The Lord of Devonshire, his pudding!

DEVONSHIRE pudding

What an excellent thing is an English Pudding! The Lord of Devonshire’s delicious pudding set with bone marrow and spiced custard is the epitome of old English comfort food; three out of four of my guests had seconds immediately. The dish is rich and silky, puffing up when taken from the oven to create a creamy confection of delight. Those who wolfed down two portions one after another, did so with such murmurs of  satisfaction I do believe it would be a pudding fit for the Royal table.

But how did the “Lord of Devonshire” come to have a pudding named after him?

Charles Blount came to court at the age of twenty. He was known to be clever, courageous and amiable but perhaps it was his “beautiful eyes and comely proportion” that first got him noticed by Queen Elizabeth I. She subjected him to an inquisition, with the eye of majesty fixed upon him, then seeing his confusion, gave him her hand to kiss, saying she would bethink herself how to do him good. 1.

Queen Elizabeth was so keen on this comely vision of a man, she liked to keep him at court, sometimes against his wishes, as he up for adventure and advancement. She eventually let him go to serve in several military campaigns abroad and fight under Lord Henry Seymour during the Armada. He was much valued for his intelligence and negotiating skills and was made Lord Deputy of Ireland, then Lord Lieutenant by Elizabeth. James I created him Earl of Devon (not to be confused with the title of the Earl of Devonshire of Powderham Castle in Devon UK) and he reached high favour until he secretly married his mistress, mother of his five children, after her divorce from a miserable forced marriage. James I would not legitimise the secret marriage and they were sent from court. Both died soon afterwards. The love story inspired John Ford’s play “The Broken Heart”.

This pudding recipe was collected, written down and named as the Lord of Devonshire’s (rather than his correct title, Earl) by Elinor Fettiplace, an English aristocrat who wrote a book of recipes in 1604 when Mountjoy was at the height of his powers. The manuscript was rediscovered, edited and published in 1986 by Hilary Spurling and remains a fascinating document of Elizabethan cuisine and household management. It is doubtful Mountjoy would have gone down to the kitchens and made his own pudding but possibly, while out in the field on military campaigns, he might have come into closer contact with the people who prepared his food than the average Lord. At some point he shared his recipe with Elinor or she heard of it from others, and here we have it today.

Bone marrow puddings were still commonly being made in the 1920’s and into the war years, see Good Things in England by Florence White, Persephone books. 

How to extract Bone Marrow

Ask your butcher for a beef marrow bone and ask him or her to saw it into 4 pieces. Simply bake the bones and scoop out the marrow. Sieve it, while still a hot liquid, to remove the bits and you are left with a clear liquid which turns white and solid when cold. Use like butter.

Bone marrow is nutritious and also very good on toast, Queen Victoria was said to eat it every day! (see below for the recipe). Marrow is “a significant source of the hormone adiponectin, which helps maintain insulin sensitivity, break down fat, and has been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity-associated cancers. 2” Marrow is also very good on toast and Queen Victoria was said to eat it every day! (see below for the recipe. So you don’t have to feel guilty. Bring on the marrow fat.

Lord Devonshire – his pudding.

“Take manchet and slice it thin, then take dates the stones cut out, & cut in pieces, & reasins of the sun the stones puld out, & a few currance, & marrow cut in pieces, then lay your sippets of bread in the bottome of your dish, then lay a laying of your fruit & mary on the top, then another laying of sippets of bread, so doo till your dish be full, then take cream & three egg yolks & whites, & some cynamon & nutmeg grated, & some sugar, beat it all well together, & pour in so much of it into the dish as it will drinke up, then set it into the oven & bake it.” Recipe as found. Adaption below.Ingredients – Recipe serves 4 -6

8                                 finely hand-cut stale white bread, crusts removed,

A handful                     dates, chopped (50g)

A big handful               raisins (85g)

1tbspn                         currants (10g)

The beef marrow from a marrow bone

Or butter the bread with unsalted butter if you must

600ml                         single cream (you may have some left over)

3                                  eggs

1/2 tsp                       cinnamon

a good grating              ½ nutmeg

5 tbsp                          sugar

more nutmeg

Method, adapted from Hilary Spurling’s recipe.

  1. Butter a bread loaf tin
  2. Mix the dried fruit together
  3. Take a bowl and mix the cream, eggs, spices and all but 1 tablespoon of sugar.
  4. If using cut marrow bone: bake in the oven for approx 45mins then scoop out the marrow and place it in a bowl. The solids will settle at the bottom, sieve the liquid to remove the solids. While still hot spread the clear liquid onto the bread slices, or dip them into it as I did. If you have to – use butter instead! But it’s not the same at all.
  5. Layer the bread on the bottom, marrow-spread side up then layer the fruit sparingly and repeat until you fill the tin ending with a layer of bread.
  6. Carefully pour the cream mixture on top and then dredge the top with the rest of the sugar and another grating of nutmeg.
  7. Bake at 180 for about 45mins (it will puff up and should be golden brown on top) Serve hot with even more cream if you are feeling naughty. And who wouldn’t be.

