Olivia Potts

Jam Roly Poly: why it’s time to revive this retro pudding

  • From Spectator Life

More than new pencil cases, name tapes, and the smell of school halls, back to school season always makes me think of proper puddings. There’s a category of pudding that seems reserved for properly old cookbooks, a handful of old-fashioned pubs, and dinner ladies. Spotted dick, cornflake tart, and jam roly poly.

Perhaps its ubiquity at school lunches accounts for its ghoulish alias: dead man’s leg or dead man’s arm. School children have a taste for the macabre, but to be fair to them when the pudding is unwrapped and before it is sliced, it does look fairly uninspiring, and not a hundred miles away from a pallid limb. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that, before baking parchment and foil were widespread, the pudding would be steamed in a shirtsleeve. For those children for whom even these visuals aren’t sufficiently horrifying, there is Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding which sees Tom Kitten covered with butter and dough by the rats Samuel Whiskers and his wife Anna Maria, who plan to turn him into a roly poly, no doubt traumatising children for years to come.

Roly poly tends to be steamed in the oven, which is, I think, a simpler and less intensive way of steaming. Suspended over a roasting pan of water, wrapped up in baking paper and foil, the low oven is filled with steam from the water, which cooks the pudding gently, letting it expand without forming a tough crust. It means that, unlike steaming on the hob, you’re not simultaneously steaming your whole kitchen – and it’s much quicker in the oven too.

It’s a pretty easy pudding to make: a suet pastry – you can use standard suet or vegetarian, both are fine – is the basis for a jam roly poly.

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Olivia Potts
Written by
Olivia Potts
Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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