Not much comes out of a Sussex pond that is edible, except carp, described by Izaak Walton in The Compleat Angler as “A stately, a good, and a very subtle fish.” Then there is the lemon, which on occasion emerges from a certain sumptuous pudding.
Sussex Pond Pudding is believed to originate in the county of Sussex in England. Made of a suet pastry encasing a whole lemon, with butter and sugar, it is steamed for several hours before being ransacked for its sticky goodness.
While cooking, the pudding’s filling creates a thick, caramelized sauce. When the pudding is cut open, the sauce runs out and pools around the plate, creating a “pond”. After lengthy slow cooking, the skin of the lemon turns to marmalade in its own juices and that of the butter and sugar.
Authentic recipes call for beef suet for the casing, but vegetable shortening, or even cold butter, can be substituted with similar results. The best lemons to use are juicy ones with thin skins that have not been sprayed or waxed.
Hannah Wolley (1622-75) is credited with one of the earliest recipes for Sussex Pond Pudding. She was an English writer who published books on household management and may have been the first to earn her living doing so. In 1672 she pulled together the recipes for countless dishes and concoctions in The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet Stored With All Manner Of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying And Cookery. Very Pleasant And Beneficial To All Ingenious Persons Of The Female Sex.
From 1639 to 1646 Hannah worked as a servant for an unnamed lady, during which time she learned about medical remedies and recipes. She married Jerome Woolley, a schoolmaster, and together they ran a free grammar school at Newport, in Essex. Widowed in 1661, from that year on she began publishing books on household management. She covered such topics as recipes, notes on domestic management, embroidery instruction, the etiquette of letter writing, medicinal advice, and perfume making.
“To make a Sussex Pudding. Take a little cold Cream, Butter and Flower, with some beaten Spice, Eggs, and a little Salt, make them into a stiff Paste, then make it up in a round Ball, and as you mold it, put in a great piece of Butter in the middle; and so tye it hard up in a buttered Cloth, and put it into boiling water, and let it boil apace till it be enough, then serve it in, and garnish your dish with Barberries; when it is at the Table cut it open at the top, and there will be as it were a Pound of Butter, then put Rosewater and Sugar into it, and so eat it.”
Barberries come from the shrub Berberis vulgaris, which produces edible but tart berries that ripen in late summer or autumn. The berries were traditionally used as an ingredient in making jam since they are high in pectin which makes the jam congeal as it cools.
Hannah Wolley’s recipe continues:
“In some of this like Paste you may wrap great Apples, being pared whole, in one piece of thin Paste, and so close it round the Apple, and throw them into boiling water, and let them boil till they are enough, you may also put some green Goosberries into some, and when either of these are boiled, cut them open and put in Rosewater Butter and Sugar.”
Lemons are not native to Sussex, so it is a mystery where Hannah obtained the fruit for her dish, although by the early 1500s lemons were being cultivated in the Azores and shipped to England. Most likely she found the lemons in an orangery, which, despite its name, was used to cultivate all kinds of citrus fruits.
Cookery writer Jane Grigson, author of English Food (1974), proclaimed Sussex Pond Pudding “the best of all English boiled suet puddings”.