Summer Pudding

By Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely

This traditional dessert comes from English country cooking, to use up stale bread with whatever berries are ripe for the picking. In high season these may be the raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and currants of a summer afternoon. In truth, any combination of berries with luscious red juices will be fine, about 8 cups in all. Quantities are approximate; each cup of fruit is about 4 ounces in weight. This dessert can be served simply, with nothing but cream, or fancied up with garnishes of whole fruit, mint sprigs, and crème fraîche, as you wish.

2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
2 cups blueberries
3 cups raspberries
1 cup blackberries
3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 loaf stale firm-textured white bread, thinly sliced and crusts trimmed

Put the strawberries and firmer berries in a large pot and soften them over low heat. As the juices begin to run, gently stir in the remaining berries and sugar. Heat the berries only enough to make the mixture runny, not to make a mush. Remove from the stove and taste for sweetness, adding more sugar only as needed. Pour the fruit into a sieve set over a bowl, reserving the juices and pulp.

Cut the bread to fit a 6- to 8-cup pudding mold or bowl with steep sides. Put a round piece on the bottom and fan-shaped pieces around the sides, fitting them evenly. One piece at a time, dip both sides of the bread in the reserved juice, then put it back in place. Fill any chinks with leftover bread, so the bowl is completely lined. Spoon the fruit solids into the mold almost to the top. Trim any bread that extends over the sides, and cover the top of the pudding with bread.

Cover the pudding tightly with plastic wrap and set a saucer on top that just fits inside the rim. Place a heavy can on top to weight the pudding and press the juices into the bread. Chill overnight or longer, weighted. Cover and chill the leftover juices.

To serve, run the tip of a knife around the edge of the pudding, invert the bowl onto a serving platter, and jerk it down once or twice to unmold the pudding. Paint out any pale spots with the reserved juices; spoon the rest over or around the pudding. A few whole fruits, green leaves still attached, make a pretty garnish, but this is not necessary. Pass heavy cream or lightly whipped cream on the side.

Makes 8 to 10 servings