d.; ½ lb. Valentia raisins, 2d.; dripping and suet in equal proportions, 2 ½d.; treacle, ½ d. ; and allspice, ½ d.—in all l0½ d. ; supply a roly-poly of twenty pennyworths. The treacle, however, is only introduced "to make the dough look rich and spicy," and must be used sparingly.
The plum dough is sold in slices at ½ d. or 1d. each, and the purchasers are almost exclusively boys and girls - boys being at least three-fourths of the revellers in this street luxury. I have ascertained - as far as the information of the street-sellers enables me to ascertain - that take the year through, six "plum duffers" take 1s. a day each, for four winter months, including Sundays, when the trade is likewise prosecuted. Some will take from 4s. to 10s. (but rarely 10s.) on a Saturday night, and nothing on other nights, and some do a little in the summer. The vendors, who are all stationary, stand chiefly in the street-markets and reside near their stands, so that they can get relays of hot dough.
If we calculate then 42s. a week as the takings of six persons, for five months, so including the summer trade, we find that upwards of 200 l [pounds] is expended in the street purchase of plum dough, nearly half of which is profit. The trade, however, is reckoned among those which will disappear altogether from the streets.
The capital required to start is: basket, 1s. 9d. ; cloths, 6d. ; pan for boiling, 2s.; knife, 2d. ; stock-money, 2S.; in all about, 7s 6d."

The recipes for the day are taken from yesterday’s source, Camp Cookery, by Horace Kephart, (1910).

Sweet Sauce for Puddings.
Melt a little butter, sweeten it to taste, and flavor with grated lemon rind, nutmeg, or cinnamon.

Brandy Sauce.
Butter twice the size of an egg is to be beaten to a cream with a pint of sugar and a tablespoonful of flour. Add a gill of brandy. Set the cup in a dish of boiling water, and beat until the sauce froths.

Quotation for the Day.

It's not improbable that a man may receive more solid satisfaction from pudding while he is alive than from praise after he is dead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I asked my husband what he wanted for dessert tonight, his response was Plum Duff, closely followed by Spotted Dick. Thank you for explaining Plum Duff!