Summer pudding really is the quintessential British dessert. It uses the summer fruits that can be found in every hedgerow, farmer’s field and family garden. Blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants – all bursting with juice; some gloriously sweet, some mouth-puckeringly tart. Although the British summer is notoriously unpredictable, this pudding instantly brings to mind long golden afternoons in the countryside, garden parties in dappled sunshine and picnics on tartan rugs spread on the grass….
Dating back to the 18th century at least, it was most popular during the late 19th and early 20th century. When I was growing up in the seventies, my grandmother and mother both made it, but it was rarely on restaurant menus and certainly not available ready-made in UK supermarkets as is the case today, thanks to a resurgence of interest in traditional British dishes over the last 10 years or so.
This pudding must be one of the few recipes which demands sliced white bread – preferably a bit stale! The bread is one of the reasons that the pudding doesn’t taste too sweet, as it might if using butter-rich pastry. When it is stale, the bread soaks up the fruit juices better, and this is the key to a successful summer pudding. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to use brown bread etc…you really need the thinnest -sliced white bread you can find in the supermarket or bakery. Don’t let the fact that it’s made with bread put you off – it gives the texture of sponge without the cloying sweetness.
The beauty of it is that the exact quantities of the ingredients are not important and that it needs no baking – only assembly. It is the ultimate stress-free recipe! The ratio of berries to currants really is up to you – taste as you add the various fruits and sugar and adjust until it is as sweet or tart as you like. Frozen or fresh fruits work just as well. The pudding can be made in the traditional pudding basin, a shallower dish, individual ramekins or even tea cups!
The finished pudding should be served with fresh cream to neutralise the tartness of the fruit, or alternatively, vanilla ice cream.
Tuck in and enjoy a taste of the summer just begin or gone or and the anticipation of the next!
Preparing: This recipe should be made a day in advance. You will need 8 ramekins/cups about of approx 6 cm base diameter and 10 cm rim. For the Greek summer berries may replaced with other fruits such as strawberries and cherries. Simple and easy recipe.
Ingredients (serve 8)
1kg mixed berries and currants (I like 150g blackcurrants, 150 g redcurrants, 200g blackberries, 500g raspberries)
4 tbsp Crème de Cassis
1 large (approx 700gr) loaf white bread finely sliced
vanilla ice-cream or sour cream
some fresh spearmint leaves
Preparing the fruits: If the fruit is frozen, defrost at room temperature for at least an hour. Save a few of each fruit on some kitchen paper for decoration.
Toss the remaining fruits, sugar and Crème de Cassis gently in a saucepan over a medium heat for 2 minutes until they soften and start to bleed. Strain the fruit through a sieve into a non-metallic bowl (the berries will stain a metal bowl) and press so that the fruit becomes pulped and the juices drip into the bowl beneath. Cool to room temperature.
Making the pudding: Have the 8 ramekins or tea cups ready. Trim the crusts off the bread. Then, using 2 different pastry cutters of the same diameter as the base of the ramekin/cup and also of the rim (approx 6cm and 10 cm), cut out 8 rounds of each size (so a total of 16 rounds in all). Then take 8 more slices of bread and cut in half – these strips should be about the same width as the depth of the cup.
One by one, soak each of the smaller rounds in the juice, making sure there is no white left showing on the bread, and press into the base of each cup. Next, soak each of the half slices, and line halfway round the sides, and then do the same with the other side, pressing the edges together to form a seal. If there are any gaps, you can cut a small piece of bread, soak it, and mould it to the sides. Press the bread into the cup.
Spoon the pulped fruit into the cups and press down with the back of the spoon to firm the pudding. Finally, soak the larger bread rounds and place on top of the puddings. Refrigerate overnight.
Serving: Loosen the pudding slightly with a knife, then hold a plate over the pudding, turn it upside-down and the pudding should slide out easily. Pour any juice that is left over the top and decorate with mint leaves and 2 or 3 berries and currants. Accompany with cream in a jug for your guests to pour themselves or, less traditionally, vanilla ice cream (I particularly recommend Green & Black’s Organic Vanilla Ice Cream).