The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Historic Cooking: Thanksgiving Pudding from 1925.

Image from
Hello again; here we are near the end of a year that has been absolutely abnormal!  Things have changed even more for me; I was laid off from my job at the school in mid-August, due to increased costs related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and have been unemployed since then.  As I have found whenever I need to look for a job, I am overqualified for all of the minimum-wage or entry-level jobs that people are hiring for (and there are fewer of those jobs available because of all the businesses that have closed), and under-qualified for everything else!  I may need to use this time to go to grad school and get either a Master's or a teaching credential, or both, but I have no idea how I will pay for it while unemployed! I have no illusions of anything improving under the new presidency, since my situation remained the same under all the previous ones. 

One good thing that has come out of this excess of spare time, is that I have immersed myself in historical research, as well as attending as many history-related webinars and online lectures as I can, and it has resulted in some new things (none of which will earn me any kind of income, but oh well).  I have continued with the YouTube channel that I started in July and August, and it has been really interesting, although I still hate editing the videos!  I have made some interesting connections with other historians in the U.S., and it has inspired me to keep going with my own research and costume and cooking projects.  I have a whole list of historic recipes that I would like to make into videos for the YouTube channel, and I am currently translating my beginning hand-sewing class -- which I taught to elementary school students a few years ago -- into a series of videos, too.  But the weather has grown cool, and all I want to do right now is bake, and drink tea!

Christmas Pudding photo from
Here's an interesting antique recipe for your Thanksgiving meal, if you don't like pumpkin pie: Thanksgiving Pudding! It is from a cookbook that was published as a freebie (full of ads for local businesses) for newlyweds (or rather, new brides), in Oakland, California, in 1925. 

2 Cups Flour, Graham or Whole Wheat
½ Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon Soda
½ Cup Molasses
¼ Teaspoon Cloves
1 Cup Milk
¼ Teaspoon Allspice
1 Cup Raisins
¼ Teaspoon Nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Shortening
Mix and sift flour, salt, soda and spices; add milk, molasses and melted shortening; beat well and stir in raisins, seeded and cut in small pieces; turn into a well-greased mould; tie the cover on firmly and steam for 2 ½ hours; serve with liquid or hard sauce.
--from _Cupid’s Book of Good Counsel_, Oakland, CA, 1925. 

Bread-and-butter Pudding. Photo: 
Elizabeth Urbach.

Notice that this is one of the old-fashioned puddings that is more like a cake than what we would call pudding today!  The dessert that we know as pudding, would have been called a custard before the 1940s; this recipe would make something more like a bread pudding.  I haven't made this recipe yet, since we're having a small Thanksgiving this year and won't have enough people to eat the amount of food that we have already made, but I might make it next week.  

The "mould" that the recipe calls for is a pudding mould, which is any heat-safe container that can be closed tightly while cooking, and then the contents turned out onto a platter once the cooking is done. In the 19th century, decorative metal pudding moulds were created by the thousands, and almost every household could have at least one; to use them, you would smear the inside with butter, put your mixture in, cover the top with a wet cloth that had been coated with flour (to make a sort of paste to seal out the water) and then put the metal lid that came with the mould on top of that.  Once everything was tied down securely, you'd set the whole thing in a pan with a few inches of boiling water in it, and cook the pudding until it was a moist, cake-like consistency.  Then you'd take off the lid and the cloth, turn the mould upside down over a platter, and take the pudding -- now in the shape of the decorative mould -- out of the mould so you could serve it. 

You can still get original pudding moulds in antique shops these days -- I have two of them -- but you don't need one to make this recipe. You can put your pudding mixture in any heatproof glass bowl (smeared with butter or baking spray on the inside), as long as it has a rim or lip around the top edge; then layer a sheet of waxed paper under a large (larger than the diameter of your bowl) sheet of aluminum foil, cover the top of the bowl with it, wrap the edges of the foil and paper around and under the lip or rim on the bowl, and tie some kitchen string tightly around it, under the lip or rim of the bowl, to keep the cover down and seal out the water.  Make a handle out of kitchen string, by tying it over the top of the bowl from one side to the other, and looped under the string that is under the bowl's edge; this will help keep everything in place, as well as make it easier to put the bowl into and take it out of the pan of boiling water.  Then, in a large stockpot (large enough that the bowl can fit all the way inside), put a few inches of water, and a steamer basket (open) or something else that can go under the bowl and keep it up off the bottom of the pot.  You can use a metal trivet or a few empty, clean, small metal cans, and cover the bottom of the pot with them.  Then bring the water to the boil, and put the bowl into the water once it's filled with the mixture and has the cover on and tied down.  Put the lid of the stockpot on, to keep in the steam, and cook the pudding as long as the recipe says.  

Figgy Pudding from a recipe from 1890.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

Check the water level in the pot every 45 minutes or so, to add some more hot water so that the pot doesn't boil dry!  When the cooking time is up, take the bowl out of the boiling water, cut the string, take off the cover, and test the middle of the pudding with a knife or skewer, like you would for a cake, to make sure that no batter sticks to it and it's cooked all the way through.  If it's still raw in the middle, you'll need to put the cover back on and tie it down, and put it back in the boiling water for another 20 minutes or half an hour.  Once it's done, remove the cover and turn the pudding out on a platter, and let it cool to an eating temperature, before serving.  You can also let it cool completely, and then reheat it and serve it later. 

I will probably make a small figgy pudding for my family next month, because I decided that I really like puddings!  They are a really comforting dessert when it's cold outside.

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)