The good thing about being a lover of British puddings is that there is an almost infinite number to cook and try. All of the pudding recipes I have posted on the blog thus far have all been of the sweet variety, and they have all been fairly well known, but this year I am going to try and write some posts and recipes for savoury or obscure ones. First up is dock pudding which happens to tick both of those boxes. This pudding is one I have been meaning to cook for years, but I’ve only gotten around to it until now.
Dock pudding used to be very popular in Yorkshire, especially in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. The dock in question isn’t the common dock (the one you rub on nettle stings) but a particular species that goes under several names including bistort, passion dock and sweet dock, its Latin name is Polygonum bistorta. It can be distinguished from the common dock by its yellowish spear-shaped leaves. The leaves are collected when young, alongside tender nettle tops, there is a recipe for it in Alexis Soyer’s classic 19th century work A Shilling Cookery For the People, where it is made with a mix of two-thirds passion dock, and one-third nettles. These were supplemented or replaced with whatever greens were around: sorrel, raspberry leaves, chives, spinach, etc, the choice changing with the season. These are washed, sliced and cooked with onion or leek and oatmeal to make a very dark green porridge, which is fried in dollops in bacon fat, lard or beef dripping. It has been likened to Welsh laverbread in colour and flavour, in that you will either love it or hate it. It sometimes goes by the name herb pudding, which makes sense seeing as docks are only eaten in the springtime when they are tender. It is mixed with more oatmeal and water, tied in a cloth and boiled, cooled and fried in slices.
Technically, then, I could have used any green leaves, but I really wanted to make it with Passion dock; so called because it is found growing during Passion Week, the last week of Lent. It was an extremely important food, the first fresh green vegetable after a winter of eating only pickled vegetables and salted meats. Many people were showing signs of scurvy by early spring, so few fresh vegetables were eaten. Dock is also said to be an excellent blood cleanser and good for the skin too, being a preventative of spots and pimples.
Dock pudding was especially popular in the Victorian era, but was considered a famine food in the 20th century. Very few people eat it now, but there is an outlier because the West Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd has held the World Dock Pudding Championships every May since 1971. I’m going to try my best to go next year.
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I found a patch of Passion dock growing in the Cheshire town of Lymm last year, but they were far too old and tough to pick, but I remembered this year. Oddly, I couldn’t find any nettles, but I did spot some sorrel and some wild garlic. I was in a bit of a rush, and didn’t have enough to make the very green sort of pudding, but I didn’t want to boil one (to save on fuel), so tried a common trick of cooking it in a saucepan, pouring and setting it in a tub so I could slice and fry it. This method is sometimes used for other savoury puddings such as black pudding or mealy pudding.
Makes 8 to 10 slices of pudding:
100 g trimmed, young leaves of any amount of the following: passion dock, nettles, spinach, sorrel or any other edible greens you like
1 leek or onion, sliced thinly
80 g oatmeal (not rolled oats)
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
400 ml water
A smidge of flavourless oil such as sunflower or groundnut
8 rashers of streaky bacon
30 g lard or dripping, or 2 tbs of your favourite frying fat or oil
Your pudding needs to be cooked, cooled and set the day before you want to eat it (or several days before if you like). To do this, shred the leaves and add them to a pan with the leek or onion, oatmeal, salt, pepper and water. Bring to a simmer, stirring so that it doesn’t form lumps.
Cook for around 20 minutes and all of the vegetables are soft, then take off the heat. Now take a tub of around 1 litre capacity and brush with the oil. Pour the pudding into the tub, cover, cool and then refrigerate.
When you want to cook your pudding, first fry the bacon in your chosen frying fat or oil over a medium heat until very crisp. As they cook, prepare the pudding: turn out onto a board and cut even slices between 1 and 1.5 cm thick. It’s best to use a serrated knife for this task.
Remove the bacon rashers and keep warm as you fry the pudding slices: turn up the heat to medium-high and pop in the slices. It’s a bit like making bubble and squeak in that you need to wait and allow them to build up a good, crisp fried layer before you disturb them: a good 5 minutes. Turn over with a spatula and fry the other side for a further 4 or 5 minutes.
When ready, serve up with the bacon and whatever other breakfast things you like. I went with fried eggs.
 Brears, P. (2014) Traditional Food in Yorkshire. Prospect Books.
 Soyer, A. A Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery and Domestic Economy. (Geo. Routledge & Co., 1855).
 Davidson, A. (1999) The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press.
 Mason, L. and Brown, C. (1999) The Taste of Britain. Devon: Harper Press.
 If you want to know more about the food of Passion Week, listen to this episode of the podcast:
 Davidson (1999); Brears (2014)
 Brears (2014)
 Davidson (1999)