Spotted dick, clootie dumpling and other reasons to put beef fat in your holiday desserts
December 21st, 2012
03:00 PM ET
Share this on:

Linnie Rawlinson is the Special Projects Editor in CNN's London bureau.

As the temperature falls and the leaves start to crackle under foot, British minds turn towards comfort food – and there’s nothing more comforting than a traditional suet pudding.

Suet, as in, beef fat?

In a dessert?

Why yes, actually.

And do you know what? It’s really rather good.

I know it sounds strange – the idea of putting beef or mutton fat into a sweet dish. But stay with me for a minute. The classic British pudding is a creation of flour, eggs, sugar and sweet flavorings. So far, so yummy, right? Then they’re boiled or steamed in a cloth or basin – which is quite jolly.

And then there’s something about the texture of suet, the thin, slightly gritty layer that’s left on the roof of your mouth, that’s marvelously satisfying. It’s hearty, it’s delicious and it warms the parts other puddings simply can’t reach.

Suet doesn’t taste of beef, or mutton; at most there’s a wholesome hint of the farmyard about it. It’s also deceptively light, making doughs that are fluffy and golden, and it goes splendidly with custard. So in the winter, especially after a long country walk, there’s nothing quite so satisfying.

Suet puddings are the cornerstones of British “nursery” food – stodgy, hot, carb-heavy yet cheap meals that were (and in places, still are) popular with schoolchildren and nostalgia-lovers alike. They’re a long way from the tantalizing, petite desserts we see in high-end restaurants today. They do one thing: Fill. You. Up.

Culinary historian Kate Colquhoun has dated the earliest mention of suet pudding to a 1617 recipe for “Cambridge Pudding,” a pudding made with dried fruits, boiled in a pudding cloth, named because it was made for students at Cambridge University. For most people, until the method of cooking using pudding cloths was invented, puddings could only be cooked when an animal was slaughtered, as only the grandest houses had home ovens and the stomach or intestines of an animal were the only available containers that could hold a pudding mixture that could be cooked over a fire.

Get a recipe for Christmas pudding

But then it was discovered that a cloth dipped in hot water and dusted with flour would hold a pudding mixture that could be boiled. This meant that hearty, nourishing puddings could be cooked all year round, and suet puddings, both savory and sweet, quickly became incredibly popular: By the eighteenth century, they were a central part of the British diet.

Puddings had their famous fans too – the writer Samuel Johnson was noted for his fondness for puddings, albeit of the savory sort, and Charles Dickens described them thus in “A Christmas Carol”:

“A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding.”

Suet puddings fell out of favour in the latter half of the 20th century, primarily because of health concerns, but have made a comeback in recent years, being championed by British chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, Delia Smith and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

I remember devouring our school cook’s puddings with joy after forcing down tepid slices of questionable meat and grey school cabbage. (Remember: The cabbage isn’t ready until ALL the vitamins are boiled out.) Mrs. Mac’s jam roly-poly was a dream by comparison – a sweet, sticky, spiraled slice of jammy goodness and the only thing to help us recover from hockey in time for double maths.

So here are my top five suet puddings you really should try:

Jam Roly-Poly

The perfect gateway drug for those seeking to develop a suet pudding habit, the jam roly-poly is, as its name suggests, a suet pastry spread with jam, rolled like a Swiss roll and then steamed or baked. This pretty pudding is a hearty belly-filler and, because of its sweetness, a particular favorite with children. Serve with generous lashings of custard.

Spotted Dick

This nursery classic is a solid, space-filling, rib-sticking pudding that’ll fill you up and fuel you for hours. Deceptively light and fluffy and often rolled like a jam roly-poly, it should also be served with lashings of custard. Oh, and stop sniggering at the back. According to one theory, the “spots” are the raisins; the “dick” is the dough, or dog, if it’s rolled.

Clootie Dumpling

Odds-on favorite for “best-named pudding in history,” the clootie dumpling is a spiced suet delight, studded with fruit and steamed in a cloth (or clootie). It’s a Scottish recipe similar to Christmas pudding, but lighter and with less fruit, generally served sliced and often made to mark celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas.

Sussex Pond Pudding

My personal favorite, and a source of regional pride (I’m a Sussex lass), the Sussex Pond Pudding is a suet pastry pudding with a lemon, called a “frog,” at its center. As the pudding steams, the lemon releases its juices, and when the pudding is cut, a fragrant, tartly sweet lake of buttery sauce pools out. It's truly the queen of puddings.

Christmas Pudding

And if the Sussex Pond Pudding is the queen, this magnificent double-steamed beast is most certainly the king. Packed with more fruit and nuts than a shop full of Whole Foods hippies, it’s rich, dark and strongly flavored as it’s allowed to mature before its final steaming. They’re traditionally made on Stir Up Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent) but some swear they’re best when allowed to mature for years.

As a vital part of a British Christmas lunch, a proper Christmas pud should be crowned with holly, doused in brandy and set on fire, borne into the dining room by a triumphant cook. My mother sloshes on the brandy with great enthusiasm – so far no lost eyebrows.

