apple and mincemeat suet dumplings - a little treat for george orwell

apple and mincemeat suet dumplings
How do you submit a recipe for a recipe swap on the subject of LOCAL when your locality seems bereft of any iconic foods? It's time to get creative, or that's what I tried to do recently in a submission for The Guardian's new Cook section and their weekly Readers' Recipe Swap, around the theme of LOCAL.

I live in London and have done for over 20 years. I don't just love London. I adore London - I love it's history and architecture, the parks and gardens; the fact that most streets have a story to tell and that we are always digging up bits of our Roman past. However, Kentish Town is, I'm afraid, a little on the dull side, except of course when I am finding a road awash with Tunnock Tea Cakes. Mostly it is rather undistinguished and I haven't found any evidence that it is famous for any kind of food delicacy, despite the fact that 200 years ago, all the land around here was fields (and probably pubs) - but then you can say that about most of London before the railways came.

When I think of London, I don't really think about regional delicacies. I've had fabulous curries in Brick Lane and Drummond Street, gorgeous Middle Eastern food around Edgware Road
and perfect bagels in Ridley Road. I suppose that's the point of London really. It is such a multi-cultural city, and has been for a century or so, that finding an iconic dish is rather harder. There is a eel, pie and mash shop down the road in Camden, but it's not really my thing.

A neighbour sent me off on a wild goose chase by saying firmly that there was a special kind of cake from Kentish Town, but a little research suggests that she may have been confusing it with an actual cake from the county of Kent.

You might wonder why I am bothering to find a recipe that I can enter into the swap, but I really like the new Cook section and the Readers' Recipe Swap. The section is as one of my favourite food writers, Felicity Cloake, says:
focused on the kind of stuff we really eat at home; everyday dishes from Sonya Kidney, step-by-step baking from Dan Lepard, drink recipes from Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter – and two pages of readers' recipes every issue, curated and taste-tested by lucky old me.
So the Readers' Recipe Swap section is a bit like doing a food blog challenge, though without the pictures. I enjoy a good challenge, but trying to find one for LOCAL was proving difficult.

I started to think about famous local inhabitants - perhaps there was a famous dish associated with them. I gave up on the idea of a Game of Thrones recipe (Charles Dance lives opposite) nor something based on the films of Bill Nighy, (another near neighbour), and turned my focus on former inhabitants.

Since my back garden is awash with wild leeks, a pesky invader that tastes delicious I thought I could perhaps create a pesto or soup, with a nod to Karl Marx was a one-time resident of Kentish Town. In creating a "Redistribution of Wealth" recipe I could also offer to schlep down to The Guardian's offices with an armful of my garden "wealth" for Felicity to cook with. Although I feared that this might be
misconstrued as a bribe and could overwhelm The Guardian offices with the fragrance of garlic.

Instead I turn to another famous Kentish Town resident, George Orwell who moved to Kentish town in 1935. I am rather fond of George's writing, not just his novels, but his journalism as well. I suspect he never wrote a duff sentence. He eloquently bemoaned the decline of traditional and regional English food in his In Defence of English Cookery (published in the Evening Standard in 1945) and singled out apple dumplings and suet puddings as one of his lost loves.

apple and mincemeat suet dumplings
with lashings of cream!
He also waxed lyrical about apple dumplings in his piece British Cookery commissioned by The British Council written, although unpublished, in 1946.

One of the best forms of suet pudding is the boiled apple dumpling. The core is removed from a large apple, the cavity is filled up with brown sugar, and the apple is covered all over with a thin layer of suet
crust, tied tightly into a cloth, and boiled.

And that was my light bulb moment. I had to have a go at creating an apple dumpling in honour of Orwell. It would also be my first time at making suet pastry, which was (at least for me) a little bit exciting. Personally I would prefer my dumplings encased in puff pastry or even a hot-water crust. But George wanted suet and that is what he got. And happily, I loved the suet crust; it was far more crisp than I had expected and the mincemeat filled apples were divine.

