Monday 5 March 2012

Lady Westmorland's Sweetmeat Pudding

Lady Westmorland's Sweetmeat Pudding is a 'whitepot', the forerunner of bread and butter pudding

I recently gave a lecture and cookery demonstration at the Marmalade Festival at Dalemain Mansion here in the English Lake District. The subject of my talk was an important manuscript of medicinal and cookery receipts which has been in the Dalemain library since the early eighteenth century. This collection was compiled in the second half of the previous century by Elizabeth Rainbow, wife of Edward Rainbow, who was bishop of Carlisle between 1662 and 1684.  Elizabeth (d.1702) was the daughter of Henry Smyth, Master of Magdelene College, Cambridge. She married Edward in 1652. You may remember I introduced you to Elizabeth's excellent skirret pie in a former posting, where you will find her portrait.

My rather forlorn copy of Jonathan Bank's biography of Edward.  

Being a marmalade festival, my lecture touched briefly on the history of this popular preserve and I discussed some interesting recipes for orange, quince and cherry marmalades in Elizabeth's book. However my main focus was the social context of her cookery recipes. Many of them were donated by friends, who are often named in the title of the recipe or in a marginal annotation. These particular recipes tell us a great deal about the aristocratic circles in which Elizabeth and her husband moved.

Edward followed in the footsteps of Elizabeth's father as Master of Magdalene College in 1642. He was a very smart man and numbered among his intellectual friends the scientist Robert Boyle. He was also personal tutor to two important young noblemen, George and Henry Howard, who became the 3rd and 4th Earls of Suffolk respectively. Their father, Theophilus Howard the 2nd Earl (1584-1640) energetically supported Edward's early career as a cleric and had a great admiration for his piety. Edward's mastership of Magdelene was by the gift of Theophilus' eldest son James, who became the 3rd Earl on his father's death in 1640. Edward personally conducted the wedding ceremony of James's sister Catherine Howard to Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland in 1642. Edward was almost one of the family. He also enjoyed intimate friendships with members of the noble families of Northumberland, Warwick and Orrery. 

Lord Newburgh was James Livingstone, 1st Earl of Newburgh. Photo © Dalemain Estates. 

Quite a number of Elizabeth's recipes reflect the close friendship the couple enjoyed with these powerful English families. A marginal annotation next to a recipe for 'Cherry Marmalate' tells us that it was given to Elizabeth by Lady Ann Walsingham, another of Theophilus's daughters. Ann Howard married Sir Thomas Walsingham in 1670. A recipe for a quince preserve entitled 'Lord Newburgh's Marmalade' would have been from the Scottish peer James Livingston, 1st Earl of Newburgh, who married Catherine Howard, yet another of old Theophilus's daughters in 1649. James was Catherine's second husband. She was the widow of the dashing royalist George Stuart, Lord d'Aubigny who fell at Edge Hill. She was a great beauty, as can be seen from the portrait of her by Van Dyck, which hangs on the stairs at Dalemain. Her husband's marmalade recipe is excellent. It contains half the amount of sugar that would normally be used today. There is also a recipe for 'Lord Newburgh's Cake'.

Lord Newburgh's wife Catherine Howard by Anthony Van Dyck. Photo © Dalemain Estates. 

A number of other recipes, including one for 'Spanish Cream' and another for 'Lumbard Pie' are from a Lady Sedley. This was Catherine Sedley, daughter of John Savage, Earl of Rivers, who married Sir Charles Sedley the poet and courtier in 1657. A surviving book of receipts (mainly medical) dated 1686 by Lady Sedley survives in the library of the Royal College of Physicians. Lady Sedley's husband, a favourite companion of Charles II was noted for his drunken, often lewd behaviour. Pepy's recorded a particularly odious episode of Sedley's anti-social behaviour that I really do not want to go into here, but if you are inclined, have a search through Sam's diary yourself. Their daughter and sole heir, also called Catherine (1657-1717) followed in this family tradition and became notorious as the mistress to James II (VII of Scotland). She was made Countess of Dorchester by James in 1686. Elizabeth Rainbowe includes a recipe from 'the young Lady Sedley' for 'buttered loaves'. It is fascinating that a recipe from this notorious lady is included in a cookery book compiled by a bishop's wife, especially since Edward frequently railed against immorality. If Elizabeth ever made them for him, 'the Young Lady Sedley's Buttered Loaves' must have turned to ashes in his mouth.

Catherine Sedley the Younger by Peter Lely

Of great interest to me are a series of recipes originating from a 'Lady Westmerland'. Included among these are ones for 'stewed beef', 'lumbard pie' and 'clear cakes'. There is also a truly outstanding recipe 'To make a sweet meat pudding Lady Westmorland's way', which I think is one of the great English puddings - as does everybody else who has tried it! 

