Beef Pudding and Butterwell - Traditional Dishes for a Traditional English Christmas

by Robert
(Minnesota)

My family came from England. My grandparents made what they told us was an old English Christmas dinner.


The main dish was called Beef Pudding. The dough was made with suet and flour and baking powder, you added enough water to make it stiff enough to roll out. Then divide the dough in half and roll out the two balls. You would then line a bowl with a moist linen cloth, line the bottom with one of the rolled out pieces, then fill with layers of beef brisket, salt and pepper each layer. Cover with the second rolled out dough and pinch the seam together. Cover with the cloth and boil in beef broth for 6 hours.

The dessert was called Butterwell. The dough is made the same without the baking powder. This one you divide into 4 parts, making 2 larger. On one of the smaller pieces you put 1/2 cup of butter, 3/4 cup of raisins, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, with the second smaller piece you seal everything in a ball, then with the two larger pieces you put another ball around the first with the seams alternating. I have a pan that is basically a double boiler, it only has steam holes around the rim, you put this in the pan and boil for 2 hours, when done and broke up to serve, it is the most delicious carmalized dessert I have ever had.

I want to continue my old family tradition, but I would like to know the origin of these dishes, and their real names if anyone knows. I want my children and my grandchildren to know some history.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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My Kentish grandmother made this
by: Anonymous

My grandmother (born in 1890) made Butterwell Pudding. She never actually weighed or measured anything but it was approximately as follows. Line greased pudding basin with suet pastry, fill with 80z currants, 8oz dark brown sugar (not Muscovado which tastes too liquoricey), 8oz butter, cover with a round of suet pastry and seal edges together. Cover with pudding cloth (or greaseproof paper or aluminium foil), tie with string (don't forget to tie your string so that a handle forms across the top so you can lift it out after cooking) and steam the lot for ages (3 hours?). When cooked upturn onto plate, the rich sugary butter sauce and currants will ooze out as you cut and serve.

Yours is the only site to actually mention Butterwell Pudding by name - there seem to be a multitude of variations on the theme - Sussex Pond with a whole lemon but no dried fruit, Kentish Puddle which seems to have lemon as well as dried fruit. But my Gran cooked this one - no lemons ever mentioned! It is absolutely delicious although I have never managed to make it quite as tasty as the ones I ate in the 1950s at Gran's house. To this day, under this early influence, my topping of choice on pancakes is brown sugar and butter (no lemon) and I will happily eat brown sugar sandwiches as instant comfort food!

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Butterwell Pudding
by: Anonymous

A butterwell was an outhouse on a farm that would have been used to keep butter cool in the days before refrigeration. It was built over a spring that would cool the inside. The surviving ones are almost exclusively found in Devon and Cornwall.

The recipe you give seems like a Sussex Pond Pudding but without the key modern ingredient, a lemon in the middle. So I wonder if the recipe you have was for people who couldn't afford or acquire a lemon at Christmas but had dried fruit available with all the other ingredients. I have seem one recipe for Sussex Pond Pudding which omitted the lemon entirely but required the use of dried fruit instead. The "pond" seems to refer to the puddle of sauce which flows out when the pudding is cut into.

The other dish it seems like is a Scottish dish called a Clootie Dumpling, which was a suet pudding filled with sugar, dried fruit but usually no butter, although as a Christmas treat, I guess, butter might be added.

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Steamed Beef Puddings Rule!
by: Anonymous

Thanks for sharing your Christmas treats with us, Robert! As for some history...

Steamed beef pudding has been around for a very long time. Suet pudding / meat filling recipes were a staple of the English kitchen and many different recipes survive. Steak and kidney, steak and onion or steak and ale puddings are traditional pub grub and totally delicious after a long brisk walk in the winter air.

The oldest beef pudding recipe - and very similar to the one you describe - that I could find in my collection of cookery books goes back to the early 1800s, but I'm sure there are Essentially England readers out there who can better that one!

As for the Butterwell pudding - it sounds wonderful and reminds me a little of that eternal nursery favourite Spotted Dick.

I've never heard the term Butterwell Pudding before, though - so now I'm off researching. I'll post any interesting bits of information I'll come up with.

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