IN Britain, we've just celebrated Mothering Sunday – which is not the same as the American invention, Mother's Day, which falls in May.
Traditionally, our Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. And, from early times, it was a festival honouring the parish or mother church in each community. Anyone who lived or worked away, like servants or hired labourers, returned home for the celebrations.
Over time it became the custom to take small gifts back to Mum, such as posies of spring flowers or seasonal Simnel Cakes. With the whole family back under one roof, the festivities revolved around special Mothering Sunday feasts.
If they could afford it, Black Country families enjoyed a slap-up meal of roast veal followed by rice pudding. In Sedgley, as author and folklorist, Roy Palmer, reveals folk were partial to rich Simnel Cake. In his book, Folklore of the Black Country, Roy says that, up until the 1930s, Wulfrunians tucked into roast veal, served with a sauce made from salt fish and egg. For afters, they enjoyed a type of custard dessert known as "laid pudding", which included several layers of fruits.
In Victorian times, Wednesbury historian, F.W. Hackwood, also mentions the Mothering Sunday meal. Writing in 1884, Hackwood says: " ... The occasion is celebrated by the younger branches of a family preparing with children and servants to spend the day with their mothers at the old home. Among the well-to-do class, the dinner consists of a loin of veal, followed by a laid pudding, so called from the fruit, custard and other ingredients being carefully baked in layers..."
In Black Country mining communities, Butty colliers treated the men in their pits to toasts of ale and apprentices were treated to hearty meals of beans and bacon. Mothering Sunday was a real family affair. And, if veal or other roast meat was stretching the budget too far, good old "grey pays and baircon" was a popular substitute, as this old rhyme proclaims:
Peas and bacon in a pot,
Stewed till they be tender got;
Served up on a trencher wide
To match the room in yo'r inside,
Bin very good for hungry men
When Motherin' Sunday comes agen.
We are all familiar with this old Black County favourite. But, I must confess, I've never come across "laid pudding" before. So, if anyone recalls eating this or knows a recipe, I'd love to hear from you.
Food and food history are subjects close to my heart. So, some research into old English puddings has revealed a few recipes that may have been early ancestors of our "laid pudding".
Whether sweet or savoury, the earliest puddings were boiled in animal skin casings. In later times, cooks used muslin pudding cloths. The following recipes date from the 18th century. The first belongs to a class of English puddings that were baked in a dish or pastry case, rather than being boiled or "fired". This pudding was closely related to what we know as a tart. Usually, they were enriched with butter or juicy, bone marrow, rather than the heavier suet used generally in boiled or steamed puddings. In those days, they were often called "pudding pies", as in the old nursery rhyme, 'Georgie Porgie'.
As a little aside, many of our traditional nursery rhymes were actually political and satirical comments. 'Georgie Porgie' was most probably the incredibly fat and callous Prince Regent, later George IV. In the rhyme, Georgie eats too many pudding pies, kisses all the girls, and "when the boys come out to play", the cowardly king runs away.
The Hanoverian monarchs were never popular, with Parliament nor the public. George IV ate and drank so much and grew so immense he could barely move. When he wasn't stuffing himself, he spent days in bed. The rhyme pokes fun at George's worst traits. The most reprehensible being his habit of forcing himself on to lone women, summoned to dine with him. He "kissed the girls and made them cry" – even a writer in The Times noted the King's preferences for "a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon". But, I digress, so back to cookery, dear reader! When pudding pies were at their most popular, they were often flavoured with marrow, almond, chestnut, carrot, lemon or orange. Here's one the Prince Regent no doubt relished.
"Take four Naples biscuits; rub them through a colander, with the crumb of a French-Roll; boil a pint of milk with a pint of cream; put it to the biscuit and cover all down; then beat eight eggs; strain them and put to the pudding, with as much dine sugar as will sweeten it; grate half a nutmeg, and put in a little salt with a little rosewater; then wash half a pound of currants; rub them dry, and mix all together. This done, put your pudding into the stew-pan and set it over a charcoal fire; keep it stirring with a whisk till it be thick; then put into your dish and let stand to cool, then put in your marrow, in pieces, about the same quantity as is contained in one marrow bone. Put a rim of puff paste around your dish; and lay on the cover ... three quarters of an hour will bake it ... you may ice the cover and the rim, also, if you please ..." (The Art of Cookery, John Thacker, Newcastle, 1758)
The above ingredients would have been quite costly, but as with most fashionable dishes, ordinary housewives would have found ways of adapting the recipe to keep costs down. The same applies to the second recipe. This belongs to a group of bread-based or rice-based puddings, usually flavoured with rosewater and spiced with nutmeg. Known as "Whitepot", this pudding comes from John Nott's The Cooks and Confectioners' Dictionary' (London, 1723).
"Boil a quart of cream with large mace, let it stand till it is almost cold; then beat the yolks of eight eggs, and put them into the cream, with salt and sugar to your taste. Lay thins slices of white bread in the bottom of a dish, and lay on them sliced dates, raisins of the sun, or what sweetmeats you please, with bits of marrow or of fresh butter, and lay on another layer of bread, fruit etc. Till the dish is full, grating nutmeg between every layer; then put in your cream, and lay slices of bread and bits of butter on the top of all, and bake it."
Whitepot sounds more like our "laid pudding" to me. So, was it really a richer version of the humble bread pudding? Let me know what you think.
Anyway, here's hoping you all enjoyed a spot of pampering on Mothering Sunday.
What are your memories of Mothering Sunday? Email editor@blackcountrybugle .co.uk or write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.