You’ll likely only manage a small portion, but don’t worry about leftovers. My Scottish mother-in-law remembers her grandmother and great-aunt frying slices of Christmas pudding in butter and lemon juice on Boxing Day. And if that doesn’t clog your arteries warm the cockles of your heart, I don’t know what will.

Previously - A quest for Christmas pudding (with a recipe) and 5@5 – What you don't know about British food

Posted by:
Filed under: 100 Places to Eat • British • Christmas • Christmas • Holiday • Holidays • Travel


soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Ginger

    The ladies love my carrot patch and spotted dick.

    December 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Terry

      No they're just being polite.

      December 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Tom

    You people really need to grow up. As an American I'm ashamed at the childish attitudes towards are friends and cousins across the pond. If you haven't tried British puddings you really should. When done right they are delicious. Not very healthy with all the lard (or butter in some cases) but quite tasty.

    December 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  3. abcdxyz

    No wonder Europeans think Americans are unsophisticated. . . .

    December 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Gradeschooler

      No, you're unsophisticated! :P

      December 23, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  4. Ann

    Oh, honestly, people – the Brits probably think we're just as weird to have a snack called Little Debbie.

    December 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  5. sockpuppet1984

    this was truly the most stomach turning subject matter on CNN in awhile...I don't know how the Brits have survived

    December 22, 2012 at 5:38 am |
    • miscreantsall

      Have you ever had Spotted Dick or Treacle?

      OMG………….the most disgusting thing ever!!!!!!!

      Smothering it will different things did not help. YUK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 22, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  6. Hadenuffyet

    CNN......You HAD to know where this was going , now didn't you....

    December 22, 2012 at 5:35 am |
    • davetharave

      I think this is the once-a-year opportunity for them to let responders think that they're actually getting away with something.

      December 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  7. Marti

    What did the Mohel say when offered some spotted dick?

    "I'm trying to cut back."

    December 22, 2012 at 3:16 am |
  8. Chips

    Does the spotted dick go down smooth?

    December 22, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  9. Robin

    The spots on the dick should be discarded, but the dick itself can be swallowed whole!

    December 22, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  10. S Kyle

    You people sound like 9 year olds...

    December 22, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • DickPerry

      And why are you listening to 9 year olds? Do their parents know you are in the vicinity?

      December 22, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • Kyle

      Who comes on a message board and says that... shut the eff up.

      December 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Troll

    Most CNN viewers LOVE the spotted dick, women and men alike!

    December 22, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  12. Will

    You people are just NASTY!!!! For the love of God or society, please, go see a dermatologist if there is something different about your "little buddy". lol

    December 22, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  13. Robin

    Spotted dick should not be permitted too cool before consumed. Only leave the dick to cool for about 5 min. The dick tastes best while it's contents are hot!

    December 22, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • HHB

      Marry Me?

      December 22, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • Bill Graham

      Lovely comment. How do you feel about feeding one's pussy (as in cat) spotted dick?

      December 22, 2012 at 5:19 am |
      • AleeD®

        I'm all for it. As often and frequently as possible. ~_~

        December 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Jack 1

      That depends. Robin could be a male or female name.

      December 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  14. DickPerry

    Most woman and lots of men likes dick...

    December 22, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  15. Robin

    I tried my neighbors spotted dick, I told him that it was lovely but it was actually a bit chewy and had no cream. Blah, next time I have someone's spotted dick besides my husbands, I'll touch it first to be sure it's plump with cream!

    December 22, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  16. HHB

    My Dalmatian has that

    December 22, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  17. Goosetoffoh

    Bunch of giggling guses in this comment section.

    December 22, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  18. lolo

    Piers Morgan eats spotted dick on a daily basis.

    December 22, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  19. Upmuchtoolate

    spottedDICK!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

    December 22, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • cjbigcat

      @spotteddick ....Check WebMd.com....they helped me out.

      December 22, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • InVegas

      Good grief – are these comments being written by 13 year old boys? OMG they said "dick".

      December 22, 2012 at 1:36 am |
      • You said dick, too

        Oh wait.

        I said dick. I just said dick again. Hee hee.

        December 22, 2012 at 4:33 am |
  20. NoSpottedDickForMe

    A spotted dick is typically not the kind of dick which one would put into one's mouth.

    December 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Lloyd

      I knew spotted Dick. I was friends with spotted Dick, and you sir, are no spotted Dick.

      December 22, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  21. Andrew

    If ladies partake of spotted dick, they contract clootie dumpling.

    No, seriously, I think I'll try this recipe. I made a bread pudding one holiday and it ruled.

    December 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  22. Dave

    "Tip:"...which is funny all by itself in relation to the article...

    "If you want to make a Spotted Dick in the traditional shape, form the mixture into a cylinder about 20cm long and roll in a pudding cloth, boil for 2 hours."

