Saturday, January 16, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 26: Plough Monday

According to Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, before the widespread farming of winter grains in the twentieth century, the spring plowing began immediately after the end of Christmas (Epiphany). By the mid-fifteenth century, the Monday after Twelfth Night became known as "Plough Monday." A ceremonial plow was blessed in church the day before on "Plough Sunday" and the next day the plow was taken through the streets in a procession to collect money for the parish. Naturally, drinking and merry-making followed this parade (124-5).

The English Reformation began the slow decline of Plough Mondays. First, in 1538, Henry VIII forbade that "plough lights" be lit in churches, then Edward VI condemned the "conjuring of ploughs" (125). The ceremonies revived during the reign of Mary only to fall by the wayside during Elizabeth's reign (126). However, a few secularized Plough Monday processions survived into the nineteenth century only to be attacked in the courts. One farmer in 1810 took his case to the Derby Assizes, claiming that when he refused to give them money, the young men pulling the plow plowed up his drive, lawn and a bench, causing twenty pounds' worth of damage (127-8).

Although a few Plough Monday processions were recorded as late as the 1930s, the festival languished until the second wave of "folk revival" during the '60s and '70s brought it back in several English communities (132-3).

The following recipe is for Norfolk Plough Pudding, which, according to Favourite Norfolk Recipes, was traditionally made on Plough Monday. If you like bacon and sausage, you'll love this recipe! Don't worry--it's not as complicated as it looks. There are a lot of steps, but the preparation only takes about half an hour. Just be sure to leave enough time for cooking; this pudding takes four hours to steam. If you need a pudding basin, this is the one I have.

Norfolk Plough Pudding

serves 6-8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or rendered suet
1 pound pork sausage (breakfast sausage, the kind without a casing)
8 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
chiffonade of 6 sage leaves
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

Grease a 1-quart pudding basin and set aside.

For the crust: measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir to combine. Add the shortening (or suet if you have it) and rub together until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add enough cold water for the dough to come together. Take out 2/3 of the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8-inch thick. Use this dough to line the pudding basin, pressing dough into the curves of the basin and filling any gaps using cold water and extra dough. Trim dough flush with top of basin. Set the remaining dough aside for the lid.

For the filling: use the sausage to line the inside of the basin, pressing it into the dough. Try to get an even thickness on the sides and bottom.

Next, combine the bacon, onion, sage and brown sugar. Add this mixture into the pudding basin, pressing down to get filling to line up with top of basin.

Next, roll out the remaining dough to 1/8-inch thickness and place on top of the pudding basin. Trim and press edges firmly together, using a bit of cold water.

Finally, cover the basin with parchment and aluminum foil (don't forget the pleat) and tie with string (instructional video here). Steam for 4 hours. Don't forget to check the water level and top it off with more boiling water from the kettle!

Adapted from Favourite Norfolk Recipes.

This recipe is also available on

Bread and butter pudding did not come about because someone had the idea that bread, butter and rich, sweet custard would make a sensuous and tender pudding. Whoever it was thought of the idea to use up a few slices of leftover bread...It's a wonder we can hold a wooden spoon, our fists are so tightly clenched.
-Nigel Slater,
Eating for England

No matter how Bread and Butter Pudding came to be, it's delicious...and it's a good way to use up leftover bread. Honestly, I think leftovers are great.

Bread and Butter Pudding

serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
6 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup raisins, currants or golden raisins
1 lemon, zest only
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk

Butter a 6-cup capacity baking dish (a 9" square pan, for example).

Butter the bread and then cut into triangles, squares or fingers.

Arrange half the bread in a single layer in the baking sheet. Top with raisins, lemon zest and half the brown sugar. Top with the remaining bread.

Beat together the eggs and milk then pour into the pan. Top with the remaining brown sugar and leave for 30 minutes. (If you need to leave the pudding longer, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake pudding for 35-40 minutes, or until it is set and the top is a golden color. The pudding will puff up like a soufflé, just wait until it deflates to cut into it. Refrigerate any leftovers. You don't even have to heat them up; this pudding is tasty hot or cold.

Adapted from Traditional British Cooking.


In other matters, in case PBS isn't providing you with enough Elizabeth Gaskell, both Wives and Daughters and North and South are currently available on Netflix watch-it-now. Both are very good adaptations and definitely worth the almost nine hours it takes to watch both of them.

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