Pageant Summer Pudding

Begin with half a pound of raspberries
Picked from the deep end of your sloping garden, where the birds
Play hopscotch with the draggled fruit nets

Grevel Lindop

At the beginning of this month three years ago, after watching the Queen’s diamond jubilee pageant on the Thames, triumphant in spite of the traditional grey,wet, damp and cold British weather, we enjoyed a late lunch: and Saucy Dressings’ chief taster declared this version of equally traditional summer pudding to be ‘the best I’ve ever eaten’.

The music to listen to while you prepare this

The Academy of Ancient Music provided the music for the pageant – you can hear them playing below, at the bottom of this post, – the music begins about three minutes into the clip.

Originally known as ‘hydropathic’ pudding – it’s good for you

Dorothy Hartley (Food in England 1954) explains that originally summer pudding was known as ‘hydropathic’ pudding as it was served in nursing homes where patients weren’t allowed to eat pastry. So, packed as it is with vitamin C, you can feel doubly virtuous when consuming this – forget about the calories and the cream!

Which bread to use

You need good quality white bread for a decent summer pudding. Don’t use the plastic, sliced stuff as it goes slimy. Nigel Slater specifies diet white bread in his recipe – I have tried that and I couldn’t really detect any taste advantage. Gordon Ramsay and, separately, Terence Conran suggest using brioche ‘for an interesting if unauthentic texture’ Conran explains – I think that makes the whole thing too sweet.

The fruit to use

The poet Grevel Lindop soaks the raspberries and redcurrants in orange juice first – this adds a little extra taste and acidity to stop it becoming cloying – but it’s not strictly necessary. You can also add a little crème de cassis, or British cassis, for interest.

Quick way to make individual summer puddings

You can make individual cheats’ version summer puddings by warming the fruit as described below, and then layering small triangles of white bread and the fruit in generous wine glasses or glass bowls and refridgerating for an hour or so… again serving with cream.

Recipe for the perfect summer pudding

Serves four to six

  • 400g/14 oz white farmhouse loaf, if possible a day old 
  • 1 kg/2 lbs mixed red and black summer fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants (a third to half the amount of black and redcurrants to strawberries and raspberries). Reserve a few of the best specimens to garnish if you want
  • 220g/1 cup caster sugar
  • 300ml/1¼ cups double cream – or you can use crème fraîche
  • some people also add a little crème de cassis, or even better British cassis – which is a little less sweet and cloying
  1. Slice the loaf and cut off the crusts
  2. Line a pudding bowl (just big enough to contain the fruit) with one layer of sliced bread, cut to fit the bowl as closely as possible, retaining some of the bread to eventually cover the top of the bowl
  3. Prepare the fruit, hulling the berries and freeing the currants from their stalks. Halve the strawberries so as to let the pallid heartsflesh transfuse its juice into the mass as Lindop instructs. I often don’t use strawberries at all.
  4. Put the least tender fruit and the sugar into a stainless steel saucepan (not an aluminium pan as the acid will attack the pan)
  5. Heat slowly to nearly boiling, adding the most tender fruit (the raspberries) last, until the skins start to burst and the juices just begin to leave the fruit, stirring carefully so as not to break up the fruit, especially the delicate raspberries
  6. Take off the heat and spoon the fruit into the lined bowl – it should fill it. Reserve the left-over juice, and reduce to a glaze
  7. Cover with the bread – again achieving as clean and tight a fit as possible
  8. Cover with a plate or sauce which just fits inside the top of the bowl, and weigh it down with tins or jars
  9. Refrigerate for a day or two (minimum overnight)
  10. Run a sharp knife down around the edge of the bowl to free it, and then invert into a shallow bowl (not a flat plate because the juices will run out), giving a couple of confident shakes – as Grevel Lindop describes:

Slide your knife round its socket to uncling – a sudden suck –
This gelid Silbury mined with the wealth
Of archetypal summer….

Serve it, garnished with any perfect berries and glazed with the slightly warmed juice of the fruit, presenting the cream separately.

pageant summer pudding
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