Cloutie dumpling is somewhat of a classic of Scottish cookery. It appears on Scottish menus up and down the country. I love it. I love the sound of name, I love how easy it is to prepare and how utterly delcious it is on a cold night and I love the leftovers fried the next day with bacon. OK, so it looks like a typical British Plum Pudding and in many ways it is very similar, but in reality the pudding is much lighter in texture and easier to eat in quantity then the once a year treat of boiled cannon ball.
A couple of points about this dish. Firstly and most importantly, it is a pudding boiled in a cloth. If it isn't boiled in a cloth, then it isn't a cloutie dumpling for the simple reason that "clout" is Scots for cloth. Secondly, in a simlar manner to a plum pudding, the pudding is covered with a skin formed by the flour placed on the cloth to water-proof the mixture (see white edge in the image and the method for producing a boiled pudding in Sussex Pond Pudding). When dried off in an oven or in front of a fire the appearance of the pudding is of a shiney great chestnut. A mixture of flour (or potato starch) and sugar will ensure the development of a good shiney skin.
I have various recipes, but the one I always tend to use is from F. Marian McNeill's "The Scots Kitchen: Its Lore & Recipes". First published in 1929 this book still remains the best collection of published Scottish recipes and food folklore. Curiously, it just so happens that I have been unable to find a recipe for Cloutie Dumpling published before this book. I find this very odd indeed as there are about half a dozen well known Scottish cookbooks published before this period. It maybe possible that the name of the recipe was very localized, either geographically or socially in Scotland and just didn't make it into cookbooks under this name. As McNeill mentions herself the pudding is "A great favourite with the bairns in our cottage homes", so potentially it wasn't considered proper or seemly in a mainstream cookbook. Certainly there are similar recipes under different names, which would pass for a Cloutie Dumpling. For instance compare the following ingredients in the following recipes:
McNeill (1929), Cloutie Dumpling
Oatmeal or flour or a mixture (six ounces total), suet (three ounces), sugar (three ounces), sultanas or currants or a mixture (four ounces total), cinnamon or mixed spices (one teaspoon), bicarbonate of soda (1/2 teaspoon). Enough buttermilk or sour milk to make a soft batter.
Somerville (1862), "Cookery and Domestic Economy", Plain Plum Pudding or Dumpling
Flour (one pound), suet (1/2 pound), currants (one pound), raisins (1/2 pound), mixted spice (1/2 ounce). Enough boiled milk.
Cleland (1755), "A New and Easy Method of Cookery", Oatmeal-Pudding/Suet Pudding
Oatmeal (a mutchkin) or flour(one pound for the suet pudding), suet (one pound), currants (1/2 pound). Sugar, spice, lemon zest, four eggs.
McNeill's recipe is very light in texture (see photograph), mostly due to the addition of bicarbonate of soda - a 19th century innovation. Many older recipes will tend to produce a denser texture, but in conception there are also dozens of other similar recipes. So why is there no mention of "Cloutie Dumpling" in older texts? In terms of origin, most authorities suggest the cloutie dumpling is a derived from a form of sweet haggis (pudding boiled in a stomach bag, rather then a cloth). While this is entirely possible, I find it unsatisfactory for several reasons. While the haggis is defiantly associated with Scotland now, this wasn't always the case and if fact variations on a haggis (any pudding boiled in a sheep or calf paunch/abomasum) are found throughout the UK historically. It is only in the 18th century that we see Scotland become the home of the haggis. Cumberland even had a version of sweet haggis (called a "hackin"), boiled in a calf stomach until the begining of the 20th century. The point being that while all of these types of cloth bound puddings were ultimately derived from puddings boiled in animal guts, there isn't any real evidence that the Cloutie Dumpling is any closer in developent to this origin then the host of puddings boiled in cloth found South of the border. Potentially, a Cloutie Dumpling is simple cottage variation of a more extravagant dish found in more well to do households and is of relatively recent origin. It may not have been specifically Scottish in origin. Certainly it's similarity to Plum Pudding and the early date of this pudding in Scotland (recipe listed in Cleland's book) should not be overlooked. Allan Davidson suggests that it was traditionally eaten on during Scotlands "Daft Days" (winter solstice celebrations), McNeill makes no mention of this and today there seems to be no particular date associated with Cloutie Dumpling consumption. In fact Scottish butchers sell a form of this type of dumpling to be fried with bacon. My guess would be that the Cloutie Dumpling was never specific or fixed recipe (after all the name simply refers to the cloth, not to the contents) but is part of a group of recipes that have been made in countless variations as a high calorie filling foodstuffs, not even specifically as a dessert. Ironically it is only now that these types of boiled suet puddings have become unpopular in the last century, that the recipe has become more standardized.