Monday, May 19, 2008

Deddington Pudding-Pie, Oxfordshire

Earlier this month I was in Deddington, Oxfordshire. Deddington is a small market town with many interesting old buildings, houses and much history. I was there for a family get-together, so I had little time to explore - only enough for a short walk, and to take two scene-setting photos (taken with one hand whilst straddling a struggling toddler). During my walk I found a shop selling Banbury cakes as per my previous post. The picture below shows the town hall (front left) and the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It also shows how, sadly, many old country towns have become overwhelmed by the motor car. Contrast this (carefully cropped) scene, with the second image. Spot the car park.

Deddington Market Place - image taken between 1860 and 1922

Historically, Deddington had two annual fairs. One on the 10th of August (St. Laurence's Day) and the other held in November. This latter fair was known as the 'Pudding-Pie Fair' after the pudding- or pudden-pies sold there, and was held principally for the sale of livestock and the hiring of servants/labourers. The date was originally the 11th of November (St. Martin's Day/Martinmas), changing to the 22nd (St. Cecilia's Day), and then reverting back to the 11th of November in more recent times. The Pudding-Pie Fair was still being held at the beginning of the 20th century, but by the 1930s it had diminished and since has evolved into a fun fair. The pudding-pie is now as rare as a Deddington parking space.

The Deddington pudding-pie appears to have been a hard pastry case (the pie) with a pre-cooked filling that included fruit (the pudding), the whole was then baked. Pudding-pies are known elsewhere in the country and often had an association with Lent.

An early mention of the Deddington Pudding-Pie is in 'Notes & Queries' (1869). This records that the pies 'are made by setting up a crust composed of flour mixed with milk or water, and mutton suet melted and poured into it hot. These crusts, which are set up like meat-pie crusts, are then placed in the sun for a day or two to stiffen. They vary in size from about three to four inches in diameter, and are about one inch deep. When thoroughly hard they are filled with the same materials as plum puddings are made of, and when baked are sold at twopence, threepence and fourpence each.'

In the archive of the Deddington News, November 1976, Monica Sansome writes of the Pudding-Pie Fair, drawing on the personal reminiscences of a Mr. Lewis.

From its early days the Martinmas Fair was known as the Pudding-Pie Fair because of the pies made specially for the occasion. Mr. Lewis bought these pies in the early 1900s. They were about the size of a small pork pie, consisting of plum pudding surrounded by pastry. The pastry was made with mutton fat and formed an extremely hard crust "like thick parchment" according to Mr. Lewis, who doesn't remember them as being outstandingly palatable! He thinks they were sold for 2d and 4d depending on size.

Just after 1900 the only bakers in the village to make these pies annually were Thomas and Ruth Fowler. The family had their bakery originally on the premises of Mr. Lewis' shop, then in the Old Bakery, New Street, finally moving to Mr. and Mrs. Beardsley's house next to the Crown and Tuns in New Street... Thomas and Ruth Fowler, like their family before them, guarded the pudding-pie recipe carefully and their recipe died with them.

However, a recipe IS then supplied in this same article, courtesy of Mrs. Ella Marshall who has provided a recipe from 'Traditional English Cooking' (pbl. Angus and Robertson Ltd. 1961) This recipe creates a shortcrust pastry case, but the filling is of cooked ground rice over jam or coconut, and the whole is dusted with ground cinnamon. Quite different to the description of the pudding-pie as a plum pudding in an hardy pastry piecrust.

Shortcrust pastry:
1/2 lb. flour
4 oz. mixed lard and butter
4 tablespoons cold water

To make the filling:
Heat 1 & either 1/2 or 1/4 cups milk (it is impossible to decipher the precise measurement from the original article), add 2 rounded tablespoons caster sugar. Mix 3 level tablespoons ground rice and 1/2 (? same problem) teaspoon salt with 3 tablespoons water. Stir this into the warm milk. Cook and keep stirring until it thickens. Continue cooking "pudden" mixture for a further 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Beat two eggs in a bowl and stir into rice mixture. Flavour with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence. Roll out pastry and line greased saucers with the pastry. Cover pastry with jam or dessicated coconut, then pour gently a little of "pudden" mixture over. Bake 20 mins. in medium oven 325F until pastry is cooked underneath. Remove from oven and if liked dust very lightly with ground cinnamon. Nowadays these could be made in an 8" flan about 2"deep. Serve hot or cold.

