A Short and Sweet History of Puddings
To anyone with a sweet tooth, puddings are a wonderful creation. They come in dozens of types due to their long history. Best of all, the myriad of textures and flavors available means there is a pudding to satisfy even the pickiest of palates.
In the United States, a pudding is usually a soft and creamy dessert that is made with eggs or milk. Think of custards, crème brûlées, and chocolate mousses. In the United Kingdom, puddings aren’t necessarily creamy or milky. For example, toffee pudding and jam roly-poly, both common family desserts, are more similar to cake and can have a crumblier texture. Quite possibly the most famous British pudding is Christmas pudding. This very moist fruit cake contains candied orange peel, brown sugar, raisins, and spices. Traditionally, brandy is poured over the top and set on fire!
In Asia, rice pudding is a popular dessert. Known as kheer in India, it is made by boiling milk and sugar with rice. Raisins, nuts, and saffron can be added to improve the flavor. Coconut milk, tapioca, and mango are also commonly added, giving this dessert a light, tropical flavor.
Today, puddings might be found under the “desserts” section of a restaurant menu, but back in the Middle Ages, when they first saw the light of day, puddings were typically savory. They started out as something like a boiled sausage. The meat was mixed with blood, fat, and maybe rice or bread. Then it was stuffed into animal stomachs or intestines before it was cooked. The more well known of the savory puddings include Scotland’s haggis—a mixture of sheep’s organs, onion, fat, and spices stuffed in a sheep’s stomach and boiled.
Over time, people began using cloth instead of animal stomachs or intestines as a holder, and adding spices, ginger, and dried fruit to the meat mix. Gradually, sweet puddings were introduced, but these were still boiled, just like the savory types. With ovens becoming more common in 19th century Britain, baked puddings began to appear. These looked like our modern-day pies and tarts, which explains why “pudding” can also mean “dessert” in Britain.
Now that you know more about puddings, there’s still one question: which one tastes the best? There’s only one way to find out, for as they say, the proof is in the pudding!