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So vividly does The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (Southover Press pounds 19.95) portray an actual 19th-century kitchen that you feel you are there. Gleaming pots on a scrubbed table, the clean white apron, the large room comfortably warmed by a cast-iron cooking stove. Lady Clark's was a prosperous household, yet the good food prepared in it was so simple and unpretentious that we can still appreciate it today. The list of sweet and savoury puddings alone, so conscientiously recorded by the author, testifies to the glories of the table that - in our headlong pursuit of the exotic and the fashionable - we have largely lost.

It was the arrival of the cast-iron cooking stove, early in the 19th century, which liberated the cook from the limitations of an open fire. Now that cooking vessels could be protected from the harsh heat of an open fire, ceramic, rather than metal, ware could be fully utilised. Thus the china pudding basin found its place in every kitchen in the land and became a symbol of Victorian cooking.

Traditional pudding basins are still produced by the same potteries that once turned out millions annually. Made in off-white earthenware with a clear glaze, their shape has remained unchanged for 150 years; usually straight-sided with a flat base inside, so that the cooked pudding could be removed quite easily for serving. In her book, Lady Clark includes "A memo on turning out puddings". She recommends that the basin or mould is greased with clarified butter or suet and dusted with flour or breadcrumbs before use. These days, we have the choice of using non-stick vegetable parchment for lining a pudding basin.

Puddings prepared in a basin fall roughly into two groups. First come suet puddings such as steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick, and Sussex pond. The second kind of basin pudding is lighter and made with flour or fine breadcrumbs, eggs, and butter or cream; these include such national treasures as cabinet pudding, Eve's pudding, and marmalade pudding.

When steaming a pudding in a basin, either ceramic or metal - it's necessary to place a small block of wood or a special metal trivet in the pan first, then balance the basin on top. This ensures that the cooking water passes beneath the basin and prevents the contents from forming a crust on the base. For a baked pudding, a bain-marie works in the same way.


Serves 6

small knob of butter

120g/4oz fine white breadcrumbs from day-old bread

60g/2oz unsalted butter

juice of 2 small oranges, strained

finely grated rind of 3 small oranges

70-85g/21/2-3oz castor sugar

3 eggs, separated

For serving:

2 oranges, peeled, cut into segments and warmed

Use the knob of butter to grease one shallow "border" or ring mould, that holds approximately 1 litre (35fl oz). Alternatively, grease six small bowls or teacups. Then dust the inside of the mould(s) with some of the fine white breadcrumbs.

Soften the unsalted butter in a warm bowl until almost melted. Then mix in the breadcrumbs, the orange juice, orange rind and the sugar with the egg yolks. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the yolk mixture. Pour into the mould or cups and cover loosely with a sheet of aluminium foil, folding the edge round the rim(s).

Place the mould(s) in a pan of warm water to come three-quarters up their depth, or in a steamer. Bring the water to the boil and steam the large pudding for 45 to 50 minutes. The cup puddings take about 25 minutes.

The pudding is cooked when the top feels springy to the touch. Lift out the pudding, leave for two minutes, then run the blade of a knife round the edge and turn out on to a plate.

Finally, decorate the pudding with the warmed orange segments and any reserved orange juice.