Winter Puddings

A recipe for pressure-canned carrot pudding calls up a range of stories, stances, and identity markers.

The children of Rangwell and Mable Smyth Christensen converge at Fish Lake National Forest (Utah) in August 1983. Families came from California, Washington State, Ohio, and Virginia. We ate trout, but not pudding, and the older cousins taught us how to play blackjack.
The children of Rangwell and Mable Smyth Christensen converge at Fishlake National Forest (UT) in August 1983, making the trek from California, Washington, Ohio, and Virginia. We camped for a week, ate trout (but not pudding), and the older cousins taught us how to play blackjack. I’m the one in glasses and a plaid shirt sitting at the top of the rock.

In 1983, my grandmother Mable Smyth Christensen (1911-2005) compiled a book of recipes that she distributed at a rare whole-family reunion.

The book, titled simply Smyth Recipes, includes Mable’s favorites as well as contributions solicited from her four sisters and each of her children—but it begins with a picture of a coal stove and recipes taken from her mother’s “little green tin recipe box”: ginger snaps, white layered cake with cooked cream filling, relishes and chile sauces, sweet soups and dumplings learned from Danish neighbors, catsups and sandwich spreads that “Mama” (Mary Verona Cox Smyth [1880-1973]) bottled when cucumbers and green tomatoes were plentiful at their home in south-central Utah.

Under Mary Verona’s recipe for a steamed Christmas Plum Pudding, Mable typed a seeming non-sequitur about pressure canning: “(In a cook book I have for cooking in [a] pressure cooker it says: Allow steam to flow from vent pipe for 20 minutes. Place pressure regulator on vent pipe and cook 50 minutes at 10 lbs. Let pressure drop of its own accord. When I make carrot Pudding I put it in quart bottles)” (Smyth Recipes, 1983, 6). It wasn’t until page 20 that I discovered a “Sauce for Carrot Pudding,” and on the next page, a recipe for Carrot Pudding itself.

Eighteenth-century instructions for carrot pudding produce a kind of custard pie. But like steamed plum pudding, Grandma Christensen’s carrot pudding uses raisins and carrots and makes a dark spiced cake. And unlike its plummy relative, carrot pudding includes grated raw potatoes.

During the 1930s, this root vegetable recipe circulated in U.S. periodicals such as Your Thrift Guide Magazine, and similar recipes can be found today on the web, often linked to grandmothers, the adjective “old-fashioned,” or winter holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Steamed for the recommended time using a pressure canner, the jar of carrot pudding could be kept in the cupboard until revived with a sweet citrus, vanilla, or rum sauce.

[Note: Today’s food scientists do not recommend canning quickbreads or cake at home, since many circulating recipes erroneously instruct users to simply steam or bake the batter and then seal by adding a lid. Unfortunately, neither a boiling waterbath nor oven baking can adequately sterilize these low-acid foods. Sealing a jar of steamed pudding without processing it properly in a pressure canner risks cultivating the toxin that causes botulism. But never fear: to make fresh carrot pudding for immediate consumption, try this recipe from Canada (with a lemon sauce) or this lower-fat version (with a vanilla sauce), and if you want to keep it around for a while, put it in the freezer instead.]

Mable’s carrot pudding calls up strong sensory memories for my father, and I once sampled a jar more than 20 years old. Here are the recipes for both puddings as my grandmother typed them, minus a few spelling errors:

CARROT PUDDING (Mable Smyth Christensen)

Smyth Recipes cover_web
Now battered by years of children attempting to whip cream near its pages, Smyth Recipes includes turn-of-the-century classics, mid-century experiments with ready-made goods, and a number of inside jokes.

“1/2 cup shortening or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup grated potatoes
1 cup flour
1 cup raisins
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup nuts if you enjoy the nuts

“Mix together with the other ingredients the creamed sugar and shortening. I put it in [quart] bottles and pressure it [i.e., process it in a pressure canner] for 50 min at 10 lbs. [Let pressure release naturally.] I have also used dates and sometimes added candied fruits.”

[Note: Avoid red potatoes; to improve texture, mix the grated potatoes with the baking soda and add them to the batter last.]

[Note: For fresh eating, I’ve divided this recipe into 4 widemouth pint jars covered with aluminum foil (since you’re not pressure canning, don’t use canning lids–lids might seal during steaming and create the low-oxygen condition that encourages botulism). Place the filled jars on a rack in a deep pot, add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the jars, cover, bring water to a slowish boil, and steam for 2 hours. Store jars in refrigerator or freezer.]

SAUCE FOR CARROT PUDDING

“1 cup sugar
2 cups boiling water
2 tbs flour
2 tbs butter or margarine
1 orange rind and juice
1/4 tsp salt

“Combine sugar, salt, and flour. Add boiling water slowly, stirring constantly. Boil slowly for 3 minutes. Add other ingredients. Keep warm until ready to serve. A dip of ice cream on top is delicious.”

CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING (Mary Verona Cox Smyth)

“1 lb currants, 1 lb raisins, 1/2 lb lemon citron, 1 lb grated carrots, 1 lb bread crumbs, 1 lb flour, 3 tsp B.P. [baking powder], 1 tsp cinnamon, allspice a little ginger, a little mace, 9 eggs (or less), 1 lb beef suet, 1 tsp salt, 1 lb sugar and 1 cup molasses. Steam 2 days and till dinner time Christmas day.”

Carrot pudding bottled in 1982. My father brought several pints home to Ohio after his mother's death in 2005 (photo taken March 24, 2014).
Carrot pudding pressure-canned in 1982. My father brought several pints home to Ohio after his mother’s death in 2005 (photo taken March 24, 2014).

It’s not surprising that steamed puddings—so very English—show up in a cookbook about Smythness. Mable’s paternal grandparents Adam Craik Smyth (1840-1909) and Frances Harriet Townsden (1854-1926), who lived just around the corner during her childhood, were born in the counties of Lancashire and Kent. One set of her maternal great-grandparents (Robert Johnson [1823-1911] and Elizabeth Johnson [1825-1908]) immigrated from Cheshire and Lancashire in the 1840s. The other set (Frederick Walter Cox [1812-1879] and Cordelia Calista Morley [1823-1915]) brought together two families whose ancestors had colonized Massachusetts. So there’s plenty of Anglo to remember.

Notably, however, the Christmas pudding recipe fails to mention any kind of custard accompaniment, nor does it advocate drenching the finished pudding with a traditional dose of brandy. The recipe’s lack of sauciness may reflect a longtime culinary accommodation to Mormon restrictions on alcohol use—and explain why Grandma canned her carrot pudding rather than preserving it with spirits. Or perhaps one of my forebears had taken a page from Miss Briggs’s temperate London-based  Instruction In Cookery (1890). Then again, maybe Grandma just didn’t write that part down.

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