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.