Aunt Margaret’s Pudding is not just a book of poems. It’s poems, and cake/pudding recipes, and a prose memoir about Dorothy Eliza Barnes (Dot), the author’s grandmother.
Dot, born in 1894, became a shepherd’s wife, and before that was employed as a cook. It was she who listed ‘Aunt Margaret’s Pudding’ in her handwritten book of recipes and Alison Brackenbury, her grand-daughter, who wrote a poem with the same title. It’s the first poem in the book, and this is how it starts:
Page one: Aunt Margaret’s Pudding.
Take half a pound of flour,
three ounces lard (or butter), egg,
milk, sugar, baking powder.
Spread jam in basin, summer gleam.
Poke fire! For ninety minutes, steam.
Steamed pudding? Not something most people cook these days. But in working on the book both Alison and I (in separate houses) made the pudding, ate the pudding, fed it to our families, and thrived.
We had to test all the recipes, not only to ensure they worked well, but also to be able to include enough ‘method’ for a modern cook. Dot was a professional – all she did was list the ingredients and the oven heat. Most of us need a bit more than that.
So both publisher and poet made the seven recipes that sit between the poems in this book, and photographed them to prove it.
Since then, others have followed.
It’s a curious thing how reading a memoir of life lived nearly a century ago can make you want to taste it – physically. There’s something incredibly nostalgic about a handed down recipe. George Simmers, poet and editor of Snakeskin, read the book, and made both ‘Aunt Margaret’s pudding’ and the ‘Quaker Oat scones’ (so far).
I love the Quaker Oat Scones myself, and I am truly fussy about good scones. But as scones go, these vanished fast. All they need is a little butter...
My favourite recipe out of the whole book is Raspberry Buns. They require good jam though. I make raspberry jam every year – one of the easiest of the jams, especially if you add the juice of half a lemon. But you can make these with shop jam, provided you buy the best.
But here, too, is my second attempt at Vinegar Cake, where I got a bit more ambitious with the fruit, and lowered Dot's suggested oven heat. You see the name is not enticing, but the cake was pretty smart.