Grandma Ruby (Blohm) Neal’s Suet Pudding

Christmases in the “good old days” were always held at Grandpa and Grandma Neal’s, northeast of Dexter, Iowa. I don’t know how good it was for the grownups, but it was great for us dozen or so cousins.

It probably wasn’t so wonderful for our moms and aunts because they’d spent the morning “slaving in the kitchen,” as my mother called it. But at least they didn’t have to slave over the whole meal–just their own individual specialties.

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Grandma in her farm kitchen, with Christmas earrings and apron, carving a turkey.

Mom’s specialty was the rolls. That meant getting up especially early because rolls made the day before were not acceptable.

The Neal clan always ate at noon–on the dot. The rolls had better be ready. We were usually the last ones there, so the rolls would still be warm.

When my folks were newly married, Neals suggested that Mom bring noodles. That’s easy, she thought, and took a package of noodles. Oh dear, they’re not cooked, someone said. Looking back, she thinks she was expected to make the noodles from scratch, like any decent housewife, and to bring them cooked in rich chicken broth besides.

Mom was raised in a Depression-era family in town. They couldn’t afford to buy what they couldn’t raise in their garden or her dad and brothers bring home from squirrel or rabbit hunting. Making noodles for a family with seven kids was also extra work, so they never had noodles.

One thing we had every Christmas was Grandma Neal’s round raisiny slabs or suet pudding. At first I didn’t like it that much, but I liked the golden brown sauce she spooned over each slice. I think the recipe came from the “old country,” where Grandma’s parents were born.

Above is Grandma Neal’s mother Anna Marie (Ohrt) Blohm, and the Pellworm house that the Ohrt family owned.

Anna Marie (Ohrt) Blohm’s children, who evidently had suet pudding every Christmas. Grandma Ruby is in front on the left.

I asked Grandma to send me the recipe so I could keep part of the tradition alive anyway. She sent a list of the ingredients. Suet. Hmm, just what is suet? I think I had to ask for it at the store. And she said she cooked hers in smooth baking powder cans she’d saved from year to year. That explained the round slices. I didn’t have any baking powder cans so just used clean ones from carrots or green beans.

But that last line: “Steam until done.”

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In her own hand writing. I don’t know what br. syrup means–I found it that way twice–but must be the molasses. In another place she noted that “a recipe & 1/2 fills 5 cans & was plenty for 1976 Xmas dinner.”

Steam? Maybe this was Grandma’s secret recipe and she didn’t really want to share it.

We didn’t have the internet in those days. We lived in a trailer court a mile from town, partway to Mountain Home Air Force Base. We had one car. I must have driven into the library after Hubby got home because I learned what steaming meant. Believe it or not, I ended up arranging the cans on a rack in the deep fat fryer we’d gotten for a wedding present. I added water and they steamed.

It tasted pretty much like Grandma’s, but what a lot of work! A rigamarole, my dad would have called it.

While we lived way out in Idaho, I became interested in genealogy. I learned that both of Grandma Neal’s parents had been born on Pellworm Island, Germany, and that they’d come to America in the 1870s on the ship Thuringia. Perhaps the suet pudding recipe came with one or both families on that ship.


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Mary (Wells) Jobst was given this history of Pellworm when she and her husband visited there a few years ago. It’s in German, but the people named in the yellow box are our immigrant ancestors. Notice “Dexter, USA.” And that picture in the lower left is a familiar family picture. It was a poignant surprise to see Dexter and our ancestors featured in a German book.

I’ll bet I never made suet pudding again, but I sure knew how to make applesauce and spice cake. Adding raisins would make it a little more like Grandma’s traditional dessert, and it was a whole lot easier. She called the topping “hard sauce,” but it was basically a thickened brown sugar topping.

Ladling that sauce over a spice cake just out of the oven reminds me of Christmases at Grandpa and Grandma’s back during the 1950s.

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Aunt Nadine made this poignant souvenir of her mother’s traditional suet pudding recipe.




  1. You’re brave to try that! My grandmother made wonderful suet pudding, raisins and all. She had a large metal can that must have held shortening at one time, but from the days when they had fitted metal lids, not plastic. She set it in a pan of water in the oven to cook. Her glaze was always white sugar, though. Brown sugar glaze sounds quite decadent!

    • What fun! Most of the ones on the internet are in one large container and are steamed in the oven–mostly recipes that came from the British Isles. I just wonder if that’s when my sister started hating raisins. She sill won’t eat them. I’m allergic to gluten so I don’t even make the spice cake version anymore. But I certainly love the memories connected with the stories.

      • Her background was more German, but I don’t know which side of her family the recipe came from. I think I made it once back in my college days when I did way more baking than I do now.

  2. I enjoyed the story of your family’s Christmas traditions. My mother also served a version of steamed suet pudding with hard sauce. That particular tradition has not endured.

  3. This is a very interesting read! Families have their own festive season traditions, and I find it interesting the way these are adapted and melded through marriage and the influence of travel. This is how family traditions strengthen, alter and are maintained through the years.

  4. Wonderful family Christmas memory and posting. I had never heard of suet pudding before. The family picture is awesome, the clothing all coordinated and can you imagine what it took to clothe a family like that? Goldmine – family history in the book. Great post Joy 🙂

  5. Making the suet recipe might be fun once, but it certainly does look like a lot of work. However, home cooked food – made from scratch – generally does taste much better than our pre-made options today.

  6. My grandma Lola Ades from Boone Iowa used to make this for us every Christmas. I remember her saying collecting the suet and then steaming it for hours was a very long process. But when you sat down for Christmas dinner it was instantly apparent to her and everyone at the table that it was worth all the extra effort. I have many fond memories

  7. My wife’s ancestors also were from Germany (Rothenfels, a town in the district of Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) in Bavaria). Interestingly, there was a town near where we lived in Pennsylvania called Franconia. Makes me wonder if her ancestors settled in the area because of the similar names.

    • You may be right. Guy’s Runkel/Runkle ancestors came from Limberg (on the ship Loyal Judith in 1743) to Berks Co., Pennsylvania, making them “Pennsylvania Dutch.” A quilt made by “Grandma Runkle and Eve” in 1843 has ended up with us! It will be part of an exhibit at the Iowa Quilt Museum this winter. Blog post about it scheduled for January 2.

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