    It was totally funny until I read the traditional shape measurement. Suddenly it's not so funny..and I feel small and inadequate...LOL

    December 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  23. Gekkin

    spotted dick, gee sounds.... delicious /barf

    December 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  24. Kerry

    I believe I remember that Canada officially changed the name to Spotted Richard. That's pretty PC.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  25. Meki60

    I worked in Brit land, now when I talk about 'spotted dick' people think I'm 'off'.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  26. Frank Garrett

    I tried spotted dick, it tastes like ass.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • LD

      That's what you get for trying Spotted Dick at a rest stop...

      December 22, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  27. Mick

    Aw, you guys really $uck...when I saw the title I had a dozen jokes ready and you beat me to every one of them.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  28. steve

    I know I'm being immature but any title that has "spotted dick" in it gets my immediate attention. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    December 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  29. mjcharron

    I've had a spotted dick, then I went to the doctor and they cleared that up right away. I was even offered extra creamy puss.

    December 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  30. Javier

    Only Brits would have NO problem putting fags and spotted dick in their mouths. No wonder they lost the war

    December 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  31. blanketjackson

    daddy had one of those.

    December 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • HHB

      BEST COMMENT OF THE DAY + 10 L M F A O

      December 22, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  32. What_Does_Your_Spotted_Dick_taste_Like

    Spotted dick PFFFTTTCHH !!!!!!!! LMAOOOOOOOO HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    I'm not mature enough to NOT giggle like a 13 year-old.

    December 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Covcom

      Oh golly! My sides hurt. They say laughter adds time to your life. I've just gained 20 years. It was one of those silent full belly laughs until I really got going. Wife thought I was dying at first. Tears! I need composure real quick.

      December 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • steve

      Join the crowd. Call me immature also. Too funny. I can hear the conversation at the dinner table, "Would you care for spotted dick?". "Um, no thanks, I'll pass."

      December 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  33. SilverBack

    Two brits walk into an American resturant and ask the maritre d' "excuse me mame, do you serve spotted dick?" please finish with a punch line. :)

    December 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • blanketjackson

      yes. we serve everyone.

      December 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • adopted USA

      Yes, we also serve rotten pu$$y form the other side of your long lost empire! But make sure you tip your server. This is The US not Not UK.Here we tip our server some where from 15% to 30% depending how good the service is, not the measly change you leave on the table for your server and walk out like a king!! LMFAO

      December 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Andrew

      "No, but we've got a cook with syphilis!" Enjoy your meal?

      December 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Kyle

      The maitre d' says... "I take umbrage sir, the dick we dish out here never has spots, and we prefer not to refer to it as "dick" in case the law is around. Cash or charge?"

      December 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  34. SilverBack

    Do you think your wife or girlfriend would enjoy spotted dick? Maybe if the had a stripped rump

    December 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  35. johnquepublique

    I had "spotty dick" once. Penicillian cleared it right up...

    December 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  36. serene

    Spotted dick is great. You can get it in a can, and its basically a spongey putting. It is very mild and filled wth raisins.

    December 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • blanketjackson

      see a doctor. immediately!

      December 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • uckermanf

      Yes, most dick does have spongey material. The corpus cavernosa. The raisins, though...that doesn't sound quite right. Sounds like flies, which would indicate someone isn't into hygiene.

      December 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • HHB

      Who Wouldn't like Spotted Dick in The Can??????????????

      December 22, 2012 at 1:28 am |
      • AleeD®

        I like the way you think. ~_~

        December 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  37. Sieben

    I'm just glad they didn't mention the version called Boiled Baby (from the Jack Aubrey novels).

    December 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  38. Spotted

    Dick
    lol

    December 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  39. SPOTTED DICK

    I RESENT THE british STEALING MY NICK NAME

    December 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • blanketjackson

      come on. nobody calls you SPOTTED.

      December 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  40. happybooker

    The idea of eating suet is not strange to one from the American South where everything is made with lard, i.e. animal fat. Oh, and I have a can of Spotted Dick in the pantry right now. Not as good as fresh though. (BTW, I'm a Texan so fire away, y'all idjets!)

    December 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  41. i_know_everything

    who'd wanna eat a spotted dick? yuck

    December 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • hairy_fedd

      you apparently don't hang out on the same parts of the internet that I do

      December 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  42. Mike

    Of course to get clicks on your article you started your title with "Spotted Dicks" ;)

    December 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  43. are122

    I wonder who the first Richard was that was so bad they started calling Richards Dick.

    December 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  44. cody

    I prefer speckled weiner

    December 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • bdbraithwaite@shaw.ca

      You may just want to leave this discussion!

      December 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  45. Scots Lass

    Clootie Dumpling is the BEST! It's great out of the pot and even better fried up for breakfast the next morning!

    December 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  46. The Eternal Satyr

    After eating any of these "delicacies", I'm sure I'd have to take myself a pretty big clootie dump!

    December 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  47. Krum

    anyone else see anything wrong with spotted dick?

    December 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • The Eternal Satyr

      Only your urologist.

      December 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  48. The Eternal Satyr

    I know a few Brits that should eat my spotted dick!

    December 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Moose

      I heard it can give you the herp

      December 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  49. The Eternal Satyr

    In England, there are more fat people than there are people.

    December 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  50. Victor

    dick

    December 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
1 2
 
| Part of