Submitted by: Norvel Crandall
My youngest son asks for beefsteak pudding and rollie-pollie on a regular basis – every holiday, every birthday, every special occasion; every time he does, it makes me smile. There is a family history to this, a pattern of wanting this particular meal, so he comes by it honestly.
When his great-grandmother (1904-2008) lived, she told us about being a young girl and how she went home for lunch every day from school; this was during the 1910s. She said she would step on every crack in the sidewalk and wish that her mother would have rollie-pollie for her for lunch. (I grew up saying, “step on a crack and break your mother’s back.”) At this point, you’re probably asking, “What on earth is rollie-pollie anyway?” Rollie-pollie is traditionally called spotted dick in England; our family is originally from London and brought the recipe with them when they came over in the 1800s. It is a suet pudding with currants and brown sugar. Somewhere along the line, as the recipe was handed down, the name was changed; however, the recipe has remained the same.
Photo by Ted Van Pelt
When I was a child, I remember watching and helping my mother and grandmother make beefsteak pudding and rollie-pollie for Sunday dinner during the cold of winter. We would work together at the kitchen table, handing down the tradition as it had been handed down to each of them — mother to daughter. While it was cooking, boiling for five or more hours, the aroma and warmth filled the house, and I would wait with joyful anticipation for a most delectable meal. During those days, my grandmother would regale us with stories from her youth and from our family — an oral tradition of sorts. She told us of growing up on Seward Street in Syracuse, New York; she told us about relatives visiting from London and how they viewed America; she told stories of love, of loss, and, most of all, of life.
When my five sons were at home, there were cold Sundays during January and February when all four generations would be together, and it would be a beefsteak pudding and rollie-pollie day. At these times, the family stories were shared with my sons, and the tradition of the meal was passed down to the next generation. My grandmother would help prepare the ingredients, my mother would oversee the making of the dough, I would help the younger boys with whichever task they were completing, and the boys would help cut, fill, and roll the entrée and dessert.
Photo by Shrie Bradford Spangler
The linen cloths were always a great source of family stories. Every year for as long as I can remember, we have used linen cloth hanging calendars and saved them for the sole purpose of making beefsteak pudding and rollie-pollie. Each calendar sparked different memories which we gladly shared and sparked a lively family discussion, continuing the oral tradition of tales to tell future generations.
During this time, good natured bantering would take place: reminders not to drink milk with dinner and a discourse on who should get the largest portion of rollie-pollie and why. Wagers to determine serving order and size would often be placed during card games and other family games while the meal was cooking.
I believe the mantle is being transferred from mother to son. My youngest son wanted rollie-pollie so much one evening that he collected all the ingredients and made it with only a few instructions from his mother and grandmother. It was a battle to get him to share his treasure with the rest of the family, but eventually, he relented and allowed us all a small portion.
Our Family Recipes:
* Linen cloth and pins to seal shut
* Large pot of boiling water with false bottom or some other rack to keep pudding from sticking to pot
* Equal parts good ground suet and flour
* Cold water
* Salt (you can never have too much)
* Bottom round steak
* 1-2 Onions
* 2-3 Potatoes
Directions: Mix equal parts of suet and flour together; add a goodly amount of salt and enough water to form soft dough. Flour one side of the linen cloth, and roll two-thirds of the dough mixture out (the remaining third will be used for rollie-pollie.) Place cubed steak, onions, and potatoes in the center of the dough; salt and pepper. Fold edges of dough over filling, and seal edges. Roll linen cloth tightly, and seal with pins, making sure all dough is contained in the cloth. Place into boiling water bath, and simmer covered for 4 to 5 hours.
Special notes: Roll onto large platter while removing from linen. Use the juice from the pot as gravy. DO NOT DRINK MILK!
* Linen cloth and pins to seal shut
* Pot of boiling water with false bottom or some other rack to keep pudding from sticking to pot
* Remaining dough from beefsteak pudding
* Brown sugar
* Currants (Do not use raisins; find currants and use them!)
Directions: Make while the beefsteak pudding is boiling. Roll remaining dough onto a floured linen cloth. Spread a layer of brown sugar on the dough, sprinkle with currants, and dab with butter chunks. Roll like cinnamon rolls, and seal the edges. Close the linen cloth tightly around the pudding, and seal with pins. Place on a rack in boiling water, and simmer covered for 2 to 3 hours.
Serve warm…unroll from linen cloth, and slice or spoon onto plates.