What do you get when you combine bread and berries together and let them set in the fridge overnight? An unpalatable gob, perhaps?
That was pretty much my take whenever I considered Summer Pudding, that most cherished of British sweets. I could not wrap my brain around seriously wasting the season’s best fruit on this bizarre idea.
In all fairness, maybe it is another case of availability being the mother of intention: or, when you’ve got bread and berries, you just make pudding. Here, a mold is lined with bread slices and filled with berries that have been briefly simmered with water and sugar to create fruit syrup, which binds it all together. It is then weighted down and pressed until it forms a congealed mass.
I know. It still doesn’t make the heart race.
And so it was, until recently, while reading Judith Jones’s charming recollection of Summer Pudding for One in The Pleasures of Cooking for One:
“I always remember my childhood summers in Vermont as a procession of summer puddings made with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or currant as they came along. This old-fashioned dessert couldn’t be simpler to put together, and you can do a single portion in a small cup mold…”
Well, I certainly value Judith’s perspective. After all, she was most influential in getting Julia Child first published. Besides, making only one serving meant I had very little at stake―especially since I had a half loaf of Banana Swirl Bread still breathing heavy in my larder. And, it is berry season in the Willamette Valley.
It didn’t take long to accumulate plenty of berries: raspberries, marionberries, strawberries, and tayberries (a new blend of raspberries and marionberries). In that same amount of time I also learned more about the magic that occurs in Summer Pudding.
Currants are not imperative here, but they provide a clue pertaining to why they are valued for more than their taste. Currants are especially high in pectin, followed closely by other berries such as strawberries, blackberries and the like. Pectin becomes the active ingredient that binds and transforms these simple ingredients into something utterly bewitching.
Just in case you don’t have a loaf of Banana Swirl Bread, any firm homemade or Pullman style loaf that is not too light will provide the necessary structure to hold this all together. Ina Garten’s Summer Pudding uses further insurance by inserting layers of bread in the center of her mold for increased substance. I suspect this is more of an American conceit, and likely viewed as unnecessary by the average British cook.
If you have additional syrup, set it aside and save it to enjoy with the pudding. To unmold, slide a knife around the pudding and turn it upside down onto a plate.
Serve it with more fruit, sweetened whipped cream, crème fraiche or yogurt. By the way, Summer Pudding is really good for breakfast―about as long as I can wait.Maybe it will bring out the kid in you, too!
Summer Pudding for One
1/3 c raspberries, fresh
1/3 c blackberries,, blueberries, currants, and or strawberries
1 tbsp sugar or to taste
1/4 cup water
2 slices homemade bread, trimmed and thinly sliced, approx.
Sweetened whipped cream or yogurt, additional fruit for garnish
- In a small saucepan place the washed fruit, the sugar and water. Over moderately heat, simmer 3 to 5 minutes or until fruit is softened but not mushy. Taste the syrup, it should be pleasantly sweet, add more sugar if too tart. There should also be enough syrup to fully moisten the bread liner, adjust liquid as necessary.
- Line a one cup mold with the bread slices: line the bottom of the mold, then cut triangles or rectangles to run up the sides fitting firmly without gaps. Cut a round to fit on the top, which will be the bottom when unmolded, and set it aside.
- Arrange the fruit and syrup in the mold and place the reserved round on top. All the bread should be moistened. Place a small plate with a can or other heavy object on top to weight it down evenly. Enclose it all with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Unmold, running a knife around the sides. Serve with sweetened cream or yogurt, and a few fresh berries. Yield: 1 serving