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Marrow Toast – loved by another Queen

Queen Victoria’s cook, Charles Elme Francatelli, claimed marrow toast was eaten every day at dinner by her majesty while he was in her pay. This is how she liked it.

Sieve the hot marrow (as above) then “season with a little chopped parsley, salt & pepper, lemon juice and the mere suspicion of finely chopped shallot. Toss lightly altogether, then spread it out upon squares of hot crisp dry toast and serve immediately.”

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.Text refs:

  1. Geni.com about Charles Blount
  2. Marrow health benefits
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Rhubarb Fool (for 4) Rhubarb Gin and Tonic (for 1)

Rhubarb is Mongolian, Siberian even, cousins with the Chinese and with Tibetans on the side. This only seems odd to me because somewhere along the way rhubarb became ‘Britishified’, who would have thought our favoured nursery dishes: rhubarb crumble, tart, pie, rhubarb and custard, had their origins in the vicinity of the Himalayas and the grassy steppes. No one even ate it as a dessert in this country until the eighteenth century.

The Chinese have cultivated rhubarb as a medicinal plant for thousands of years, used to relax the digestion or as an astringent tonic for liver and gall bladder complaints, bad skin and even the plague. It was traded along the silk route and reached Europe in the 14th century and England in the 16th but it was sold only as a medicine.

The first recorded mention of an English food recipe is in Glasse’s ‘Compleat Confectioner‘ of 1760: “These tarts may be thought very odd, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour….To make rhubarb tarts. Take stalks of English rhubarb, peel and cut it the size of gooseberries; sweeten it, and make them as you do gooseberry tarts.” So rhubarb must have begun to be establishes before this was published, but continued to be a bit of a novelty for some years yet. I believe the moment we really took rhubarb into our hearts was when we began to ‘force’ it as a winter foodstuff and that happened by accident in 1815. I love this story.

The horticulturists were growing rhubarb at the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London, as part of their collection of medicinal plants. A bed of rhubarb became buried under the earthy spoil of thrown up by some workman digging a trench. When they came to clear the up the mess they found the rhubarb had produced long thin stems in the light deprived environment. The gardeners ate it. I love that bit, I can just imagine them huddled around the long pink stems “Oi, Dave, come and look at this, do ya think it might be tasty winta vegetable?” They discovered it had a fine and sweet flavour. The news was hastily shared in the trade literature at the time and fervent gardeners began to experiment with buckets and all sorts. Joseph Whitwell, a market gardener from Leeds took up the baton and created a forcing business, constructing candle lit sheds devoted to the plant. His neighbours followed suit and the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire (between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell) became famous for early forced rhubarb, with a special train laid on to rush the stems to London from December to March. It was known as ‘Champagne Rhubarb’ and they are still producing it, but sadly the train has gone.

Rhubarb now has a firm place in British cuisine as a dessert but top chefs are rediscovering it as a foil for new flavours (asparagus with rhubarb hollandaise, beetroot and rhubarb salad) and the latest craze, of course, is to add it to gin. I use it in many ways: rhubarb trifle; rhubarb Eton mess; as a savoury vegetable to add the sour element to Asian Lao fish soups; I also enjoy eating it raw with salt and chilli. My favourite is rhubarb fool which is so delicious it’s painful to wait for it to cool so why not make a cocktail while you do. My mother used to make vats of this (fool not the gin) which we scooped up with ginger biscuits and then turned the excess into ice-cream!

Rhubarb Fool (for 4) with Rhubarb Gin (for 1) on the side

I prefer a rougher, sharper fool so I don’t mash it up too much or add as much sugar as some I’ve seen (1/2 weight of sugar to weight of rhubarb, too much) but the choice is up to you.

400g rhubarb, roughly chopped

65g of caster sugar or vanilla sugar

a couple of drops of pure vanilla essence

300ml double cream, whipped

  1. Place the rhubarb in a WARMED pan with the sugar and the vanilla essence. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover with a lid and heat gently on a low heat until tender which should take about 5-8 minutes depending on your rhubarb.
  2. Now taste for sweetness and add a tablespoon more sugar if you prefer. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve and reserve the juice in a bowl underneath. Allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks.
  4. Mash the cooled rhubarb with a fork and add back ½ the juice (rhubarb syrup).
  5. Now make a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic – 50ml gin, about 25ml rhubarb syrup, tonic, a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of mint if you have some.
  6. Fold the rhubarb into the cream and allow to cool in the fridge for at least an hour which will give you ample time to enjoy your cocktail (or mood-shifter as my husband would call it).
  7. Serve the fool. It won’t last for long.

More Ways with Rhubarb

The tartness makes stewed rhubarb a natural partner for creamy vanilla crème anglaise or ice cream

Bake it with a little water, caster sugar, two green cardamon pods & the zest and juice of an orange.

Rhubarb crème brulee, trifle or Eton Mess

Use it green as the sour ingredient in sour Asian fish soup

Smoothie- coconut water, rhubarb, mango, ginger

Ottolenghi’s Beetroot and Rhubarb salad

PS. Remember rhubarb leaves are poisonous do not eat them.

Rhubarb Gin and Tonic