Hydropathic Pudding – once an invalid food, now all that is best about summer

Soft Fruit Simmering

Gone are the days when Doctors visited the sick at home. It was common practice in 1950s Essex. I wasn’t often ill, just normal childhood ailments which weren’t fussed about or vaccinated against.  But when a sore throat turned into tonsillitis and the Doctor was called, then I was worried. It was not that I was frightened of having my tonsils out.  My best friend Barbara, who lived across the fields in a converted railway carriage, had had hers removed and lived off ice-cream for a month, or so she said. My mother’s tale was somewhat darker; she told me her tonsils had been removed, whilst being held down by my grandmother on the kitchen table. Being an imaginative child this visceral image stayed with me. In the middle of the night I woke screaming having dreamt of being strapped down on our pine table with white coated Doctor Dawson from ITV’s Emergency Ward 10 about to take a carving knife to my tonsils.

Our Doctor didn’t look like Dr Dawson, he was of the elderly, tweed coat variety.  For his visit, my grandmother lit the fire in the bedroom, an unheard of event. The room became so hot that the ice flowers on the window melted and made runnels down the wall paper. I was tucked up in bed, with only my head above the paisley eiderdown, arms held rigidly to my sides. The Doctor came in, towering over my tiny grandmother, carrying a worn black bag in which I imagined he carried big shiny scissors – I was sensible enough to think he wouldn’t use one of the kitchen knives.  He sat heavily down on the bed, trapping me even more tightly into the multiple layers of sheets and blankets neatly tucked in with hospital corners. I hated that feeling of tightness so much, that I didn’t make a fuss at the pain of having my tongue pressed down with a wooden lolly stick as he peered into my throat. I was just desperate to get him off my bed and be released from imprisonment.  Even now I still hate that feeling of constriction and when climbing into a strange bed I always kick at the bottom to loosen any sheets or coverings.

The inspection was blessedly brief. My grandmother was told that as this was my first bout, and a mild one at that, the tonsils would not require removal. So, no visit to the hospital and no ice cream diet for me, just bed rest and soft food.  It was the latter that nearly proved my undoing. Soft food meant Pap, white bread with crusts removed, broken into chunks into a bowl, sprinkled with a small amount of sugar and then saturated with warm milk. Even writing about lumps of soggy bread makes me shudder. No amount of sugar could have made it any more digestible and I gagged at every spoonful. But with the threat of Pap hanging over me, my condition improved fairly rapidly.

Summer Pudding is no Pap, despite once being considered only fit for invalids and branded with the off-putting name of Hydropathic Pudding. It was fed to the sick and children when it was thought inadvisable for them to eat richer dishes made with pastry. It is now my favourite dessert. The bread soaked in dense berry juices and because it is compressed has a firm consistency which confuses many first-time eaters.  If you have access to a goodly supply of soft fruit and room in the freezer, I would make up a few and store them for winter use. They are low on sugar, high on taste and make an impressive sight, decorated with fruit and served with cream on any supper table.

Waiting to be Compressed
Waiting to be Compressed
Summer Pudding – serves a hungry 4. Takes 30 mins to make, but needs to be made a day or two before.

1 litre pudding basin
1 small white loaf – reasonable quality bread, thick sliced
900g mix of soft fruit. Black currants, red currants, raspberries, blackberries
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water or Grand Marnier if you have some.


Pick the red currants and black currants off their stems, flip off the brown leafy bits at the end of berries with your fingernail, and then wash them. Drain in a sieve.

Place all the fruit into the largest frying pan you have. Bring to a simmer over a low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and fold it around with a big spoon. The pudding does need to have a slight sharpness to it.

Add the water and lemon juice and bring to the boil.

Leave it simmering gently for no more than 3 or 4 minutes (no need to stir) and taste again, adding more sugar if you think it needs it. There should be lots of juice. Turn off the heat and leave to cool a bit.

Remove the crusts from the bread and set one slice aside. Cut the rest into two, on the diagonal so that you have a pile of triangles.

Place the bowl upright, on the whole slice of bread and cut around to create a disc to fit in the bottom of the bowl. Dip the disc into the fruit pan, dunking it well into the juices, and place it on the bottom of the bowl, juice side down. Then take the triangles and one by one, dip them into the juice and place them around the bowl, juice side facing outwards, so that you line the bowl, leaving no holes.  You will need to cut some smaller shapes to fill the odd gap or two, but soggy bread moulds quite well.

Strain the fruit mixture, keeping back the juices in a small bowl. Then put the fruit into the bread lined basin right up to the top. Make a lid with the remaining bread pieces and cover. No fruit should be left showing.

Place the bowl on a plate to catch any drips. At this point you are supposed to place a saucer on top of the bowl with some weights on top to squash everything down. Any tins or jars will do. I can never find a saucer of the right size so I cut out a disc of cardboard using the top of bowl as a guide and cutting about 1cm short. Then I cover the disc with foil. This can be reused. I also used, as you will see from the photo, weights I removed from a dumbbell!

Place in the fridge overnight (2 days will be even better as it lets the fruit and the juices macerate).

When ready to serve, remove the weights and covering. Ease a blunt knife around the sides just to make it easier to plop out. Place a plate on top and flip the bowl over, holding the plate firmly in place. Once on a flat surface give it a firm shake or tap on the top and the pudding will slide out.

Decorate with a few fresh berries and serve with double cream. The pudding can be cut into slices as if you were cutting a cake.

Unsoggy Pudding
Unsoggy Pudding



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