Suffolk on a plate
Keep it berry simple with fruity summer pudding
Aschoolfriend back in the day had a German exchange student stay with them for a week and at the airport, they asked him if there was anything he had found strange about our habits. He said: “This Yorkshire pudding – why?” I imagine visitors to our shores have also said that about one of my all-time favourite desserts, summer pudding.
The stock recipe for summer pudding calls for you to warm soft fruits (typically raspberries and redcurrants) with sugar until the juices run well, but while the fruit is still holding much of its shape, then to use the resultant compote to fill a bread-lined basin. I like to add blackcurrants for a tart edge, early blackberries, if they are available, for colour and ripeness, and even strawberries, diced or quartered to avoid them looking mushy. Chilled overnight, the bread casing soaks up the spare liquid turning the slices a beautiful berry hue and stabilises the whole creation so it can be turned out. It should even be fit for slicing if you are really fortunate.
It does have its drawbacks. To keep it such a solid construction, the bread rarely soaks through and the resultant dessert is patchy pink and white on the outside – far from pretty. So, I soak the bread in the berry juices before I line the dish, or make it in individual moulds and use the bread in horizontal layers, similar to a trifle. It looks impressive when served and doesn’t have to be chilled for so long.
VARIATIONS ON A SUMMER PUDDING
Bread: instead of the standard sliced white loaf, Madeira cake is sometimes suggested. It looks nicer but it is much sweeter and doesn’t hold up so well if you
are turning out your pudding. Buttery brioche is a halfway house. Another alternative is Italian Savoiardi biscuits or lady fingers.
Fruit: As well as using the full gamut of different soft fruit such as mulberries, loganberries or the new-fangled jostaberries (a cross of blackcurrant and gooseberry), using a third of softened, chopped Cox apple in the fruit mix makes the berries go further with little impact on flavour.
‘Why not try adding a splash of liquid with a more flavour intent, perhaps a fruity red wine?’
Flavourings: If you have tried macerating raw strawberries for a day or two with balsamic vinegar, pink peppercorns or just a grinding of the black peppermill and caster sugar, you will know how delicious the bittersweet results can be. If you then add softened berries to this mix, you have a more piquant variation to the norm. If you are even more adventurous, the complementary tastes of shredded mint leaves and/or freshly-sliced red chillies (without the seeds) adds a lively edge to the end result. Other alternatives are to add rosewater, or even scented geranium leaves, or dried rose petals into the simmering fruit, allowing it to steep for an hour or so.
Juices: A key part of the recipe is to warm the fruit by simmering it with sugar and sometimes a few tablespoons of water. Why not try adding the splash of liquid with a more flavour intent, perhaps a fresh and fruity red wine such as Italian chianti or valpolicella, or fruit juice such as good local apple. I also quite favour something more intense yet similarly flavoured, such as sloe gin or blackberry vodka, which add depth and a concentration to the juices.
Sweetness: This Victorian recipe was created when we had much less of a sweet tooth and for many, especially the younger generation, summer pudding can taste a little tart. For me it comes down to the ripeness of the raw fruit. With ice cream on the side, or sweetened cream, it needs very little sugar in the mix. (Buy Silver Spoon sugar and support British farmers growing sugar beet, rather than imported cane sugar shipped thousands of miles).
Accompaniments: Summer pudding cries out for something creamy – traditionally a glug of luscious pouring cream or sweetened crème Chantilly. For a musky elderflower cream, try folding some cordial into whipped cream at the soft peak stage (no other sugar required). You can even fold into whipped cream shredded leaves of fresh basil or mint.