There were a number of noblewomen who could claim the title Lady Westmorland during Elizabeth's lifetime, but the most likely authoress of this wonderful recipe was Elizabeth Nodes, who married Charles Fane, the 3rd Earl of Westmorland in 1665. She was the subject of the marvellous portrait below by John Michael Wright, which sold in 1999 for the bargain sum of $27,000. If I had known it was for sale at the time on such a low reserve, I would have broken into my piggy bank and placed a bid! At the price of a modest family car, it would have been a great buy (and a much better investment). Elizabeth is leaning on a stone plinth, behind which are carvings of Ceres and her daughter Proserpine. This is an appropriate iconography since Ceres was the goddess of wheat and therefore by default also of puddings! I do not suppose for a moment that Wright intended this particular symbolism - though you never know. Perhaps he too had tasted her amazing sweetmeat pudding! By the way John Michael Wright is not only my favourite 17th century portrait painter, but also one of my 'food idols'. I will be discussing the reasons for this in a future series of postings about my culinary heroes, both living and dead.

Elizabeth, wife of Charles Fane, 3rd Earl of Westmorland, by John Michael Wright

Anyway, to get back to the subject of Lady Westmorland's sweet meat pudding, here is the recipe in Elizabeth Rainbow's hand. Do try it because it is extraordinary.

Photo © Dalemain Estates
Lady Westmorland's pudding is really a kind of 'whitepot', the early modern period ancestor of bread-and-butter pudding. Whitepots were a family of baked puddings and at some future point I will attempt to sort out their taxonomy on this blog. Elizabeth gives us a number, including 'Sussex Whitepot',  'Norfolk Whitepot'. 'Whitepot with Apples' and others. However, the real jewel in the crown is Lady Westmorland's recipe.

Preserved citron, bitter orange, cherries, plums and apricots - these are Lady Westmorland's sweetmeats

Like many other whitepots, it is made with layers of bread slices soaked in an egg yolk custard. In between the layers we are instructed to place pieces of preserved fruits, namely apricot, citron (or orange peel), plums and cherries. Most other whitepot recipes call for raisins, currants and dates. By preserved fruits, Lady Westmorland specifically meant fruits and peels preserved and stored in sugar syrup, not candied or glacé fruits, though these would do I suppose. I preserve peels and fruits all the time and tend to keep them in their syrups rather than drying or candying them. They stay much more succulent that way and also retain their intense flavour.

Pieces of preserved plum, orange peel, cherries and apricots are layered between slices of manchet bread soaked in custard
Elizabeth gives plenty of  recipes for preserving these fruits and peels, so it is likely that they were all to hand in her closet for including in dishes of this kind. In making them she generally followed the same procedure that I do. That is to gently poach each kind of fruit in water for a short time - this takes longer with peels - and then to cook them for a short while in a thin syrup. I make mine with a pound of sugar to a pint of water. Every day the fruit is removed and the syrup boiled for about 10 minutes. The syrup is poured back over the fruit, which is allowed to steep in it for another 24 hours. The next day the process is repeated and this is continued for 12 days. This seems like a lot of work, but it is only about 10 minutes a day. I store the finished fruit in jars. Elizabeth would have done the same, but would have sealed her 'glasses' by tying on a bladder dipped in brandy.

It is important to remove the stones before preserving the fruit in this way, so the syrup can work its way into the centre. The best way to do this by holding the fruit and pushing out the stone with the end of a goose or ostrich quill, an old confectioner's trick I learnt from Frederick Nutt.

Cherries, apricots and other stone fruits can be pitted by pushing the stone out with a quill
This often does n't work with plums, so it is best to pierce them a few times with a fork to encourage the syrup to penetrate

I follow Elizabeth's suggestion to flavour the pudding with a little musk and ambergris, commonly used in high status dishes at this period, but both are very difficult to obtain today. I have a small amount of musk that was purchased in China in the 1930s. It is still incredibly pungent and a very small quantity will create a pleasant odour. I tend to dissolve a few grains of musk and ambergris in rosewater, a preparation once known as 'muskified rosewater' and add this to dishes that require these materials. Musk has been quite rightly an illegal substance, as it is harvested from the threatened Himalayan musk deer. Mine was gathered decades before the ban, so I can use it without feeling any guilt. Ambergris, although it is created by sperm whales, is not a threat to their survival as it is found floating in the sea or washed up on the beach. Unlike musk, it can be purchased today, though it is very, very expensive. I luckily have a lifetime's supply of the two substances, a gift from a friend who is a professional perfumer. A spoonful of good quality rosewater added to the cream is a good substitute.

Ambergris (left). Musk (right).

A slice of Lady Westmorland's Sweet Meat Pudding


  1. Great post - it looks quite tasty! Especially love the portraits of the women in all their splendor.

  2. Ivan - what type of cherries would have been used in this recipe? Sweet cherries or a sour cherry like a morello or amarelle (such as "Kentish Red"?)

    Brilliant recipe, I have seen a recipe for a "sweetmeat custard", which is similar, but no mention is made of what the sweetmeats were.

  3. Adam, your question regarding the kind of cherries used for preserving in the 17th century raises a big issue which I will try to answer in a future posting. From the evidence in the gardening books of this period a very wide range of cherries were cultivated in this country. John Parkinson in Paradisi in sole Paradisus Terrestris (London: 1629) names over thirty kinds. He does n't tell us which ones were favoured for preserving, but he does mention that both agriot cherries and morellos were highly suitable for drying. In George London and Henry Wise's 1704 translation of De la Quintinye's The Complete Gardener, we learn that an early cherry called the Forward Cherry was more suited for making wet sweetmeats and compotes than if was for eating fresh. More anon on this interesting subject.

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