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Are some recipes best left to the annals of time? There's only one way to find out …

The finished product!

Yankee Pudding.

1 Egg, and its Weight in Flour 1½d.
Bread Crumbs½d.
1 tablespoonful Marmalade1d.
½ teaspoonful Carbonate of Soda
½ gill Milk½d.
Total Cost—4d.
Time—One Hour.

“Mix the flour, sugar, and bread crumbs together; stir in the marmalade. Make the milk just warm, dissolve in it the soda. Beat up the egg and mix together, pour this over the dry ingredients, beat for a few minutes; turn into a buttered basin. Tie over it a cloth, plunge into boiling water, and boil one hour. Serve either hot or cold. A spoonful of marmalade placed on the top of this pudding just before serving is an improvement.”


The Art of Living in Australia dates to 1893, and details everything the new colonist ought to understand about the rigours and habits of living in the great southern land. It covers everything from how often you should bathe and how to make toothpaste, to sustainable fishing practices and growing vegetables suitable for the climate.

Written by Philip E. Muskett, a physician, the book also contains over 300 recipes, contributed by Harriet Wicken of the Technical College, Sydney.

The recipes include some wonderful gems, great ideas for easy home cooking, and, well, some meals that are probably best left to the annals of time.

All of this absolutely begs the question, how well do these recipes stand the test of time? Are these soups, fish and meat dishes, salads, vegetables and desserts of purely historical interest, or can they be successfully created in the 21st century home?

There was only one way to find out …

The Recipe

My pick of a recipe was a dessert, the rationale being that if it turned out a massive failure, my partner and I wouldn’t have to go hungry, or resort to a hasty pizza delivery.

‘Yankee Pudding’ on page 354, the origins of which remain unclear, is a sweet, orange-flavoured pudding that contained ingredients whose names I recognised, and probably even had in the pantry already – an advantage for an amateur cook like myself. But it also required the boiling of the pudding, a cooking method I had not undertaken before.

After researching what ‘boiling a pudding’ actually involved, I was confident that this recipe was the one for me – a good mix of basics, a bit of a challenge and, hopefully, a sweet marmalade-y pudding at the end!

First, the ingredients. Eggs and milk – check. Flour, sugar, carbonate of soda, bread crumbs – hiding up the back of the pantry from my last baking attempt. Check. Marmalade? Hmm, expired in 2015. Onto the shopping list.

I also knew that I needed some specialised equipment for this to work. I was hoping that I might find a calico bag at the supermarket, like the one my mum might put a ham in at Christmas. Alas, calico bags seem to be a rather seasonal item.

Instead, I found some small washing cloths that seemed to be made of suitable material.

Cotton is kind of like calico, right?

Back home to the kitchen, and I pulled out the ingredients I’d need. Time to begin!

Mixing the ingredients in the wrong order … And having a coffee!

The Preparation

It wasn’t long before I’d learnt my first lesson from 19th century recipes: the ingredients are not listed in order.

Most modern cookbooks will list the ingredients in the order that you’ll need them, which means you can follow the recipe from top to bottom, or check back ensure you’ve added everything you need.

This unfortunate oversight meant that I pulled out my mixing bowl, checked the first listed ingredient, and so immediately cracked an egg into the bowl. Of course, it turns out that the mixing bowl should really be for the dry ingredients.

Marmalade? Hmm, expired in 2015.

Definitely not panicking, I pulled a plastic jug from the cupboard and proceeded to add the flour, sugar and breadcrumbs to that instead.

The confusion didn’t exactly end there. ‘An egg’s weight in flour’ isn’t a very helpful measure. And I obviously hadn’t weighed my egg before prematurely cracking it. Readers, I totally vibed it. In the end, I added about two heaped tablespoons of flour. Actually, it was wholemeal flour but I don’t think this made a difference.

Having overcome that little setback, it was then that I noticed the ‘sugar’ entry was rather lacking any sort of measurement advice.

I re-read the recipe. I read it again. Eventually I was forced to conclude that I was going to have to vibe my way out of this one too. Drawing on my extensive knowledge of baking – only joking, I am more of a packet mix kind of girl – I decided that I’d add about half that of the flour I’d put in. That would be about a heaped tablespoon of sugar. Old recipes tend to have quite a bit of sugar in them, so I figured this was appropriate.

Another heaped tablespoon of marmalade, and mixed it all together.

I now had a very satisfying-looking crumbly mix.

