A Sparkling Vintage Life

bettina february

You may recall Bettina, the star of A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, a 1917 cookbook for new brides by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron. In this episode, Bettina and her husband, Bob, have invited their newlywed friends Ruth and Fred, to dinner, and accomplished-cook Bettina is giving the scoop on her steamed pudding to can’t-boil-water Ruth. It sounded like a nice cold-weather dessert. [A caveat: I have not actually tried making this recipe. For one thing, I don’t care for raisins, and I don’t think I’d be big on suet, either. Plus, I’m a little scared of my pressure cooker. But the story, from a 1917 cookbook, is so charming that I had to share.]

A note about steamed puddings: What we in North America generally call pudding, others call custard or mousse:  a sweet, milk-based, creamy or gelatinous dish. (In the U.K., a pudding can be any dessert.) According to Wikipedia, the word “pudding” is believed to come from the French “boudin” meaning “sausage.” Traditional steamed puddings contained meat and were a savory dish rather than a sweet one. Bettina’s recipe contains suet, but it’s still a sweet dish. Here’s the story:

“This was a splendid dinner, Bettina,” said Ruth, as the two of them were carrying the dishes into the kitchen and Fred and Bob were deep in conversation in the living room. “Such a delicious dessert! Suet pudding, wasn’t it? I couldn’t guess all that was in it.”

bettina and ruth“Just a steamed fig pudding, Ruth. The simplest thing in the world! You could make it easily.”

“Simple? But don’t you have to use a steamer to make it in, and isn’t that awfully complicated? I’ve always imagined so.”

“You don’t need to use a steamer at all. I steamed this is my pressure cooker, in a large baking-powder can. I filled the buttered can about two-thirds full, and set it in boiling water than came less than halfway up the side of the can. Of course, the cover of the can or the mold must be screwed on tight. I cooked it without pressure for about an hour. Then I ran up the pressure to twenty pounds, cooked it that way for about ten minutes, and let the steam off. You see, it’s very simple. In fact, I think steaming anything is very easy, for you don’t have to keep watching it as you would if it were baking in the oven, and basting it, or changing the heat.”

“We haven’t a cooker, you know. Could I make a steamed pudding that same way on the stove?”

“Yes, indeed, the very same way. Just set the buttered can filled two-thirds full in a larger covered utensil holding oiling water. Keep the water boiling all the time.”

“I shall certainly try it tomorrow, Bettina!”

Here is Bettina’s recipe for Steamed Fig Pudding. If you dare to try it, let me know how you liked it!

1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ginger
2/3 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. milk1/2 c. suet, chopped
1/3 c. chopped figs
1/3 c. stoned raisins
1/2 tsp. lemon extract

Mix the flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and suet. Add the figs, raisins, molasses and milk. Stir well. Add the lemon extract. Fill a well-buttered pudding mold two-thirds full. Steam an hour and a half, with the water boiling. Serve hot with foamy sauce. Serves 4.


1 egg
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. hot water
1 Tbs. lemon juice OR 1 tsp. lemon extract

Beat the egg vigorously. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the hot water and stir vigorously. Add the lemon juice. Serves 4. (This sauce may be reheated if desired.)