Last year my Aunty handed down a bag of my Grandma’s old cookbooks to me. The collection is an assortment of Women’s Weekly books from the 60s and 70s, cookbooks you get when you buy an appliance, handwritten recipes and clippings from the paper as well as a few very old, well-worn cookery books.
“Home Cookery for Australia” was printed in 1909, and I’m guessing it has now passed through the kitchens of four generations of my family. In it you’ll find sponge and scone recipes, as you’d expect, but it also features a chapter on invalid cookery (Calf’s Foot Jelly anyone?), “diet tables” which describe what to feed people with certain illnesses (the obese can only eat clear soups!) and a section on household cookery with recipes for hair wash and removing stains from marble.
The puddings chapter is full of short recipes that stretch a little butter, sugar and eggs a long way. Chopped suet, loaf sugar and breadcrumbs also pad out the ingredients list for simple sweets that come into being after an hour or so on the stovetop.
My Grandma used to make a jam steamed pudding that she’d have on the boil before beginning dinner. She no longer needed to refer to a recipe book to make it, it was a part of her, but seeing these recipes reminded me how much I loved that warm, dense sponge dripping in hot jam. To conjure up some nostalgia for Grandma’s cooking, especially since it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, I set about updating the turn-of-the-century steamed pudding into something a little more modern (let’s start with a “no suet in desserts” rule, eh?).
Pretty pink and orange plums caught my eye in the grocers this week, and inspired me to replace the jam in the pudding with soft, warm fruit. Like Grandma, I clip recipes (using the internet and Evernote instead of the newspaper and scissors) and had been meaning to try this Bon Appetit recipe for Honey-Roasted Plums with Thyme.
Instead of roasting the plums, I just cooked them in sugar, butter, honey and thyme in a saucepan and placed the coated plum quarters in the bottom of the pudding basin, reserving the caramel-like sauce to drizzle over the finished pudding. I made a simple sponge batter and spooned it into the basin, being careful not to disrupt the plums on the bottom, because the bottom becomes the top when the pudding is done. After tying the basin up to be watertight, I let it steam for an hour and a half, and held my breath when turning it out, as you do when making an upside-down dessert. I lifted the pudding basin to reveal one intact pudding, covered in golden, glossy plums.
The honey-infused plums are soft and sweet, but grounded by the addition of the thyme. The sauce skirts around the plums into the dense, moist sponge which is eager to soak up even more sweetness. Each mouthful is warm, deliciously heavy and sweet. This is a dessert for chilly, rug-on-the-knees afternoons. It honours mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers who have passed down their cookery knowledge through the generations. Perhaps you could serve it this Sunday and wish your mum a happy Mother’s Day.
Steamed Pudding with Honey and Thyme Plums
- 1/2 cup(packed) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 6 fresh thyme sprigs
- 6 ripe but firm plums, pitted and quartered
- 175g butter, softened (plus extra for greasing pudding bowl)
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 175g self-raising flour
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
To cook plums, stir butter, honey, sugar and thyme together over high heat until butter melts. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly (mixture will bubble vigorously). Add plum quarters and cook until the fruit is soft but not falling apart (3-5 minutes). Remove from the heat.
Grease a pudding bowl (or mould, I used one like this, but you can just use a deep ceramic bowl) with butter. Line the bottom of the bowl with your plum quarters, squishing them in so there’s no gaps, allowing them to go up the sides a bit. Save any leftover plum quarters as well as the cooking liquid for serving.
Put the ingredients for the sponge in a food processor and blend until smooth (but don’t overwork the mix). You want the batter to be ‘dropping consistency’, which is when a small amount of the mixture will fall from the spoon if gently shaken. Spoon the batter into your pudding bowl, taking care not to dislodge the plums, and smooth the top.
If using a mould, put the lid on top. If you’re using a bowl, lay a large sheet of greaseproof on top of a piece of foil the same size. Butter the paper, pleat in the middle and cover the pudding. Tie tightly with string under rim of the bowl, then trim, scrunching foil up around the paper to make it watertight.
Place the pudding in a large saucepan on an upturned saucer. Pour boiled water to halfway up the basin, cover, then steam for 1½ hrs. Check the water level every 30 mins or so and top up if you need to. To test when the pudding is ready, unwrap and insert a skewer into the sponge. It should come out clean with no trace of raw mixture.
Just before serving, heat up the leftover plums and their cooking liquid. Turn out the pudding (ta-dah!), drizzle the plum sauce over the top and serve with warm plums and a big dollop of cream or greek yoghurt.
Plum recipe adapted from Bon Appetit