Figgy Dowdy...if you dare

For centuries the plain ships biscuit has been the English sailors staple fare.  Much maligned and the butt of many jokes, it is the Naval version of the Army's "hardtack".  It is made very simply using only flour, water and salt.

With such plain fare, the sailors had to become creative...

The mal-shaped Ship's Biscuit rejects about to be pounded...

There are many varieties of desserts using ship's biscuit and suet, with such creative names as Figgy Dowdy, Boiled Baby and Spotted Dick to name just a few... 

The following is just one variation of Figgy Dowdy, which has a standard proportion of two parts "flour" to one part suet.  Having tried this recipe previously with actual flour, we discovered that it made the pudding very dense, heavy and stodgy. Not a pleasant mouthful.  This particular version is made using ship's biscuits pounded vigorously into very fine breadcrumbs. 


The original recipe calls for putting the biscuits into a canvas bag and smashing with a Marlin spike...

A marlin spike.

A marlin spike.

We substituted a hammer instead.

The pounding continued for some time and produced both course and fine crumbs.  We needed alot more of the fine crumbs, so modern technology was called into play...

The course crumbs were whizzed around in a food processor for a minute or two, then sieved.

Using "flour" made from broken up ship's biscuits definitely alters the flavour and texture of the recipe, making it much lighter and with a cake-like crumb.

All the ingredients... Full recipe below.

Now that we have all the ingredients assembled, the first step is to chop up the figs and soak all the fruit in warm to hot water for at least 30 minutes.  If you have the luxury of time, you can soak overnight or even for a couple of days with the rum added in for extra flavour.

Drain the dried fruit, you can reserve the liquid in case it's needed.  We grated the suet and then combined all the ingredients together all in one.

Mix by hand until the ingredients come together into a soft dough.  We did not end up needing any more liquid.

Shape the dough as desired.  We chose to make two approx 6" long logs.  Wrap into cheesecloth, and tie off the ends with cotton string or cord.

Our two small logs took about 30 minutes to boil.

The easiest method to cut the Figgy is with thread.

Serve with condensed milk.

By the mid 19th century, the Figgy Dowdy was most commonly served with condensed milk and that is what we chose to do.

Having entered this experiment with a healthy degree of skepticism, we can now report that the end result was surprisingly edible, one might even go so far as to say quite good.  Sure to be repeated.

And like Captain Jack Aubrey said, "Nothing settles a meal quite like Figgy Dowdy."

....and boy did it ever, just like a brick!


The full recipe as we used it:

1 cup           very fine breadcrumbs (smashed hardtack)

1/4 cup         sugar

1/2 cup         suet

1/2 - 1 cup    chopped dried fruit (the amount we used was closer to 1 cup)

1                  egg

1 shot           rum (we used Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum)

                    hot water for soaking

1/2 tsp          ginger, dried

1/8 tsp          nutmeg


Chop dried fruit into small pieces and soak in water for minimum 30 minutes to overnight, then drain, reserving liquid in case needed.

Grate suet.

Mix all ingredients together to form a soft dough.  Add reserved liquid if necessary.

Shape as desired.  We created two 6" logs.

Wrap in cheesecloth and tie off with cotton string.

Boil for 30 minutes, longer if shaped into one large piece.

Serve with condensed milk, if desired.