Jam Roly-Poly

That lady I fancied I was looking at her, though, as far as I could see, she had the figure and complexion of a roly-poly pudding – William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes of a journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1846

A great piece of modern-day vintage art by Martin Wiscombe 

If you ask most British people what their most favourite childhood dessert is, the jam roly-poly pudding must be one of the top rankers. It certainly is one of mine. A roly-poly is a pudding made from suet dough that is spread with jam, rolled up and originally boiled in some muslin, but is these days steamed. Other fillings can be done such as golden syrup, apples or prunes. I have never tried a sweet roly-poly with anything other than jam, and even then I will only use raspberry or strawberry jam. There are also savoury roly-poly puddings. It was common to boil the roly-poly in a shirt sleeve, giving it the nick-name ‘dead man’s arm’. I’ve never actually made any kind of pudding by boiling it in muslin, never mind a shirt sleeve. Next time I do a pudding I will do it the old-fashioned way. After all this is a history blog, isn’t it? What makes a pudding a pudding? Click here.

This pud seems to have been invented during the first half of the nineteenth century, no mention of it occurs before 1800 as far as I see, apart from writings about the game called Roly-Poly.

ROLY-POLY. (1) A pudding made in round layers, with preserves or treacle between…

(2) A low, vulgar person.

(3) A game played with a certain number of pins and a ball…

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, A dictionary of archaic and provincial words Vol II, 1847

Here is my recipe for jam roly-roly poly, which is based upon James Martin’s. The suet pastry shouldn’t be too sweet; the sweetness should come from the jam and custard (with which it is always served). You can swap any preserve for the jam if you like, I imagine lemon curd would be good. It feeds at least six people and is pretty good value for money – these sorts of wintertime desserts are supposed to warm and fill you. At some point I’ll give the apple and prune ones a try and put the recipes for them on here too.


10 oz self-raising flour

2 oz sugar

4 oz shredded or chopped suet

raspberry or strawberry jam

custard, to serve

First, make the suet pastry. If you haven’t made pastry before, don’t worry, suet pastry is the easiest of all the pastries to make. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and suet together. Using a butter knife, mix in a little cold water. When incorporated, add a little more. Keep adding and incorporating until a dough begins to form, then start using your hands to form a soft but not sticky dough.

If you add too much water add a bit more flour. Now roll out the dough into an oblong and spread it with jam.

Moisten the edges all the way round with a little water and roll it up, folding the ends underneath to prevent the jam from escaping.

There are two ways to steam your pudding: either wrap it in some buttered foil prefolded with a couple of pleats so it has room to expand and tie it with string at the ends, or you can place it in a large buttered loaf tin and then cover it with buttered foil. Because of its enlongated shape, the best way to steam this pudding is to use either a fish kettle or one of those self-basting roasting tins. Steam the pudding for an hour.

Just before the end of the cooking time, preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F). Take the roly poly out of its little tin prison, place on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Serve hot with custard poured over it.



Filed under food, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, Recipes, The Victorians

19 responses to “Jam Roly-Poly

  1. Pingback: What is a pudding? | British Food: A History

  2. When it comes to ‘old-school’ puddings I much prefer a Spotted Dick. But better than that, I have an old recipe of my Grandmothers for a liver, bacon and tomato pudding that she used to bake in an old alumnium ‘tube’. Add a ladle of rich sage & onion gravy and . . . yuummy, I can taste it even now!

    • buttery77

      Yes I love spotted dick too – in fact it could me my favorite. It shall be done sometime soon I am sure!
      The savoury one is interesting – I want to do some of those. I did one a while ago (for the other blog) whick was mussel and leek

  3. Fun fact: At school, Jam Roly-Poly was often also called ‘Dead Man’s Leg’.

  4. pia

    I like unicorn sleeves!

  5. was the jam roly poly invented in the industrial revolution

    • It was indeed, it appears in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management but I cant find one any earlier than that…. of course it might have been cooked for many years before the recipe appeared in print…

  6. My grandmother used to make this. Instead of a shirt sleeve, she would use an old pillowcase. Put the roly poly in and snuggly wrap it. use safety pin to secure and boil it.I would pick wild blueberries and she would make it. One of my fondest childhood memories.

    • I am glad I brought back some memories! It’s a shame it’s so hard to get suet in the USA as all my American friends loved the roly-polies to would make during my time there. You should start a trend!

  7. Pingback: Twisted Top in Flip Flops

  8. Cathy

    My Grandma would make suet pudding with beef, wrap it in linen(i think) and cook in pressure cooker. I loved it and wan to make it now for my family. Going to try your recipe. Thanks : )

  9. Adrian Stanton

    Can anyone tell me where to get Jam Roly Poly in a can to steam like the Heinz Trecle Pud. I used to eat this as a lad in Leeds.

    • Hi Adrian – I don’t remember the jam roly-poly in a tin, though I do remember the steamed jam sponge, which I ate as a lad in Leeds!

      I suspect it’s been discontinued. I went to buy one in a quite a large supermarket recently and they didn’t stock any Heinz steamed puds!

  10. Pingback: JAM ROLY POLY | Tea, Toast and Travel

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