Steam pudding above…

I am a stout defender of British cooking, and have written a lot in defence of how cooks managed during the war when so much food was rationed, and for the years following the war, before the rationing finished.  However there is an occasional recipe I find that I not only think, ‘why?‘ but ‘how‘, and even if I work out the ‘how‘, ‘is it worth the bother?‘ and ‘would anyone really eat it?

Ruth Drew who died before her time in 1960 was a great food writer and broadcaster and I have her book ‘The Happy Housewife’ which a dear friend gave me. I love Ruth! She is so hilarious and sensible, and so interesting, and writes so well. I believe from what I read about her that she was slightly eccentric… but even so… stuffed turnip? Stuffed swede?

Turnips and swedes are delicious root vegetables, I love both of them, especially swede. However, peeling and chopping up a swede is hard because it is hard, really hard – I’ve had a few narrow escapes through knife/swede related incidents. So if peeling and cutting up a swede is difficult, I would have thought scooping put the centre was near impossible without severing an artery or losing a thumb or two… I mean, how can you hollow out a swede? I’m not even going to try! The turnips we get are only quite small, so hollowing them out, I would think, is impossible. The only way to do either vegetable would be to cook them whole first and render them soft enough to excavate.

Should you, despite my observations, be tempted, here is the recipe, with a mysterious postscript – I have to warn you, the stuffing is not very exciting, potato, ½ chopped onion and 1 oz chopped bacon per swede:

Stuffed turnip or swede

  • 2 small swedes, peeled and with a slice cut off for a lid
  • 1 lb mixed vegetables, carrot, swede, onion or leek, cut in pieces
  • 1½ pints water
  • 1 tsp meat extract
  • pepper and salt


  • 1 large potato grated
  • 1 oz chopped onion
  • 2 oz chopped bacon
  • salt and pepper
  1. scoop out the centre of the swede and fill with the  stuffing ingredients (well-mixed)
  2. put on the lid and tie in position (that will be fun to observe)
  3. put all the other ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil
  4. add the tied up swedes and cook for 1½ hours
  5. thicken with 1 oz flour blended with a little water

I have to say, Ruth, it sounds tasteless and disgusting, much as I love all the ingredients… why don’t you cook it in stock rather than 1½ pints of water and 1 titchy teaspoon of meat extract? Even when you were writing this in the 1940’s or 50’s, you could have used OXO cubes – you could have used a tablespoon of meat extract! You could have fried the onions first to give a bit of flavour! And the stuffing, potato onion and bacon – good grief how stodgy!

Now for the mysterious last message… the last three words of the recipe are ‘steam pudding above…‘ Now she obviously has a steamed suet  pudding in mind – is it a steak pudding? A steak and kidney pudding? What sort of pudding, Ruth? There is no recipe for it in the whole of the book, so we just don’t know… but I don’t think many people would eat a stuffed swede and a steamed pudding together!



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