Born in 1903, Fred Deely, a life-long resident of Deddington, had his boyhood memories recorded by Dorothy E Clarke:

Fred once saw the famous 'Pud', which featured at Deddington's Pudd'n & Pie Fayre, held in November and continued until shortly before the Second World War. It was about 9 inches across, fruit inside, and pastry outside. The lad next to the Three Tuns - Fowler was his name - used to be a baker. He had a sister, Ruth Fowler, she was a cripple, and it was common talk she had the recipe, and when she died nobody ever found it.

Mary Van Turner, in researching 'The Story of Deddington' (1933) spoke with Ruth Fowler, holder of the secret recipe and by this date an elderly lady. From her we learn how the pies were made in the early twentieth century.

Pudding pies have not been made in Deddington for the past six years. Miss Ruth Fowler of 'the Old Bakery', whose family had the original recipe from the Bennetts, who were baking in 1852, undoubtedly made that historic delicacy just as it should be, for in sampling one I found it corresponded exactly with the jesting descriptions which every elder Deddingtonian, including Miss Fowler, delights to give.

'They say you could tie label to one and send it through the post a hundred miles - so hard it was.'

'Deddington folk were supposed to save up all the scrapings from the candle drippings in the lanterns and put them in the pudding pies.' This was also repeated to me by another baker, Mr. W. Course.

Miss Ruth Fowler, herself, quotes a story that gives a quaint, medieval flavour to their peculiar character - a King was journeying from Woodstock to Banbury through Deddington. At Woodstock they gave him gloves and at Banbury light cakes, but in Deddington something between the two, like leather but to be eaten.

Actually they contain a sort of glorified bread pudding in a very hard case. Miss Fowler told me that the outer crust has suet as an ingredient, this is filled with boiled plum pudding, the whole being afterwards baked. Once all the bakers here made them and they were sold at the Stalls. Boiled and baked like Simnel cakes, but with what a different result!

So, according to Mary Vane Turner's account, Deddington pudding-pies have not been made by local bakers since 1927. In the 1970s a version of the 'pudden pie' was baked for the Deddington Festival, held in late summer. In an archived piece from the Deddington News from June 2007, recalling an item from the Deddington Society's Newsletter dated September 1973 and focusing on the Deddington Festival held that month, it was reported that:

The highlight for gourmets at the Festival was the sale of Deddington Pudden pies specially made from a centuries-old recipe by the local baker. The pies, which were made in saucers and sold at the annual Deddington Fair many years ago, have a sweet filling of nuts, ground rice, chopped fruit and eggs and are served with cream. The baker, Mr. B. Wallin, figured in the Festival and a bread book used by his forefathers in the baking trade was displayed in the history exhibition at the parish church.

The pies described here are clearly very different to the robust pies created by the Fowlers and other Deddington bakers at the turn of the twentieth century. They certainly sound more appertising. Curiously, the only other recipe I could find for the pudding-pies is pretty close to the the description of the saucer-baked puddings. I have a sneaky suspicion that the local baker may have seen a copy of Florence White's 'Good Things in England', which is where the recipe I cooked is from. It is here called Deddington Pudden Pie, and although the 'pie' is made of puff pastry, the filling is first boiled and then baked. Perhaps the inedible pastry crust was done away with for the purpose encouraging bakers to revive the pudding.

'A Deddington Pudden Pie was.. made by Miss R. F. Fowler and exhibited at the first English Folk Cookery Exhibition... on January 16th, 1931. The following recipe was published in the Daily News in 1930.

Ingredients: Puff pastry: ground rice 4 oz. [110g]; milk 1 quart [2pints]; eggs 3; lump sugar 6 oz. [175g]; lemon 1; currants 4 oz. [110g]
I baked with half of this quantity of ingredients.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes to boil and 15 to 25 minutes to bake in a moderate oven [180C/350F/Gas 4].

1. Grease some large saucers and line them with puff pastry.
2. Make the rice into a cream with 6 tablespoons of the milk.
3. Add the eggs well beaten to it.
4. Boil up the remainder of the milk with the lump sugar, and the thinly pared rind of a washed lemon.

