Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It’s a spotted dick kind of day

See dick run. See dick stop. See dick stop and look at his spotted dick.

If you don’t already know, I’m a little off-colour – so much so that the man often covers his eyes and groans and my family likes to walk on the opposite side of the road when we’re out together. I don’t take offence; I step up my game.

We were out in Niagara-on-the-Lake for Father’s Day this past June. We’d gone for lunch on a really nice patio – the weather was good, the birds were chirping and Scribe was in a good mood. It’s not like this is a rare occurrence. I’m usually quite happy most of the time. Visits with my parents can be quite taxing but I was taking it all in stride. That is, until the Spotted Dick.

I spotted a Spotted Dick in the window of a quaint British bakery. I knew what Spotted Dick was, my parents knew, but the Man had a look of dismay on his face, especially when I announced that I was hankering for a spot of Spotted Dick. Out loud, and with enough volume that several ladies from an out-of-town bus tour of the Falls turned and looked. In disgust.

In all honesty, I’ve never had a Spotted Dick before, of the canned variety or any other (I put it out there, run with it). It’s just the notion that someone would name a seemingly good dessert by that name - what could possibly have possessed them, save my delight in shocking old ladies fresh off the bus tour.

An explanation from The Straight Dope:
We just tackled the origin of "Dick" as a nickname and a few other usages--a riding whip, an apron, abbreviation for "dictionary," a policeman, a declaration, and (of course), the penis.
With all these varied usages, you got a problem with "dick" being also derived from "pudding"? My sources all pretty much agree with the derivation, without being specific how. However, I can see "pudding" become "puddink" becoming "puddick" and then just "dick."

The word "dick" has appeared in any number of strange places. Around the 1840s, "dick" was used to mean a type of hard cheese; when treacle sauce was added, it became "treacle dick", and finally when currants or raisins were added (looking like little spots), the "spotted dick" was born.

The earliest recipes for spotted dick are from 1847. For non-British readers, "spotted dick" is a boiled suet pudding, with bits of dried fruit (usually raisins or currants) that (as already noted) look like little spots.

The Oxford Companion to Food comments that, strictly speaking, "spotted dick" is made by taking a flat sheet, spreading sugar and raisins on it, then rolling it up. A similar dessert is "spotted dog," a plain cylinder of suet paste with the raisins and currants and sugar stuck into it, so that the spots are visible on the outside. Both spotted dick and spotted dog were traditionally boiled (or even steamed) in a cloth, but nowadays they are usually baked.

The dessert is slightly different in Ireland. In Ireland in the late 1800s, the tradition of yeast-bread manufacture was not strong, so most breads were raised with bicarbonate of soda and an acid, rather than with yeast, and thus called soda breads. Thus, the spotted dick in Ireland is sweet soda bread, with sugar, currants, and raisins, and it's also called the spotted dog or railway cake.

Puddink? Dink. Dick. It makes sense. Sort of.

I’m not sure what gave me the hankering for Spotted Dick today (or remembering the Father's Day incident): the name, the fit of giggles I get into every time I utter those words, or perhaps it’s the weather. It’s blustery and blowy with a hint of dampness. It reminds me of Scotland. In August. It reminds me of cobblestone streets, family, friends, tea.

It reminds me of home.


  1. I wonder if you can hear me laughing so far away! Cos it's loud and hearty and is filling the room around me. Ahh - I can only laugh to myself in France at this sort of thing as by the time I've explained what 'Dick' is to someone - it's long past funny and I am melancholic with nostalgia for Australia, NZ or any English speaking country for that matter! I see we have the same sense of humour in any case!!

  2. I've never had it before, and no sure I'd like it. I don't really like dried fruit or raisins, and I really don't like bread pudding, which is what this sort of reminds me of.

  3. I must taste that when I finally make it to England for vacation. And I only want to taste it because of the name and the jokes I'll have afterwards.

    The pic of the ox peen is hilarious! Whoa. He's packin' ...

  4. I couldn't resist, Akilah. I thought if he was man enough to handle that we were man enough to look at it in the post.

    Aunt Juicebox, I've never tried it either, and I'm not sure about the suet so it may be a while before I venture into the Spotted Dick realm. Until then, I'll just keep talking about it!

    Ange, I'm so happy that other people share my sense of humour. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me. Nah, not a chance! Glad to have the company!

  5. A little off-colour? That's like saying I'm "kind of" mean.