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Of course, the holiday season was not so cozy for the Dickensian Londoners. While writing The Humbug Murders, a mystery featuring Ebenezer Scrooge as a reluctant detective, I got to enjoy researching how these early Victorians spent their Christmases. (Ok, I had a lot of help from my mum, who is a personal historian specializing in Victorian London. In fact, my family migrated to London from Ireland during the very time our murder mystery is set.)
Can you imagine spending a single Christmas on the streets of London no more than 150 years ago? Sure, if you were one of the wealthy few you’d have the time to enjoy the melodious harmonies of street carolers in the snow, or the soft waft of roasting chestnuts mingling with the spices of mulled cider.
But if, like the money-lender Ebenezer Scrooge and his assistant Dickens, you belonged to the working majority, you’d be cold, poor, and probably looking over your shoulder to avoid the revenge of the Colley Brothers, kings of the underworld. Perhaps, on your way home from borrowing just another few farthings to pay for a Christmas goose, you’d be wading through the ankle-deep gum of rotting straw and sewage covering the slippery cobbled streets.
Hurrying through the warren of damp brickwork, eyes squinting in the smog, even if you suddenly heard a blood-curdling scream coming from a nearby warehouse, you wouldn’t want to miss a step or you’d slip into the stinking river Thames. Like so many of the missing London women…
But, as it turns out, my dear friend Scott won’t be there for the rest of this book’s journey. On August 5th 2014, Scott passed away. He died suddenly from a blood clot to the brain. Everything in my world stopped. We had just been finishing the last pages. Only days earlier we had been laughing together about some joke Scrooge had made to Dickens in the sewers of London. And now – my dear friend and writing partner was gone.
And that’s no humbug! Ebenezer Scrooge is the perfect character for what we wanted our readers, and ourselves, to experience! He’s sharp, witty, and he gets to say the things we all wish we could. He looks at sentimentality with a wrinkle in his nose, which is extra fun when we slap it in the middle of Christmas season. And still – he hasn’t yet become the man we know from The Christmas Carol. He’s still young, there’s plenty of time for him to heal.
Which brings me to comfort food! This is something the Victorians were great at—in fact, many of the early Victorian recipes are still commonly served across England today. The recipe I want to share with you is one of my favorites: Spotted Dick!
new baby, Penelope!
Spotted Dick is a traditional English steamed pudding that will always be a taste of home for me. It was a favorite during the Victorian era because it’s cheap (good for a Scrooge) and easy to make...
(I should know: I whipped this up yesterday while holding my three-week old daughter in one arm!)
The pudding is stodgy but satisfying, and the spices make this a delicious dessert for Christmas. In fact, it’s almost like a pauper’s Christmas Pudding as it just lacks the mincemeat and the brandy! Of course, it’s so good and inexpensive that back home in England it’s served all times of the year.
My mum always served this pudding with custard, but simple vanilla ice cream is a lighter partner to this soft but filling cake-like dessert.
3.5 oz self-rising flour
2 oz breadcrumbs (the Victorian way was to use up old stale bread, but you can use fresh bread too!)
1 pinch salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (see note below*)
4 oz raisins, sultanas, chopped apricots, or whatever dried, chopped fruit you can easily get hold of.
3.5 oz butter
1/2 cup milk
*Note on "mixed spices": A blend of sweet spices that is commonly used in cakes and puddings in the UK. It's very similar to the pumpkin pie spice blend used here in the States. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, coriander, and mace in equal measure.
1. Add all the dry ingredients, dried fruit, spice and butter into a bowl then mix together well.
2. Add the milk and combine to form a soft dough. The dough should be soft and sticky, not runny like batter or firm like pastry.
3. Place the mixture into a buttered pudding bowl of about 1 quart capacity and cover with aluminum foil. I’ve noticed that since steamed puddings like this aren’t as common in America, not many people have pudding bowls. If you have any bowl that can withstand high temperatures, like a Pyrex or ceramic, that’ll work fine too.
Put an inverted saucer in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Place the pudding bowl on top of the inverted saucer (to keep it off the bottom of the pan). Create a water bath for the pudding by adding enough water to the pan to come up the sides of the pudding bowl but not so far up that you'll risk the water spilling into the bowl. Leave the foil on the pudding and the saucepan uncovered.
5. Bring the water to a boil and allow it to boil for 2 hours, adding additional water as it evaporates.
6. When the pudding is fully cooked, invert the pudding onto a plate and serve with cream or custard.
I hope you enjoy this delicious bit of Victorian England! From me and my fictional friend Ebenezer Scrooge: Bah Humbug!
Following a childhood in the snowy mountains of Scandinavia, Elizabeth traveled to her native England to study criminology and journalism. Inspired by her mother, a personal historian specializing in Victorian-era Britain, Wilson set about exploring the streets of London, where her family originally arrived from Ireland in 1833. She now lives in the United States with her American husband and two daughters, and focuses on her first love: story-telling. Read more at EAAWilson.com.
Ciencin wrote over ninety novels in the adult, YA, and children’s genres. A lifelong British mystery fan and Dickens aficionado, he began his career in the film and TV industry and continued in the business as an international film festival blogger, social media content provider, video game consultant, and creative consultant. He died in 2014.
of The Coffeehouse Mysteries
of the signed copies of
THE HUMBUG MURDERS
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