Jam roly-poly puddings were created around the early 19th Century and were a favourite pudding among hard-working Victorians, including Charles Dickens! They've also been a long-standing staple school dinner dessert. After an 1889 survey demonstrated that a jaw-dropping number of children would attend school without having eaten anything at all, free school meals were eventually introduced to the UK through the Education (Provision of Meals) Act of 1906. School meals would need to be (somewhat) nutritious, cheap and quick to make. Needing only a few ingredients and being incredibly filling, a slice of stodgy ‘dead man’s leg’ was perfect way to round off a school dinner and jam roly-polys were served in school cafeterias right up until the healthy school dinner revolution of the 2000s.
These days they're usually either baked or steamed, but roly-polys were originally boiled which is what this 150+ year old recipe calls for. The trouble with this is that you'll need a long, large pan as some pudding cloth to hand; things you'd have no trouble in finding in the average Victorian kitchen but are less likely to have lying round today!
Jam roly-polys are also almost always served with sweetened custard. While we were tempted to reach for our tub of custard powder we pushed ourselves to go one step further and made an ‘age appropriate’ custard using a recipe – ‘Custard for Puddings’ – from the same cookbook.
You can use ‘any jam’ to make this with but after a bit of digging we found that the most common flavours to use for a roly-poly in the 19th Century was either raspberry, strawberry or plum jam. Naturally, we used the Victorian plum jam that we made the week before and it was gorgeous!
Original Recipes: 'Suet Crust' and 'Jam roly-poly pudding' (Book 1, 1868)
Speed: 15 mins to make, 2hrs to cook.
113g Plain Flour
57g Beef Suet*
¼ cup of cold water
227g (6 tbsp.) any fruit jam
* The recipe calls specifically for beef suet but you may be able to use vegetable suet instead. If you try using vegetable suet, let us know how it goes!
1. Start by making a suet crust pastry. Rub together the suet and flour a little to combine and then stir in the water. Do this slowly by degrees so that it combines well. When it starts coming together, knead it a little and form into a ball.
2. Flour your worktop or a pastry board and roll out the suet crust quite thinly (about ⅛ inch thick) and into an oblong (rectangle).
3. Spread on the jam, starting in the middle and leaving a border around the edges. You'll need a border of at least half an inch along the long edges and an inch and a half along the shorter edges. Then, flip the shorter edges over so that they flap over the jam, and taking one of the shorted edges, start rolling up the pastry over the jam and going as slowly as you like. When it is completely rolled you may use a little water to secure the end of the pastry to the roll.
4. Take a clean piece of cloth large enough to wrap the pudding in (ours was about 16 x 16 inches), dredge it with flour and rub the flour in a little. Place the pudding at one end and then wrap the pudding in the cloth securely. Then tie it using either strips of cloth or string.
5. Have quite a large rectangular/oval/oblong pan that is suitable for use on the hob and set it over a high heat. Fill it with enough water to cover the pudding, leaving at least an inch between the water and the rim of the pan. Once it comes to a rolling boil (constant, large bubbles), turn down the heat a little and picking it up by its' strings, put in the pudding. Leave it to cook for 2 hours, making sure that the water stays at a rolling boil and topping up along the way as it evapourates.
Note: You will notice that over time your water will discolour - a consequence of the suet cooking. As unpleasant as it looks, don't worry about it.
6. After 2 hours, carefully take your pudding out of the pan and leave it to cool down for about 20 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle safely. Then gently remove the pudding cloth (take care here as well - the pudding, as dense as it is, has a thin layer of pastry that can rip away on the cloth).
7. Cut your pudding into as many slices as desired and serve in a bowl with hot custard.
Original Recipe for 'Suet Crust' and 'Jam roly-poly pudding'
'BOOK 1': Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book (1868)
Compiled and Edited By: Mary Jewry
Publisher: Fredrick Warne & Co. (Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London, England, U.K.), printers: Savill, Edwards and Co. Printers (Chandos Street, Covent Garden, London, England, U.K.)