Almost as English as Churchill, cricket and warm beer, the history of this classic pudding can be traced back to the early 19th century. Somewhat less appealingly, it is also known as ‘dead man’s arm,’ ‘dead man’s leg’ or ‘shirt-sleeve pudding.’ Rather than relating to any particular anatomical references, these pseudonyms came about because the pudding used to be steamed and served in an old shirt sleeve.
Puddings have been an integral part of British cuisine since the middle ages. The word ‘pudding’ probably comes from the French ‘boudin’ which in turn is derived from the Latin ‘botellus,’ meaning small sausage. Originally, puddings were savoury affairs, made using suet to bind the ingredients together before being baked or steamed. But, by the 19th Century, sweet puddings were all the rage. The first recipe for jam roly-poly can probably be credited to a lady called Eliza Acton. In her hands, the dish was served with a good dollop of scandal and treachery. After a period of time living in France (rumours at the time hinted at a period of confinement to give birth to an illegitimate child, although contemporary records to do not support this) Acton returned to England in 1854 and published one of the first English cookbooks – Modern Cookery for Private Families. Writing in a style described as engaging prose, her recipes were very popular with the middle classes of the time. Indeed, she was the first person to include recipes with lists of ingredients, along with full descriptions of methods and cooking times. This format is still used to this day. Included in ‘Modern Cookery‘ was a recipe for a rolled suet pudding which contained jam, marmalade or mincemeat.
Following a decision by Acton’s publisher not to reprint her book, a large number of her recipes were incorporated (some might go as far as to say plagiarised) into the increasingly popular new book of the time, published in 1861 by one Isabella Beeton. Entitled Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, it included a recipe that was identical to Acton’s and was called jam roly-poly pudding. And, so began the British love affair with sweet, stodgy puddings served with lashings of hot custard.
On this occasion I have chosen a recipe from a couple of bearded Geordie gentlemen on motorbikes. I reckon they know a thing or two about puddings and, I think you know who I mean.
- Butter, softened (for greasing)
- 200g self-raising flour
- 100g shredded suet
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 150ml semi-skimmed milk
- 7 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
- 1 shirt sleeve (optional)
Heat the oven to 200ºC and grease a large sheet of baking parchment.
Combine the flour, suet, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the milk to form a soft spongy dough. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and elastic. This can be done using a food mixer with a dough hook if you prefer. Rest the kneaded dough at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Roll into a rectangle 22cm x 32cm. Spread the jam onto the dough, leaving a 1.5 cm border.
Carefully roll from the short end and place on the greased parchment, seam side down. Wrap the roly-poly in the parchment, finishing with a pleat to allow for expansion during cooking. Twist the ends like a Christmas cracker. Tie the ends up tightly with kitchen string to seal the parcel.
Repeat the whole Christmas cracker thing with a sheet of aluminium foil. Place the pudding on a rack, in a roasting tin and half fill with boiling water.
Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
Remove from the oven, snip the string and unwrap the pudding. cut into thick slices and serve with a large helping of steaming hot custard.
For an alternative cooking method, assemble the Christmas cracker per the above recipe, and cook in an electric vegetable steamer for 2 hours. You will need to top up the water reservoir in the steamer after 1 hour.