The age of steam
Rich and unctuous, Granny’s treacle dumpling was just the thing on a bitterly cold day in auld Dundee. Made to a family recipe, this steamed pudding is plainer than most, more Scots and wonderfully good with both cream and custard
Treacle dumpling was probably the greatest favourite of the many puddings my grandmother made for me. While I sat on the No 37 bus from Caird Hall in the centre of Dundee where I always jumped aboard, I would wonder what Granny might have on the stove. Treacle dumpling was always high on the wishlist. The bus would make its way up Perth Road, running parallel with the river Tay sparkling in the distance and the Kingdom of Fife beyond. After numerous stops, the green doubledecker would finally arrive at its destination, Hawkhill, at the beginning of Blackness Avenue, one among the many curious names of the roads, wynds and streets of Auld Dundee.
My grandmother had a small but very good clutch of trusted and beloved recipes. Even a bitterly cold Dundee day, as the chill wind from the North Sea blew through the streets, would be forgotten upon arrival at Granny’s to the smell of soups and stews, puddings and tarts baking.
Unlike treacle tart, which calls for the more genteel golden syrup, treacle dumpling requires the more robust end of the scale: the contents of the red, black and gold tin of Lyle’s finest black treacle.
Treacle is a byproduct of the sugarrefining process, a remarkable business with an even more remarkable history. Dense and rich, unctuous and potent, treacle requires judicious measuring, as too much can overwhelm even a steamed suet pudding. It is often paired, as it is here, with golden syrup to temper its might. I have written previously of a steamed ginger pudding with marmalade, but this recipe is older, plainer, more Scots and wonderfully good. What it lacks in fruit and spice it more than makes up for in comfort and joy.
Like treacle tart, soft, fresh white breadcrumbs are required to make a treacle dumpling. Here they are stirred into a bowl along with the treacle and golden syrup, then spices are added along with eggs and milk to lighten the batter. The whole is then steamed in a sealed bowl.
This is one of a fair few memorable puddings that appeared often at our table when I was growing up. My mother would watch Granny carefully as she worked, and I joined her, an avid audience to these old rituals. Indeed, there was a time long ago when such puddings appeared almost daily. Old Scots recipe books, such as Meg Dod’s The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) and those by Hannah Glasse exist still, yet curiously, I never saw a recipe book in my Granny’s scullery. There was only ever a modest notebook, the pages covered in Granny’s neat handwriting with careful instructions on how to cook our favourite dishes. This was sadly lost, but thankfully, my mum’s were not. And therein, in her (also very neat) handwriting, are a great many old Scots recipes. Bring on the steam age say I.
210g black treacle, plus 2 tbsp extra
100g golden syrup
125g self-raising flour
125g soft, fresh white breadcrumbs
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
2 tsp ground mace
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Lightly butter a pudding basin. Cut a disc of greaseproof paper to sit on the bottom, then add the 2 tbsp of treacle.
2 Put a pan, with a close-fitting lid, onequarter full with water, on a medium heat. Put a small plate on the bottom of the pan beneath the water level and cover. Reduce to a simmer.
3 To a mixing bowl, add the 210g of treacle, the golden syrup and the rest of the ingredients. Stir well into a fine batter, then pour into the prepared pudding basin. Seal with a tight-fitting lid or with greaseproof paper and tin foil tied securely with string.
4 Carefully put the basin on the plate in the pan of simmering water. The water should come halfway up the side of the basin. Cover and simmer for three hours. Check the water occasionally and top up if required.
5 Once ready, the pudding will sit happily. Serve with cream or custard – both are good here, and together they are very good.