The Old-School Dessert You Really Need to Make Now

It's steamed pudding! This frugal-yet-tasty dessert helped home cooks make the most of budget ingredients.

Have you ever tried steamed pudding? As unfamiliar as it may sound, it was once a popular dessert that home cooks relied on because it used low-cost ingredients—and even leftover ingredients from other meals. But despite its modest beginnings, it’s fit for a king.

What is steamed pudding?

Steamed pudding isn’t the custard-like “pudding” you might assume, but actually a soft, moist, cake-like treat. Steamed puddings have a long history in England as a part of Christmas celebrations. (“Bring us some figgy pudding!”) For wealthy Brits, steamed puddings were lavish affairs, loaded with eggs, butter, spices and even brandy.

But steamed puddings in Great Depression-era America were a go-to for the opposite reason: They were a thrifty choice at a time when many people were out of work and food was expensive. You’ll see recipes of the 1930s make use of ingredients like prunes and dried fruits, which were cheaper than fresh, breadcrumbs made from stale bread, sour milk, mashed potatoes, and lard made from leftover meat drippings.

The odds ‘n’ ends were combined with small amounts of spices and molasses to create a modestly sweet dessert.

So, how do you make steamed pudding?

The ingredients are mixed together and then pressed into a greased mold. There are pudding molds made precisely for this purpose, which look like small, handled buckets with tight-fitting lids. Back in the ’30s, thrifty home cooks would use what they had on hand for a mold, often empty baking powder cans! It’s covered tightly and placed on a rack in a large pot with boiling water—anywhere from a couple of inches to halfway up the sides of the mold. Then, the pudding is slowly steamed over a few hours.

When done, the pudding is inverted onto a serving plate and drizzled with a simple sauce. It’s a delicious and unique-for-today dessert: a soft and very moist cake full of plump fruits and warming spices.

It’s time to make your own!

Steamed Carrot Pudding is a perfect choice to bring this old-school treat to your Easter celebration: It’s studded with dried fruits and nuts, and drizzled (or flooded) with warm vanilla sauce on top!

Depression-Era Desserts Worth Trying Today
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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.