Beef pudding has been a favourite meal of the British for many centuries; like other puddings it finds its origins in the old boiled meat puddings. When filled suet puddings gained popularity by the end of the eighteenth century, there appeared recipes for ‘steak and kidney pudding’, ‘beef and baked beef steak pudding’, both by Maria Eliza Rundell (A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1807). In the latter years of the nineteenth century, Agnes Marshall (Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery, 1888) published her rather posh-sounding version, ‘Beef Pudding with Anchovies’, which is made by flattening out the steak, adding herbs, chopped shallots and mushrooms, then diced anchovies, before rolling it up like a small cylinder and placing the meat parcels in the suet pastry.
A few years before Marshall, in 1845, French-born Alexis Soyer gave a recipe for ‘Beef Pudding’ with oysters, mushrooms or kidneys in his book A Shilling Cookery for the People. Having a good understanding of what the upper class were eating as well as what the lower class could afford to eat, he noted the following of beef pudding:
This may truly be considered as much a national dish as roast beef and plum pudding.
234 - Beef Pudding - Take about one pound of steak, cut it lengthways in three pieces, and then slantways at each inch, instead of in lumps; but should you buy cuttings of meat from the butchers, then remove all the sinew and over fat, and cut the large pieces slantways, put them in a dish, and sprinkle over with a teaspoonful of salt, a half ditto of pepper, and a teaspoonful of flour, the same of chopped onions; mix well together, make six or eight ounces of paste as No. 319, roll it to the thickness of a quarter of an inch, or a little more, put pudding-cloth in a basin, sprinkle some flour over it, lay in your paste, and then the meat, together with a few pieces of fat; when full put in three wineglasses of water; turn the paste over the meat, so as not to form a lump, but well closed; then tie the cloth, not too close on the paste, or it will not be light; boil it fast in four quarts of water for one hour; take it out, let it stand a few minutes to cool the cloth, cut the string, turn back the cloth, place a dish on the top, and turn it over on it, remove the cloth, and serve.
235 - If you choose to add a kidney it may add to the richness of the gravy, also a few oysters, or even a mushroom. The crust should always be cut with a knife.
If you carefully follow the above instructions you will have a pudding quite perfect, the paste as light and as white as snow, and the meat tender, with a thick gravy.
236 - Observation. You will perhaps be surprised that I recommend it to be boiled fast instead of simmering. I do so, because the meat, being enclosed in the paste, and sometimes in a basin, is alone subject to the action of simmering in its own gravy. These puddings lose a less amount of nourishment in cooking than any other kind. In a large pudding a few sliced potatoes is not bad. This may truly be considered as much a national dish as roast beef and plum pudding, and being so, it is surprising that it is so often made badly, and indigestible: the pieces of meat and fat often cut two inches square, instead of smaller pieces; the pudding, sometimes left half out of this water, the crust becomes hard and black, and the meat very dry.
Alexis Soyer, A Shilling Cookery for the People, 1845