Spotted dick is synonymous with school dinners: it’s one of a field of puddings that divide the nation – like rice pudding and jam roly poly – into those who, haunted by sloppy or stodgy memories, cannot countenance the idea of enduring them again, or those who seek them out in a fit of nostalgia. The joy of writing this Vintage Chef column is that even those dishes I might otherwise avoid, I get to rediscover and share. I was extremely sceptical of blancmange; I treated coronation chicken with suspicion, but in exploring and experimenting with recipes, I was newly converted: blancmange can be heavenly, like an enormous panna cotta; coronation chicken need not be claggy, but can be vibrant and fresh and delicious.
For some reason, by the time I was at school, spotted dick was off the menu. Perhaps dinner ladies had stopped trying to contend with the laughter of schoolchildren that the pudding’s name inevitably drew (the ‘dick’, I’m sorry to report, is simply an old dialect word for ‘dough’, the ‘spotted’, referring to the speckling currants) and instead were offering up semolina, sponge topped with dessicated coconut and pink icing, and – only ever seen in school dining rooms – cornflake tart. Or maybe it had simply fallen out of favour. Perhaps it was simply a quirk of my school and only I and my classmates have been denied this British classic.
Whatever the reason, when I came to spotted dick as a grown up, I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought it would be complicated, for sure. And heavy probably, thanks to the cooking method and the reliance on suet. I eyed the bag of currants with suspicion. I never cook with currants; I assumed they would be gritty and perhaps even a little bitter. But I persevered, because this is the Vintage Chef column, and it doesn’t get more vintage than spotted dick, does it?
Happily, I was wrong on every single count. Spotted dick is ridiculously easy to bring together, needing only a quick stir from a wooden spoon, before being piled into a pudding basin. No creaming, no curdling, no melting or liaising. And it is, truly, a treat of a dish: the currants, far from being sad and coarse swell to plump and fruity, boozy from the sherry; the pudding itself is light, thanks to the suet which has a high melting point, so the pudding sets around it, creating an unexpectedly airy pud.
Lacking the sauce of a sticky toffee, or gooey exterior of a treacle pudding, it is even more important – integral – to the proper disposal of the pudding, that you drown it in really thick, really cold custard.
Makes: Serves 4-6
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 2 hours
What you need
- 100g currants
- 2 tablespoons sherry
- 120g self-raising flour
- 50g light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 65g suet
- 80ml whole milk
- 1 lemon, zested
- Butter, for greasing the pudding basin
- Soak the currants in the sherry for an hour.
- Once the fruit is soaked, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Stir in the zest, soaked currants, suet and milk until the dough is combined.
- Place a saucer or some crumpled tin foil at the bottom of a large pan. Rub a pudding basin with a little butter, and spoon the dough into the basin.
- Take a piece of greaseproof paper and fold a pleat down the middle – this will allow the pudding to expand without breaking free. Place the greaseproof paper over the top of the pudding basin and secure tightly with an elastic band. Take a piece of tin foil and create a similar pleat. Place this over the greaseproof paper, and fold the foil down around the lip of the pudding basin, to create a barrier against the water.
- Place the pudding basin on the saucer or foil in the pan, and pour boiling water into the pan avoiding the basin, until it comes halfway up the side of the basin. Put a lid on the pan, and the pan on the lowest heat on the stove. Steam for two hours, occasionally checking and topping up the water level to stop it boiling dry.
- After the two hours, remove the basing from the hot water, and leave until it has cooled just enough to handle. Remove the foil and greaseproof, and run a knife carefully around the edge of the pudding before placing the serving plate over the basin and upending to release the pudding. Serve with thick custard.