“Try Wolfarth’s plum pudding for Xmas. – Adv.* 22 [cents]
--The Saginaw Daily News. December 22, 1916
This is a story for today and a recipe to make next November and serve for Christmas in 2023. We need to be blunt--if you have not already made or purchased your Christmas pudding, it is simply much too late to obtain one. With that admonishment, we have a confession: the Castle test Kitchen staff was tardy in making their “Wolfarth Plum Pudding.” It was made on December 18. It should have been made much earlier. Ideally, on Stir Up Sunday, November 21, the last Sunday before Advent and the traditional day for preparing pudding.
Plum pudding as the culmination of Christmas dinner evokes images of Tiny Tim, Victorian London and the English countryside. You may think it is a custom that only the most dedicated Anglophile would transport to the Saginaw Valley. However, a quick review of Saginaw newspapers reveals that by the late nineteenth century it was featured on local restaurant menus – for both Christmas and Thanksgiving. Almost yearly, Saginaw newspapers featured some variation of the recipe and included it in suggested menus. (Even the “Health Calendar,” a regular feature in The Saginaw Evening News, included it for the suggested menu for December 25, 1896. Although, some might find a suet-based pudding an interesting inclusion in a column proclaiming, “Health in the home is health in the nation.”)
Also canned plum pudding – in convenient one-pound cans – was readily available at numerous
Saginaw grocery stores. Local bakeries advertised the confection. Wolfarth Bakery sold it at 22 cents for, what we assume, was a one-pound pudding. In their advertising, the firm proclaimed their bread was “As necessary as the pudding” for a proper Christmas celebration.
A history of the Wolfarth Bakery was included in Greater Saginaw: A Presentation of Her Resources and Possibilities published in 1912:
The Wolfarth Steam Bakery was established in 1867 by John G. Wolfarth, who was succeeded by his son, F. J. Wolfarth, who is now sole proprietor. The new plant, begun in 1911, is one hundred by eighty-six and one-half feet, while the old plant is one hundred by eighty feet; and is finished throughout the interior in white tile and enamel. The retail department, being largely of plate glass and having plate glass windows leading into the main building, make it possible for the customers to see the process of baking. Electricity is used throughout the building for both power and light. All machinery used in the plant was made by the home institution, Werner & Pfleiderer Company. The bakery is equipped with four Duhr-Kop, one Werner & Pfleiderer, and one Simpkins ovens, each having a capacity of five thousand five-cent loaves in ten hours.
The flour is received and stored in a large daylight basement containing a large blending apparatus where all flour is blended and sifted. The flour is then elevated to the weighing room where all flour, water, and other materials are weighed on an automatic weighing machine. .No materials are handled other than by machinery until the finished product is ready for delivery and shipping. Special brands of bread are ‘Tip-Top,’ ‘Jersey Cream,’ ‘Buster Brown,’ and ‘Mother's.'
When Greater Saginaw was published, the bakery had just moved into a new building designed by the Saginaw architectural firm of Cowles and Mutscheller. When the Saginaw board of health inspected the new factory, the board noted that they were “pleased at the completeness and excellence of the establishment, which meets every sanitary requirement.” The bakery operated into the 1930s. Although the building was demolished in 1961, Frank J Wolfarth’s home remains a landmark on Hoyt Street.
The Recipe: Wolfarth's Steam Bakery's English Plum Pudding
As it appears in Savoring Saginaw:
2 lbs. bread crumbs 1 lb. flour 3 lbs. beef suet, chopped fine 3 lbs. dark sugar ¼ lb. almonds, chopped fine ½ oz. salt 20 eggs 3 lbs. raisins 3 lbs. currants ¾ lb. citron ½ oz. mace 1/4 oz. cinnamon Juice and rind of 1 lemon ¼ pt. brandy Little milk Mix all these ingredients together and place in 1-and 2-pound molds and boil for 6 hours or preferably steam for same period.
Note: The 1914 recipe Frank Walsh [the great grandson of the founder of the bakery] copied for us has the notation "cost about 10 cts. Sell at 25 cts. per.")
It this pudding was presented on The Great Baking Show, the member of the Castle Test Kitchen staff would not have made it past the first elimination. In our defense, this recipe is full of challenges, While we actually located suet, we did not overcome the great currant shortage of 2022 and we won’t even describe our attempts to locate a proper pudding mold.
In our enthusiasm to overcome these hurdles, we used a ceramic baking dish in a steamer. Although this worked, the dish did not have a proper dome-like form.
As the recipe is from a commercial bakery, it makes an overwhelming quantity of plum pudding. We made a ¼ batch and this was a large but manageable quantity.
We encountered a major problem unmolding our pudding.nOne might think the overwhelming amount of suet in this pudding would ensure that it would come out of the pan. Although we lightly buttered the dish, it still stuck. If you decide to make Wolfarth’s Plum Pudding, - and we hope you do - we suggest purchasing a pudding mold and making certain you compare this recipe with other plum pudding recipes. And yes, there are substitutions for suet.
Although not mentioned in the recipe, plum pudding it traditionally served hot. It should be restreamed in the mold, which we suspect it will again not wish to leave.
As we are exhausted from our efforts, we will let you search the internet for a proper pudding sauce.
*This was included in a list of recent occurrence and “adv.” denoted that was an advertisement and retained journalistic integrity.