Thursday, August 07, 2014

Cheshire Cheese Pudding.

This post is not about pudding made from cheese. I thought I had better get that little truth out of the way at the outset. It is about the famous pudding(s) served at the famous tavern called The Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, London which was frequented by the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson. If you are interested in eighteenth and nineteenth century London, or Dr. Johnson, or traditional savoury puddings, I hope you enjoy the following story which is taken  from Cakes and Ale: a dissertation of banquets, interspersed with various recipes, more or less original, and anecdotes, mainly veracious ( 4th ed.; London, 1913) by Edward Spencer.

Cheshire Cheese Pudding.

A little way up a gloomy court on the north side of Fleet Street – a neighbourhood which reeks of printers' ink, bookmakers' "runners," tipsters, habitual borrowers of small pieces of silver, and that "warm" smell of burning paste and molten lead which indicates the "foundry" in a printing works - is situated this ancient hostelry. It is claimed for the "Cheese" that it was the tavern most frequented by Dr. Samuel Johnson. Mr. C. Redding, in his Fifty Years' Recollections Literary and Personal, published in 1858, says: "I often dined at the

Cheshire Cheese.”

Johnson and his friends, I was informed, used to do the same, and I was told I should see individuals who had met them there. This I found to be correct. The company was more select than in later times, but there are Fleet Street tradesmen who well remembered both Johnson and Goldsmith in this place of entertainment."

Few Americans who visit our metropolis go away without making a pilgrimage to this ancient hostelry, where, upstairs, "Doctor Johnson's Chair" is on view; and many visitors carry away mementoes of the house, in the shape of pewter measures, the oaken platters upon which these are placed, and even samples of the long "churchwarden" pipes, smoked by habitués after their evening chops or steaks.

Ye Pudding,

which is served on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at 1.30 and 6.0, is a formidable-looking object, and its savour reaches even into the uttermost parts of Great Grub Street. As large, more or less, as the dome of St. Paul's, that pudding is stuffed with steak, kidney, oysters, mushrooms, and larks. The irreverent call these last named sparrows, but we know better. This pudding takes (on dit) 17 ½ hours in the boiling, and the "bottom crust" would have delighted the hearts of Johnson, Boswell, and Co., in whose days the savoury dish was not. The writer once witnessed a catastrophe at the "Cheshire Cheese," compared to which the burning of Moscow or the bombardment of Alexandria were mere trifles. 1.30 on Saturday afternoon had arrived, and the oaken benches in the refectory were filled to repletion with expectant pudding-eaters. Burgesses of the City of London were there - good, "warm," round-bellied men, with ploughboys' appetites - and journalists, and advertising agents, and "resting " actors, and magistrates' clerks, and barristers from the Temple, and well-to-do tradesmen. Sherry and gin and bitters and other adventitious aids (?) to appetite had been done justice to, and the arrival of the "procession" - it takes three men and a boy to carry the pièce de resistance from the kitchen to the dining-room -  was anxiously awaited. And then, of a sudden we heard a loud crash ! followed by a feminine shriek, and an unwhispered Saxon oath. "Tom" the waiter had slipped, released his hold, and the pudding had fallen downstairs ! It was a sight ever to be remembered - steak, larks, oysters, "delicious gravy," running in a torrent into Wine Office Court. The expectant diners (many of them lunchers) stood up and gazed upon the wreck of their hopes, and then filed, silently and sadly, outside. Such a catastrophe had not been known in Brainland since the Great Fire.

Puddings of all sorts are, in fact, favourite autumn and winter luncheon dishes in London,
and the man who can "come twice" at such a "dream" as the following, between the hours of one and three, can hardly be in devouring trim for his evening meal till very late. It is a

Snipe Pudding,

A thin slice of beef-skirt*, seasoned with pepper and salt, at the bottom of the basin; then three snipes beheaded and befooted, and with gizzards extracted. Leave the liver and heart in, an you value your life. Cover up with paste, and boil (or steam) for two-and-a-half hours. For stockbrokers and bookmakers, mushrooms and truffles are sometimes placed within this pudding; but it is better without - according to the writer's notion.

* In most recipes for puddings or pies, rump steak is given. But this is a mistake, as the tendency of that part of the ox is to harden, when subjected to the process of boiling or baking. Besides the skirt – the thick skirt – there be tit-bits to be cut from around the shoulder.

Most of the fowls of the air may be treated in the same way. And when eating cold grouse for luncheon try (if you can get it) a fruit salad therewith. You will find preserved peaches, apricots, and cherries in syrup, harmonise well with cold brown game.


Shay said...

Sparrows in a pie? English sparrows must have a lot more meat on their bones than American sparrows.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever found a recipe for the Cheshire Cheese Pudding? Even a recipe for one that called for 3 men (and a boy) to carry it, but preferably a bit smaller...

korenni said...

Shay, in Rex Stout's The Golden Spiders, he notes that once a year, Nero Wolfe had a man from upstate New York bring him 18 or 20 starlings, which apparently were enough for two hearty male appetites. Starlings are not as small as sparrows, of course, but I never saw a fat one. Seems like it would be a lot of work getting what meat there was off so many bones, but dinners were longer in the 1930s.

There are a number of medieval recipes that call for "small byrdes." I suppose one used whatever the fowler caught. What kills me is that the birds weren't boned before being put in a pie or stew, which must have been messy and bothersome in the eating. Although I know that with ortolans, in France at least, one actually eats the bones too, so maybe....

So many unanswered questions!