28 July 2011

28 July - Beatrix Potter; Roly-Poly Pudding

Astronomy: The Delta Aquarid meteor showers are occurring now.  For those in the northern hemisphere, look south in the predawn sky.  Not a whole lot of activity, maybe 15 - 20 per hour, but at least there is no moon to get in the way (as there will be with the upcoming Perseids).

Once upon a time, there were four little Rabbits, 
and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...

Today in 1866, Helen Beatrix Potter was born in South Kensington, England, to barrister Rupert Potter and his wife Helen.  Young Beatrix and her brother Bertram grew up in comfortable circumstances, spending their vacations in Scotland and the Lake District.  As customary for girls of her class, she was educated at home by governesses.

Beatrix and Bertram took an avid interest in natural history and science, collecting and illustrating  specimens for study, and keeping assorted creatures, including mice, rabbits, and a hedgehog, as pets.  Beatrix became very interested in the study of fungi and wrote a paper for presentation to the Linnean Society with her theory of fungus germination.

In her 30's, Beatrix began writing and illustrating the children's books for which she is famous, starting with "The Tale of Peter Rabbit".  These were very successful, and with the money from them, augmented by a legacy from an aunt, she purchased a farm in her beloved Lake Country.  Here she learned and applied the latest techniques of farming and raising livestock, especially the raising and breeding of Herdwick Sheep.  She continued to buy farms and land, not only for her herds and flocks, but to preserve the land for farming and for its natural beauty.  Much of her estate is now owned by the National Trust, an organization which she supported wholeheartedly, and forms part of the Lake District National Park.

An excellent interactive site is The World of Peter Rabbit, which has games and activities, more information on Miss Potter and her world, and recipes that children can make and enjoy.  The Beatrix Potter Society has photos of her taken by her father, and some of her watercolors.  Also, check out the pages on exhibitions and places to visit.

If Peter Rabbit (and his siblings, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail), naughty Tom Kitten, rhyming Squirrel Nutkin, foolish Jemima Puddleduck, the Tailor of Gloucester and Mrs. Tiggywinkle (and a host of others) graced your childhood, celebrate their creator today.

Try a ROLY-POLY PUDDING, which is what Tom Kitten nearly ended up in.

This is a boiled/steamed pudding, which takes a couple of hours.  For a quicker, baked version, see Nanny's Nursery Baked Jam Roly-Poly.  For pictures and directions, see Historical Foods.  The traditional suet dough is made with flour, suet, and enough water or milk to bind.  This recipe adds bread crumbs and an egg.

First, make your dough by combining 1 cup of flour, 2 cups of dry stale bread crumbs, and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Mix in 1 cup of finely ground or shredded suet until well combined [if no suet handy, freeze a couple of sticks of butter and grate or shred them to the required amount].  Mix in the egg and enough milk or water to make a stiff dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured damp cloth into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread it with jam up to 1 inch from the edges.  Moisten the edges with a bit of water.  Starting from a short edge, lightly roll up the pudding (as you would for cinnamon rolls).

My old recipe says to "tie up the rolled pudding and drop into boiling water", which sounds like a recipe for Roly-Poly Soup, so I take the rolled pudding and loosely wrap it in greased waxed paper or parchment, then in a a piece of foil with the ends well secured [you can also use the time-honored method and wrap it in a piece of muslin or cloth, tying the ends securely].  Then I put the pudding package on a small rack in the kettle and pour boiling water about half-way up the package, and let the pudding boil/steam for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, turning the package over after an hour.

When done, remove from the kettle, unwrap onto a dish, and slice into rounds.  Everyone says that these should be served with warm vanilla custard, which I haven't tried yet.  A slice of Roly-Poly with a splash of heavy cream and a cup of tea have so far sufficed.  But the custard sounds good.