5. When this boils add the rice mixture and keep stirring for 10 to 15 minutes; then
6. Lift out the lemon peel, and add the currants.
7. Pour into the lined saucers to within one inch and a half of the edge of the crust.
8. Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is nicely coloured and the mixture set. They can be eaten hot or cold.

Although Florence White does not say whether she has managed to get Ruth Fowler to divulge her family recipe, I wonder if the recipe she gives, leaving aside the pastry element, is close to it. A 19th century recipe for Folkestone Pudding Pies given by Mrs. Beeton in her 'Book of Household Management'(1861) is so very close to the Deddington Pudden Pie recipe in 'Good Things in England', that I would like to think that Florence White's recipe is authentic. My theory on the rock hard pudding-pie casing is that it was not designed to be eaten, but was to transport the filling home from the fair where it could be consumed. I believe that the pastry casing on the Scottish Black Bun served a similar purpose, keeping the cake from going stale, but intended to be discarded.

I imagined that the 'pudding' would be solid, but it was a cross between a wet cheesecake and a stodgy custard tart (hmm, that will get you all rushing for the kitchen). Maybe I needed to cook the filling for longer, or maybe that was the desired consistency. I baked my pudding-pie for 35 minutes, with another 10 minutes in the oven whilst it cooled - plenty long enough to get a 'set'. Whilst baking the filling rose like a plump Chesterfield, but became the cushion favoured by the dog when it hit cold air. It wasn't unpleasant to eat, just a tad bland and a little too mealy in the mouth for my liking. On the positive side, the currants were nice and juicy and had imbibed the lemon flavouring. Maybe mid Lent or after a hard day flogging cattle it would hit the mark.

Deddington has the most comprehensive and exhaustive website of local information that I have ever come across during my web research. If you have any interest in learning more about the town and its history, then I do urge you to take a good look at

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Banbury Cakes Revisited

Whilst in Deddington, Oxfordshire, and already feeling inspired for my next post (I am obviously on a roll at the moment!), I came across a shop that sold genuine, 100% authentic Banbury Cakes. Banbury is just up/down the road from Deddington. Having previously made these, I bought myself a packet so that I could see how the original compared to the home-baked.

From a visit to the Brown's Original Banbury Cakes website, I was delighted to learn that the current owner/baker, Phillip Brown, is related to Banbury Cake bakers dating back to the early 19th century. He himself is a direct descendent of E.W. Brown who ran 'The Original Cake Shop' from 1868 - her name appears over the door in this photo from 1902. Phillip Brown hand bakes his Banbury Cakes, and they are available for purchase online, and from a select number of shops (including A. Gold in London).

Since I wrote my earlier post about Banbury Cakes I bought Florence White's book 'Good Things in England'. She has a 'modern' recipe (dated 1929) for Banbury Cakes (alongside Gervase Markham's recipe from 1615), that is apparently for the 'same type of cake as those sold by E.W. Brown'. An indiscreet plug for the cakes reads, 'Anyone who wants to buy the best Banbury Cakes ever made can buy them from E.W. Brown, 'The Original Cake Shop', 12 Parson Street, Banbury, Oxfordshire. The recipe given is almost identical to the one that I baked for my Banbury Cakes.

My purchased Banbury Cakes were oval in shape but lacked the three slashes on top that my recipe had instructed I cut (as does the one in Florence White's book). The tops were crusted with sugar, but differed from my efforts in that they were most likely brushed with egg white and then dusted with caster sugar. I used demerara, but this may have been an embellishment of my own devising.

The pastry was, unfortunately, a little travel weary. The Banbury Cakes had only a short excursion in Ellis' changing bag, but this did compress the cakes a little. I felt that the cakes were probably best enjoyed as fresh as possible, and although they had a best-before date of almost four weeks hence, the pastry was a little dry. However, the filling of fruit, spices and sugar was positively fudgy, my only complaint was that there wasn't more of it. All in all I felt my own efforts were pretty decent - certainly in terms of the outer (hmm, to be fair I bought my pastry), and if I were to remake the cakes I would make the fillings with a little more sugar so that they could melt on the tongue in the way Mr. Brown's cakes did.