By Order of Captain Aubrey, Spotted Dick
Spotted Dick, also known as Spotted Dog, and a favorite desert of fictional British naval hero Jack Aubrey, but less loved by his friend and surgeon Stephen Maturin, is described in the Aubrey/Maturin companion A Sea of Words as,
A suet pudding containing currants (the spots) and cooked to a firm consistency in a tightly wrapped pudding cloth.
When I think of suet, I think of the stuff birds eat, so other than the currants, this sounds disgusting. Granted, it lacks the seeds you find in bird suet, but I think if they were out of the hull, they’d probably be a good addition to the pudding. You can find a recipe for Spotted Dick in the gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, a book I do not yet own. Blogger Ellison does, and prepared an entire Aubrey/Maturin feast, which he says “possibly the most cholesterol-laden, calorific, and costly meal I have ever had.” He also describes Spotted Dick as
a suet pudding that is like nothing so much as a cake – albeit a cake made with beef suet in lieu of vegetable shortening or butter, and steamed for several hours instead of being baked. Laden with aromatic cinnamon and nutmeg, with dried currants to give it the proper spotted appearance, it was – surprisingly – quite nice.
So maybe it’s worth a try. There are few dishes I won’t try. In fact I can’t remember the last time I refused to try a new dish. And my dear considerate wife, knowing of my deep devotion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and having heard me utter the words “Spotted Dick” on occasion, had to buy a can when she saw it on the grocery shelf. And I was delighted, stuck it in the pantry for future consumption, and promptly forgot about it. It got remembered once in a while, but never at an opportune time. And so a year or two has gone by, while the ghost of Jack Aubrey is no doubt alternating between looking at me disdainfully for not having tried it and looking aghast at the idea of eating Spotted Dick that comes in a can rather than fresh from the kitchen.
Welcome to the modern world, Captain Aubrey. You wouldn’t like our sail-less modern navy, either.
I spotted it again this morning, and decided today was the day to make it. Following the directions, I began by boiling it “gently” for 35 minutes. I’m not sure what that means, as in my experience boiling water isn’t gentle (and believe me, I have some memorable experience with it), but I presumed it meant not a rolling boil, so I kept the flame low enough to make the water merely bubble instead of roar.
After the allotted time had elapsed I set the can on a plate and carefully punched a small hole with the can opener to let the steam escape, then removed the lid and set the pudding on the plate. It look like this.
It doesn’t look very appetizing, but then neither did the dish of octopus I had in the Korean restaurant in Cleveland, and that was fantastic. Of course there’s a reason nobody’s ever told a joke with the punchline that in hell the Koreans are the cooks.
Unappealing looks or not, I called all the kids into the kitchen to give it a try. Our standard method is to require the kids to take a taste. They don’t have to take more than one taste if they don’t like something, they don’t even need to swallow the bite they take, and there are no recriminations for not liking something. This low risk approach, knowing there’s no commitment, has made them generally willing to try new foods, even octopus and English puddings. (“That’s a pudding, dad?” “Well, honey, the British have strange conceptions of pudding. Or, rather, since they invented puddings, maybe we Americans have strange ideas about pudding.”) So I sliced it up and served it out.
Number 1 daughter love it. Of course she’s a swimmer in season, which means she’d eat the couch cushions, the dog, and her medals if we didn’t keep an eye on her, so I don’t know that her opinion counts for much.
Number 2 daughter found it neither particularly likable nor unlikable. Drawing on her Swiss heritage, she was profoundly neutral.
Number 3 daughter was revolted, immediately spitting it out. She loudly denounced it as a wicked colonialist plot and praised George Washington for saving us from the scourge of English puddings.
My wife liked it well enough, and accurately described it as a mix of gingerbread and raisin bread. Which is all well and good if you like that kind of thing. To my mind, God created ginger solely for the purpose of making Tom Ka Gai, and raisins are just senescent grapes; old, wrinkled, and bitterly mourning their lost youth. (The California Raisins, of course, were just a corporate trick by the California Raisin Marketing Board to get us to consume their spoiled products, much like Hollywood pitching another Tom Cruise movie).
Me? Meh. I’d eat it at Aubrey’s table to be courteous, but I’d certainly be drinking my wine bumpers and no heel taps to wash it down.
No wonder Maturin always worried about Aubrey’s health, if he was pounding down tubs of that stuff.