Chalk it up again to my love of the Great British Baking show. But this past Sunday night I learned about another wonderful baked good from the British Isles , namely, Scotland , that I’ve never heard of. It’s got a great name – the clootie pudding. Now the Scottish are known for throwing a bunch of savory stuff in a bag, cooking it, and calling it food. That’s exactly what haggis is – an assortment of sheep parts, veggies, and spices thrown into a bag (sheeps intestine or stomach) and cooked. It’s actually quite good and much like our goetta, when thin sliced and fried crispy. It just looks a bit darker and is sheep instead of piggy.
Well clootie pudding is another “throw-it-in-a-bag” rustic dish the Scottish love. And the Scots are not considered the most refined of cooks, nor is it the most trendy food category out there. No offense to the kilt wearing, commando going, hammer throwing folks. But the variety in form and the tradition of this boiled bakery good fascinated me.
The English have a pudding for nearly every region in the country – ala the Yorkshire pudding. The Clootie has a close cousin in the English figgy pudding served at Christmas time and immortalized in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. This is a boiled fruitcake-like pudding, similar to the clootie. As an American you might say, “Why the hell do they call it a pudding if you can’t eat it with a spoon out of a pudding cup. It’s a bread, dammit!” Well the English categorize their puddings in a whole different way than we do. An English pudding is closer to our definition of a stuffing than a pudding.
A cloot or clootie, is the Scottish term for rag. A clootie pudding is a combination of flour, breadcrumbs, suet (beef or mutton fat), dried fruit like raisins (called sultanas in Britain) or currants, spices, and some milk. It’s wrapped in a wet, floured rag, and boiled in a pot for a few hours. It’s then pulled out, unwrapped, and left to dry in front of the fire or in an oven. After being sprinkled with crystal suger, its’s served with a lake of golden syrup, flavored caramel sauce, ice cream, custard, or another British fave – clotted cream. Anything with the term ‘clotted’ just makes me sick, thinking of a congealed blood sausage, but I digress.
Traditionalists say that wrapping in a rag and boiling creates an outer skin, that without is just not a clootie. Modern bakers will put the mix in a bowl and steam it say in a bain marie, but it doesn’t form the same skin, and is just a boiled fruitcake.
Contestant Kimberly presenting her Clootie pudding in the Great British Baking Show.
Another interesting British terminology is the sultana. It’s the light green seedless grapes we’re used to seeing in the produce section. We call them Thompson grapes here in the U.S., after a viticulturist from California, named William Thompson, who is credited with introducing the variety. Raisins are made from this type of grape – we call all dried grapes raisins, but the British are more specific and call them sultanas. So when you look for Raisin Bran cereal in Britain and Australia, you won’t find it – you’ll find Sultana Bran.
Originally a savory pudding, served with maybe some bits of salt bacon left over, the sweet edition with dried fruits was served on special occasions like weddings, funerals, or the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It can even be served on Burn’s Night, the night celebrating Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. Sometimes at celebrations , coins or other items were stuffed in, like the baby Jesus in a Mardi Gras King Cake. Back in the day the fruity version was expensive and when shared with neighbors was a way of expecting the same abundance in return.
Surprisingly, the suet doesn’t really impart a barnyardy tastes and makes light, fluffy and golden dough. After a cold walk in the countryside, there’s nothing the Scots like more than a piece of warm clootie and some cream.