Captain Haddock bids us raise a glass to Freedom and the Men who fought for it at the Battle of Trafalgar- and won - on 21 October 1805.
I wonder what the cook did on the night before the battle. The fire will have to be doused. Do you reserve some food for the battle but use the rest of the stores as far as possible? If men might see only one more sunrise there's no point denying them what comfort there is. On the other hand, what if you win? People would want something to keep them going on the way home.
One thing I am clear about. The youngest crew member, Thomas Twitchett aged 12 - the same age at which Nelson went to sea - should not have faced battle without a sweet to eat, even if it meant stealing somebody else's treacle. This is the night to remind the purser that we do not bind the mouth of the beast which treads the corn.
The general pudding was duff, which might have meant anything from a boiled rich pudding with dried fruits, suet, spices and treacle, to a dough of stale biscuit with currants to disguise the insects.
On land, then, an interpretation of plum duff which cheats by using buttermilk which they certainly wouldn't have had for more than a day or two out of port, and a controllable oven, but cooking in a basin of water to simulate a steamed pudding sitting on the great iron range on the galley.
This plum duff uses plums because they are English - the finest cooking plum being Kea plums which grow along the Fal estuary in Cornwall - and dates in remembrance of Nelson's earlier 1798 victory at the Battle of the Nile. History is full of dates. The date palm is properly called Phoenix Dactylifera - the Phoenix tree which bears fruits like little fingers. I prefer to believe this is a reference to the Immortal Egyptian Fire Bird rather than any of the other explanations for how the Phoenix name was chosen for these palms.
You will need a large pudding basin or two smaller ones to speed up the cooking time . The pudding rises so don't fill them much more than half-way.
2oz dried plums, chopped. Kea plums already made in to jam would also work and produce a sweeter pudding rather than the sherbet-sharp finish.
2oz dates, stoned and chopped. These are Halawi dates so do your own puns.
Soak the fruits together in a good gill of rum and the juice of half a lemon.
Add about a teaspoon full of mixed spice to taste. I'm using nutmeg and cinnamon.
A"good gill" is as much rum as suffices to wet and swell the fruit. When the fruit - but not the cook - has soaked up the liquor, continue:
Butter a large pudding basin well and cover the bottom with a layer of the fruit mix, reserving the most of it. Put the liquor in the bottom to make a syrup, if there is any.
Cream together 2oz butter and 2 oz sugar.
On the ship this would be salted butter and possibly treacle, but I'm using unsalted butter and plain granulated sugar.
Add 1 egg, beat in well, and stir in 4oz of self-raising flour. Many recipies use half-flour and half-breadcrumbs so this is a way to use up crusts.
Add buttermilk until the mix is soft like a sponge and almost ready to drop off the spoon. Use plain yoghurt if you can't lay your hands on butter milk. This helps to raise the pudding.
Stir in the reserved fruit - it may loosen the mixture slightly, so don't go mad with the buttermilk. You can always add a drop more.
Spoon the mixture on top of the fruit already in the basin. Put a cover of foil on it to stop the top getting wet.
Place the basin in a bigger pan of hot water - a deep baking tin, for example - so that the water rises half-way up the basin. Set the pair in a medium-hot oven, about gas mark 6, although you could simmer it on the hob if you prefer.
Keep the water topped up for two hours, then check if the pudding is done by taking off the foil carefully and sliding a knife it to see if it comes out clean. If it needs longer, and perhaps to dry out, then take the foil off.
Of course, if you are spreading this over two smaller pudding basins it will set faster, best check after an hour.
When a knife comes out clean, run a knife round the sides of the pudding, wait about five minutes for it to be less likely to split, turn out without burning your fingers, and serve.
On land we can use custard or cream but unless someone had managed to hide Daisy the milk cow aboard as well as Henny Penny who laid the egg, you will have to improvise with a dressing of butter, rum and sugar. The pudding is rich because of the butter and buttermilk so it is not essential to put anything else on.
Plum and Date Rum Duff
Note: if you used a lot of rum it may not all convert in the cooking. Therefore be aware that it might not be suitable for a modern 12 year old, or if driving or operating machinery.
All Seeing Eye invites anyone in Gibraltar to the Trafalgar Cemetery at 12 noon on Sunday 23 October, where there will be an act of remembrance. The Immortal Memory
Those in the East of England might like to visit Nelson's birthplace, Burnham Thorpe, which is still substantially as Nelson saw it.