Bachelor’s Pudding

After skipping forward a few pages to reach her Parkin recipe, this post takes us back to page three of Harriet’s recipe book, so it can likely be dated to around 1903. Here we find the first pudding recipe in the book. As ever, Harriet’s instructions are nothing if not concise!

‘Bachelors Pudding. 4oz of breadcrumbs. 2oz currants. 4oz chopped apples.
2oz sugar. 2 eggs. Boil 3 hours.’

I confess to adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to my mixture. I also steamed it in a slow cooker, rather than boiling it. It’s fair to say that not all of Harriet’s recipes to this point have been to my tastes but Bachelor’s Pudding was an unqualified success. If you’re a fan of Bread and Butter Pudding then this recipe will not disappoint; it lacks the custardy texture but makes up for it with the apple, which melts throughout. Apply custard liberally.

Nobody knows for sure how Bachelor’s Pudding got its name but it is suggested that the frugal ingredients lend themselves to single men on minimal means. Mrs. Beeton has a similar recipe in her Victorian books but the Pudding was already in existence before then; a Derbyshire cookbook dating from 1815-1842 carries the recipe.

There is also a story that does the rounds of the periodicals in 1833-34, featuring a ‘Bachelor’s Pudding’. The main character, Samuel Snodgrass, a ‘confirmed bachelor’ (and total hideous misogynist) spends all his time trying to avoid the company of ladies until his ‘mania increased every day, till the poor man could not endure the sight of a woman.’ The only female he will tolerate is his housekeeper Mrs. Muggins, even though ‘she chanced to be on the wrong side of forty, and possessed the visage of a gorgon’. This appears to be mainly on account of her cooking skills and, in particular:

‘…there was one that had won immense approbation – it was a peculiar sort of pudding, which the amiable Mrs. Muggins had christened “Bachelor’s Pudding”, in compliment to her master. The mastication of this most palatable pudding may justly be accounted the greatest blessing that Bachelor Sam experienced in this vale of tears.’

But tragedy strikes! One morning, Mrs. Muggins informs Bachelor Sam that she is leaving his employment to get married. ‘Here was a fearful prospect; Sam’s heart throbbed with agony – “Bachelor’s Pudding” was lost for ever – he could not recover the loss of Mrs. Muggins – she was indispensable to his existence.‘ Fortunately, Sam quickly comes up with a solution: he proposes marriage to Mrs. M, ‘and thereby secured a delectable dish of “Bachelor’s Pudding” for the rest of his days!‘ So romantic!

There is no way of knowing if Mrs. Muggins’s Pudding was similar to others of the period. But certainly, its frugal ingredients – leftovers and windfalls, potentially – make me wonder if it was a recipe that Harriet had been passed by her maternal grandmother Ann. Although in service by the time she started her recipe book, Harriet’s early years had been characterised by poverty. She was born on 27 November 1880 – 141 years ago tomorrow, as I publish this post – in Kirby Underdale, in the Yorkshire Wolds.

Harriet was born into a household of seven: her paternal grandmother Alice, her father Thomas, her mother Ellen and four surviving older siblings. At the time, her family lived in a property called Salamanca. To be precise, Salamanca was situated in the formidable-sounding hamlet of Hanging Grimston, which consisted of a handful of farms, a mile north of the main village. The photograph below shows what a beautiful, yet isolated, place Salamanca must have been in a time before motorised transport and telecommunication.

Salamanca, 1992. Reproduced with kind permission of Dr. Ruth Beckett.

Salamanca was the backdrop for the life of Harriet and her forebears throughout the nineteenth century. I don’t know when Salamanca was first established. Its name is certainly unusual in the context of rural nineteenth century Yorkshire and no doubt comes from the stream, Salamanca Beck, that runs alongside it. Not far away runs Waterloo Beck, so it seems likely that they were named after battles of the Napoleonic Wars earlier in the century. Perhaps a local landowner or dignitary returned triumphant and sought to commemorate his victories, stamping them on the land.

Harriet’s father, Thomas Welburn Ibson, had been born at Salamanca back in January 1841. His mother was Alice Welburn. His father, also Thomas, a labourer, had sadly died in 1840 from ‘inflammation of the bowels’. The dates suggest that Alice probably hadn’t even realised she was pregnant at that point, so that discovery must have come as a shock, as she mourned her husband and struggled to raise Thomas’s five older sisters.

