Bowls against the cold
Lining the stomach against the cold is the oldest prescription there is, and nothing does it better than something steamed. This brigade pud, with its hearty suet casing, is an excellent option
Apples! So many apples. What to do with them all? What next can a canny cook do with an overwhelming harvest of as many varieties of this fruit as there are now leaves falling from the trees?
Apple tarts and apple pies – apple strudel, too, for sure. But there are also suet puddings – a very good one being a brigade pudding, which is stuffed with apples, sweetened with spices and muscovado sugar, and attended to with much custard.
The brigade pudding has its origins in feeding the troops when it was finally recognised (as it seemed to have taken a while for the penny to drop) that an army marches on its stomach. And if the victuals were not up to snuff, then moods grumbled louder than hungry tummies.
But let us leave those that follow the drum to their business and turn instead to matters more domestic. There is a pleasing prospect to being cosy in the kitchen while an autumn wind lifts the myriad leaves outside, every shade of fading green and red swirling in the cooling briskness of shortening days.
Lining the stomach against the cold is the oldest prescription there is. Going to a school in a city that sat on an estuary that flowed into the North Sea meant facing easterly gales that froze the blood throughout the bitter winters – but it also finely honed an all-too-healthy appetite for a steadying pudding.
Now, my grandmother fed me lunch all through senior school in Dundee. It did much to my waistline and little for my afternoon attention span after returning from lunch at Granny’s very well fed indeed. I may have consumed the calories required for military manoeuvres, but I very rarely indulged in any exercise with even remotely the same enthusiasm I had for eating.
On arrival at Granny’s Dundee tenement, I was greeted to the rich savour of a pan of lentil soup simmering on the stove in her tiny scullery. Another pan, tightly sealed, sat beyond the soup and within was the cheeriest prospect: a suet pudding. A mighty weapon against the winter’s gloom. Brigade pudding Serves 4 For the pastry 225g self-raising flour, sifted A pinch of salt
60g cold, hard butter, plus more for greasing
A spoonful or two of milk
For filling the layers The zest and juice of two lemons 5 well-sized crisp apples 30ml treacle 180g dark muscavado sugar 100g sultanas 100g raisins 50g ground almonds 30ml dark rum 1 heaped tsp ground ginger ½ a nutmeg, finely grated 1 heaped tsp ground mace 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Lightly rub a little butter over the inside of a pudding basin and lay a disc of greaseproof paper cut to fit the bottom of it.
2 Set a large bowl upon a table. Tip in the sifted flour, add in the pinch of salt and the suet. Grate the butter into the flour, then add in the milk. With swift, deft moves, bring all this together to form a dough shaped into a ball. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead lightly.
3 The dough needs to be cut into three pieces – one small enough that, when rolled the thickness of a pinkie, it will sit comfortably on the bottom of the lined pudding basin. The second piece will allow for a disc of dough, also a pinkie deep, to sit in the middle of the pudding. Last, you should be left with enough for a larger disc the full diameter of the basin to complete the structure.
4 Zest the two lemons and set the zest aside. Pour their juice into a large bowl, then peel the apples and roll each one in the lemon juice. Quarter each peeled apple, then remove the core and the pips and slice thinly – say three or four slices. Toss the slices of apple in the lemon juice.
Easterly gales froze the blood but finely honed an alltoo-healthy appetite for a steadying pudding
5 Add the remaining ingredients and mix together well. Spread one third of the apple mixture on the bottom disc of dough. Lay the second disc of dough upon this, then heap in the remaining apple. Spread evenly, then lay on the final disc of suet pastry.
6 Lay a disc of greaseproof paper on top of the final disc of dough. Seal the pudding basin with a tight-fitting lid, or tin foil scrunched tightly, or discs of greaseproof paper secured tightly beneath muslin with string. Place the basin on an upturned plate in a pan of simmering water that comes one third the way up the pudding basin. Seal the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let it steam for 3 hours.
7 Let the pudding stand for at least half an hour before unmoulding. Unmould it on to a handsome dish. Decant a great pan of custard into a jug and serve.