Delhi Pudding

Among all my household encyclopedias, old cookbooks, and promotional advice pamphlets published by kerosene companies, I also have a couple of handwritten recipe books that belonged to my great-grandmother. There are several different kinds of handwriting mixed up in there, so what I like to imagine is that the most common one is hers, and then the quite glamorous old-fashioned italic handwriting that shows up occasionally is her mother's, and then the rest belong to special guest stars whose recipes she liked, and who she asked to write them in her book.

Like a lot of printed cookbooks of the time (unsure exactly what I mean here by "the time", but I'm guessing sometime between 1900 and 1915), these run heavily to sweets. There are several recipes for ginger nuts, so those were obviously a favourite, plus cakes, jams, marmalades, puddings, and then the odd savoury recipe (including one very long recipe for macaroni curry which I am sure I will be revisiting later). And then there's Delhi Pudding, which runs as follows:

4 large apples grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon minced lemon peel, 2 large tablespoons sugar, 6 oz currants. Breakfast cup flour, 1/2 cup chopped suet, pinch salt & water.

Now, some of you might be focusing on the complete lack of any preparation instructions or cooking times, but honestly, the further back you go with cookbooks, the more common that is, and we can definitely reverse-engineer them. The rest of you, I am sure, will have homed in on the first ingredient: four large apples grated nutmeg.

So what is an apple of nutmeg, anyway? Well, that's not entirely clear. I can't find the term anywhere in any of my other old books. Looking at the rest of the recipe, it seems to be a unit of measurement, although I'm not sure why. I guess the fruit outside the nutmeg nut does look vaguely appleish, but that would be like calling me an overcoat of Ed if you see me out on a cold day. However, there are certainly weirder measurement terms out there, and maybe it was an unusual but not unheard of one.

Vaguely appleish. Photo by Ian Yeo on Unsplash

What I do know, though, and what has been well-known for several hundred years, is that nutmeg is a hallucinogen, and that any pudding that had four whole nutmegs in it would be a) disgusting, and also b) guaranteed to have you off your face for the rest of the day.

According to Wikipedia, the hallucinogenic compound in nutmeg is myristicin, and apparently when you're not eating it, it's quite a good insecticide. As a hallucinogen, though, it "is capable of producing psychotropic effects similar to MDMA compounds". Which I suppose would be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon if you live several days away from the nearest town. The nutmeg high is called nutmeg intoxication, and (again according to Wikipedia), you can start feeling it at doses as low as 5g. Symptoms come on within a few hours, and can last for up to 10 hours. This article on Healthline says nutmeg intoxication kicks in at around 10g (or two teaspoons) of nutmeg, and can become severe at 50g (which if you're adding up is just over three tablespoons). They do also say that smoking or injecting nutmeg is more efficient in inducing a high than eating it, so there's that.

Incidentally, Alice B Toklas' recipe for hashish fudge, which caused a huge stir when it was published in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, starts with a whole nutmeg. She claims not to have tested the recipe or realised that the cannabis was something that would get you high, but I'm sure she would have known all about the nutmeg. Apparently, this is "an entertaining refreshment for a ladies’ bridge club or a chapter meeting of the DAR" and if you're hosting either of those any time soon, here's the recipe.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverised in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverised. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

If you prefer to hear her reading the entire recipe, including the preamble about getting everyone at the next bridge club meeting high, the internet, as usual, has you covered.

Alice B. aside, whole nutmeg makes quite a few appearances in baking, like in this cake recipe attributed to Martha Washington. Her cake was pretty big, though, and the nutmeg in it wouldn't amount to much on a per-slice basis unless you were doing some serious dessert eating.

Twenty eggs; separate the whites from the yolks; beat the whites to a stiff froth. Work up two pounds of butter to a cream, and add to it the beaten egg whites, a spoonful at a time, until well mixed. Then add two pounds of finely powdered sugar in the same manner. Add the well beaten yolks of eggs, two and a-half pounds of sifted flour, and five pounds of dried fruit. Add to this one whole nutmeg, grated; one-fourth teaspoon of ground cloves; one teaspoon of mace, one cup of grape wine and some French brandy. Five and one-half hours will be required to bake it if it is baked in one large pan.

Interestingly, even though the cake has a whole nutmeg in it, the recipe still somehow think that the right ratio of cloves to flour is a quarter teaspoon to two and a half cups, which feels kind of Princess and the Pea, really. I think if Martha Washington disliked cloves that much it might have been easier to just leave them out.

Coming back to my great-grandmother's adventures in hallucinogens, though, I turned to Papers Past (the NZ newspaper archive), and to Trove (the Australian newspaper archive) to try to find out more. There were some weird fads in the early 20th century (I'm thinking of the craze for kissing someone while hooked up to a battery, which apparently led to several deaths), so perhaps tripping out on nutmeg was just one of those things you did.

There were no references in either place to an apple of nutmeg, but I had more luck just searching for Delhi pudding. I found articles going back to 1880 in Trove and 1879 in Papers Past, and recipes dating from between 1892 and 1951. As well as filling in the missing instructions, these clear up the nutmeg issue. There are a few variations, but this recipe from Southern Cross on January 5, 1895 hits the high notes:

Delhi Pudding. Four large apples, a little grated nutmeg, one teaspoonful of minced lemon peel, two large tablespoonfuls of sugar, six oz. of currants, 1lb of suet crust. —Mode: Pare, core, and cut the apples into slices. Put them into a saucepan with the nutmeg, lemon peel, and sugar; stew them till soft. Then have ready the above quantity of crust; roll it out thin, spread the apples over the paste, sprinkle over the currants; roll the pudding up, closing the ends properly, tie it in a floured cloth, and boil for two hours.

What is not clear is whether my great-grandmother found out about her missing punctuation before she started cooking the pudding herself, or whether she spent a weekend off her face and wondering why before deciding never to make it again. Or perhaps she made it for the rest of her life, and all her kids and grandkids always wondered why they spent every Sunday afternoon lying around outside trying to touch the universe.

I'm sure that will help.

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