In the 1841 census, Alice is widowed and living at Salamanca with all six children. She wasn’t entirely alone though, as also at the Salamanca property are another labourer, William Boyes, his wife, grown-up daughter and son-in-law. Given that Thomas had been a labourer, it’s unlikely that he had owned land or property. It’s hard to imagine how Alice was keeping the family out of the workhouse. A report in 1868 for the Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons, and Women in Agriculture by the Reverend Thomas Monson offers some insight into what life in Kirby Underdale at the time must have been like:

The labourers in this parish are hired by the year for the most part, and are lodged and boarded in the farm houses. There is a sufficient number of cottages with two or three bed-rooms. The accommodation of the cottages is generally good; they belong to the landowners and are rented at 3l a year.

His curate, Reverend W. Simons, in the same report, is less enthusiastic about conditions:

There are three or four families in one cottage, three girls and three or four men sleeping in one room. Education is at a low ebb; not four out of ten farm lads can read. These lads will not come to church, as they say “it is not the ‘custom'”.

By the next census, in 1851, Alice is still at Salamanca and her situation is laid bare: Pauper, Ag Lab Widow. The Boyes family are still her neighbours but the dwellings have different numbers so, at least, it seems they are not all together in the same house. Three of Alice’s daughters have married and left home. Ten-year-old Thomas is a school-boy, whilst his older sister Elizabeth also lives with them, along with her illegitimate infant, Alice. Only one sister, Mary, is unaccounted for, until I discover that she is living in the parish with ‘farmer of 450 acres’ William Kirby and his family, employed as a nurse, presumably for their young children. Mary is just 12 years old.

A 1987 study by Bath University analyses the Poor Law relief given at the time to lone parents and includes the parish of Kirby Underdale. The authors find that the opportunities for women to earn an income in the area then were ‘limited’ and that ‘this particular region had little cottage-industrial employment’. They calculate that ‘The Poor-Law support for lone mothers, on an adult-equivalent basis…represented 78 per cent of the average income from employment of their immediate neighbours (or 58 per cent if one uses the figure which did not include rent).’

Even Bachelor’s Pudding would have seemed like a luxury at the time.

Given Alice’s stricken circumstances in the 1840s, I wonder what additional support she might have received from kindly neighbours, landowners, or the church. The Bath University study surmises that:

Weekly cash payment was of course only one aspect of parish support, and to this has to be added income in cash or kind in the form of rent or other housing assistance, house repairs, money from parochial charitable bequests and the common seasonal doleings, wood, coal or other fuel, medical care (often provided in the form of extra food), and flour, bread and other food donations. Most parishes had a stock of housing in which some paupers could be housed free of charge…Parish authorities would also often pay the housing costs of pauper lodgers, and for some of the poor, housing was provided free by former employers or other morally obliged parties, who as ratepayers would be aware that otherwise such costs would have to be carried by the rates.

By 1861, Alice is still at Salamanca but is no longer a pauper, instead being listed as a Washerwoman. Her daughter Elizabeth is living with her, along with her husband, Robert Johnson (following the family tradition as an agricultural labourer), Alice Junior and another four children. Perhaps life was a little easier for the family by this point, thanks to how hard Alice appears to have worked to pull them out of the pauper life.

Over the next thirty years, Salamanca continues to be the family home of the Ibsons. In 1868, Thomas marries Ellen and Harriet’s siblings begin to appear – more grandchildren for Alice to live with! Alice died in 1883, aged 78.

As outlined in a previous post, the late 1880s was a cruel time for Thomas, as he lost his wife and several children. By 1891, the widowed Thomas lives down in the village of Kirby Underdale, just with eleven-year-old daughter Harriet, the author of this recipe. His sister, Elizabeth, is still a few doors away and his sons James and John are both farm servants in the village. But, at Salamanca, there is now a game-keeper, Thomas Robinson. The link between Salamanca and the Ibsons had been severed, for good.

View towards Hanging Grimston. Reproduced with kind permission of Dr Ruth Beckett.

7 thoughts on “Bachelor’s Pudding

  1. How fascinating your account of life at Salamanca (what an exotic name!) is. My maternal grandfather’s side of the family may have lived a similar life in rural Suffolk at that time, but I can’t flesh the bones out as you can. I’ll content myself with baking bachelor’s pudding instead.


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