Randolph’s recipe for Baked Apple Pudding is reminiscent of an applesauce pie, calling for apples to be baked, pureed, mixed with other ingredients, and baked in a pie shell. At first glance, the recipe appears to include a familiar component: powdered sugar. In Randolph’s day, powdered sugar held a different meaning than it does in today’s recipes.
Until the late nineteenth century, sugar was available as loaf sugar: a cone of concentrated refined white sugar that required special tools to prepare it for baking and other uses. Every well-stocked kitchen included a pair of sugar nips for breaking the sugar cone into smaller pieces and a mortar and pestle for pounding the sugar. If you’ve never touched a sugar loaf, the sugar is rock hard. Before the invention of a vacuum system of evaporation and the centrifuge made the production in the mid-nineteenth century, refining white sugar required a series of boiling and filtering processes. When complete, the sugar mixture and additives like white clay to improve the whiteness of the final product were poured into inverted conical molds. Over a few days, the dark syrup and other matter drained away, leaving a concentrated cone of pure white sugar. Once removed from the mold, the sugar cones were dried, trimmed, and wrapped. The selection of blue paper for wrapping sugar cones emphasized their whiteness.
Purchased by the cone, the cone’s size signaled the quality of the sugar: the smaller the cone, the higher the quality. Before using the sugar in recipes, cooks would need to pound their sugar in a mortar with a pedestal. A recipe for preserved apricots in Emma Bloomfield Schreiber’s recipe collection suggests the potentially laborious process of using sugar in a recipe, calling for “1 lb of white sugar pound[ed] in a mortar” for every pound of apricots. In her reference to powdered sugar, Randolph refers to sugar that has already been pounded in a mortar to prepare for baking rather than the confectioner’s sugar that is sometimes called powdered sugar today. By 1871, the granulated sugar we purchase today at the grocery replaced loaf sugar store saving women from the labor of grinding their sugar.
For me, apple pie means chunks of apples sweetened with sugar and spices. Randolph’s recipe is a departure from the usual and an enjoyable change of pace. As Thanksgiving nears, Randolph’s Baked Apple Pudding is a good reminder of how fall favorites sweet potato and pumpkin pie evolved from British apple puddings. Stay tuned for those recipes in the coming weeks!
Baked Apple Pudding
Baked Apple Pudding
Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 125.
Adapted by RA Snell
- 1 lb apples (about 4 large apples)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Pastry for one crust pie (your favorite recipe or store bought)
Note: The recipe requires enough apples to produce one pound of apple puree after cooking the apples. For me, four large apples yielded a sufficient amount for the recipe.
1. Cut the apples into equally sized pieces, about one inch in diameter. Place the apples in an oven-proof container and bake until tender 30-45 minutes. Stir the apples occasionally to check doneness and prevent burning. If you plan to use a blender or food processor to puree your apples, be sure to peel before cooking.
2. Run the apples through a food mill or puree in a blender or food processor.
3. While the apple puree is hot, add butter, sugar, and lemon zest.
4. Cover a 9-inch pie plate with a crust. While preparing the pie crust, allow the apple mixture to cool and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
5. Add the beaten eggs to the apple mixture and mix well. Pour into the prepared pie crust.
6. Bake 25 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the apple mixture jiggles very slightly when gentle shaken. Sift sugar over the filling once removed from the oven.
Randolph instructions specify “well flavored apples.” Without any spices to bring out the flavor of the apples, it is essential to select flavorful apples.
The second time I made this recipe, I put my apples in the crockpot to avoid having to carefully watch them in the oven to prevent burning.
I recommend covering your pie with aluminum foil for the first thirty minutes of baking to prevent burning your pastry.
 Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7, Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.
Elizabeth Abbott, Sugar: A Bittersweet History (London: Duckworth Overlook, 2009).
Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985).
Susan Williams, Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006).
Wendy A. Woloson, “Sugar” in Andrew W. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, 570-571.