It may be that suet crust apple dumplings are due for a revival and I am sure it is what the great man would have wanted.

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

4 medium apples (it works well with either cooking or eating apples such as Braeburns - although eating apples will have a crunchier texture - the cooking apples will need more sugar as they are tart!)
100g mincemeat or equivalent of mixed dried fruit, such as sultanas, dried cherries, raisins and currants (soak the dried fruit in hot, black tea or warmed apple juice so that they plump up)
3 tbsp brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon or mixed spice
suet crust pastry100g shredded suet
225g self raising flour, sifted
½ tsp salt
about 175ml cold water, to bind the pastry
1 x egg, beaten


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C / Gas Mark 5.
  2. Peel and core the apples.
  3. In a bowl mix together the dried fruit, sugar and ground spice, into the centre of each apple. Set aside while you make the pastry.
  4. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then add the shredded suet and mix well.
  5. Stir through a little of the cold water, using a round-bladed palette knife, to form a soft (but not sticky) dough. Add more water as needed.
  6. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle it with a little flour. Knead the dough lightly into a smooth ball using just your fingertips. (Don't over-handle.)
  7. Divide the dough into 4 even pieces.
  8. Sprinkle over a little more flour over the work surface if necessary, then roll out the dough so that it is large enough to wrap around each apple. I find that the dough should always be a bit thinner than I think it should - so give it a few extra rolls!
  9. Tuck the edges underneath the base of the apple, trimming off any excess dough. Roll out the trimmings and cut out 4 small circles to cover the seam at the bottom of the pastry dumpling. It will steady your apple dumplings, acting as a little stand to stop the dumplings from moving while cooking.
  10. Seal well with the beaten egg.
  11. Place onto a baking tray; glaze the over top with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little extra sugar if liked. If any trimmings are left over, make decorative leaves and place onto the top of the apples.
  12. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is a light golden brown.
  13. Serve hot anointed with lashings of double or clotted cream, custard or ice-cream.


  • Always use the suet pastry immediately, as the raising agent in the flour needs to be fresh to be active.
  • You could put chopped up chocolate bars, such as Mars Bars, in the apple cavity. Chocolate covered toffees would be fabulous too!
  • I quite like to soak dried fruit in very strong black tea, to plump them up. However, I think a little soak in some apple brandy would be rather appropriate here . . . sorry I seem to be channelling Damien Trench!
Needless to say my effort at a local recipe did not make it through Felicity Cloake's curation and testing process. Frankly I am not surprised, it was always something of a longshot, but I enjoyed the intellectual process as well as making suet pastry for the first time, if nothing else. You should check out the recipes from The Guardian's Readers' Recipe Swap - LOCAL that were chosen, including an eclectic mix of simple but delicious Scouse,  Chilli Paneer, Cranachan, Lincolnshire Plum Bread, perfect Mushy Peas and Wild Garlic Pesto.

Although, funnily enough, this week's theme was DUMPLINGS. I didn't enter my recipe for George, but another dumpling recipe of traditional Chinese-style dumplings with a Malaysian sambal dipping sauce, inspired by my Malaysian upbringing and delicious food of the hawkers and night stalls did get included. Hooray!


Unknown said...

These look gorgeous. I am tempted too by suet crust, a first for me too. I love your idea of Redistribution of Wealth soup - it appealed to my old labour sensibilities! As for your comment about Damien Trench - I fell off my chair laughing. Thank you - another charming post!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Awww, thanks Em! I think I might be hooked on the old suet crust thing, it's just so easy. Definitely worth a try if you've never made it before.

Can't wait for the next Damien Trench series. A plea to Miles Jupp - hurry up and write another one!

Unknown said...

Ha, I haven't even taken my baking training wheels off yet. I think this might be beyond me, Ms K! Though the kids would love me for it!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Ha Simon, I know you can do it. Think of it a bit like stirring up one of your magic gardening mixtures . . . or perhaps not!