The next part was to warm up the milk, and add the bicarb soda. I don’t think Mrs H. Wicken would have used a microwave for this part, but I wasn’t exactly going to do away with modern conveniences just for the sake of historical accuracy.

For the record, a half a gill of milk is about 60 mL, or about ¼ cup. I achieved a nice warm milk by microwaving it for 20 s, stirring, then zapping it for another 10 s.

Adding the bicarb was easy, and I gave the milk a good vigorous stir to make it nice and bubbly. I whisked the egg up, added my milk mixture, then whisked them both together for good measure.

Now I discovered another quirk of old recipes – the first step in our cookbooks is usually ‘preheat the oven’, or ‘line the cake tin’. It was only now the recipe instructed me to butter my dish: I’d probably do this step first the next time around.

The dish I chose to cook in was a small bowl, which you can see in the picture below, wrapped in a cloth. This recipe only makes pudding for 2–3 people, so I think it would also be suitable to make in a ramekin. You could also double the recipe and place in a larger bowl (or of course, a calico bag if you’ve got one handy).

The cake tin and bowl I used to boil the pudding.

I actually did have butter handy for this step, but again, modern conveniences and all that, so I just sprayed the insides of the bowl with cooking oil spray. I also realised now that I didn’t have any water boiling yet. I grabbed the largest pot I had, popped it on the stove with a bit of water, and boiled the kettle. I am pretty sure this is a quicker method than boiling a full pot of water over a woodfired stove – and I was again very thankful for modern technology.

I now mixed my wet and dry ingredients together and gave it another solid whisk for good luck. At this point I had quite a runny mix, more like a cake batter than what I was expecting a pudding batter to look like.

‘An egg’s weight in flour’ isn’t a very helpful measure.

I poured my mixture into the bowl, put the cloth over the top, and tucked the extra bits under the bowl. To keep everything together, and to make it easier to take out of the pot of boiling water, I placed this bowl into a cake pan.

The Boiling

The cake pan fit the pot pretty snugly, so I figured it wasn’t going to be a good idea to drop the whole lot into the pot. Instead, I added the cake pan plus bowl to the small layer of already boiling water, using oven mitts just in case. Then I poured the boiling water from the kettle into the pot, aiming for the sides, rather than pouring directly on top of the bowl of pudding.

I had half-expected at this point for my cloth to just float away, along with the pudding mixture, but by some miracle it all appeared to hold together.

Pudding appearing to not be floating away!

Setting my timer for 50 minutes (just in case it needed attending to towards the end), I felt pretty safe to wander off and do a few things while the pudding boiled. (This would be a good time to wash up the bowls and spoons, rather than leaving it all to the end like me!)

The boiling process here was quite noisy, as the escaping bubbles rattled the cake pan pretty explosively.

After 50 minutes, I reappeared to check on the pudding, although realising I wouldn’t have a clue when it was done. I poked the top of it through the cloth with some tongs and it felt … a bit squishy? So I decided to leave it on for the full hour.

Another 10 minutes later and I poked it again, and this time it felt a little more solid, so I figured it would be fine.

I was worried about tipping the pot over the sink to drain the water out, thinking that it might send the whole pan plus pudding upside down into the sink, so instead I put on oven mitts and carefully took out the pan using a metal pancake spatula, balancing the sides with my free mitted hand once it was clear of the boiling water.

… by some miracle it all appeared to hold together.

It was time for the unwrapping! Would my pudding have completely floated away? Would it, after all, look like a Christmas pudding?

In the end, I really wasn’t expecting the pudding I got! The top was a little more golden than the rest, and the bottom had cooked pretty well through, but the insides were quite mushy, like the consistency of a rice pudding, or maybe the middle of a bread and butter pudding.

I left it to cool for a little while, and then spooned some out for a nice after dinner sweet. Mrs H. Wicken suggests that ‘a spoonful of marmalade placed on the top of this pudding just before serving is an improvement’, and I very much agree with her recommendation.

The Verdict

The pudding was sweet, with just a hint of marmalade, with a beautiful mushy and wholesome texture, perfect for a cool winter evening with a cup of tea. Next time, I think I would add a little extra flour to make the consistency a little tighter, and perhaps boil for another 10–15 minutes – assuming that wouldn’t overcook it.

My beautiful finished pudding - and yes, a hint of marmalade is an improvement!

Because the ingredients are so easy to come by, the preparation was so quick, and the boiling process requires very little supervision, I think I would definitely make this one again!

Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5.
Recipe could be better written, but guessing the measurements and missing steps was half the fun!

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