England has been famous for its puddings for centuries, and the word is now interchangeable with dessert, but it wasn’t always so. Historically puddings were essentially sausages with a filling stuffed into the stomach or intestines of an animal (the word probably comes from the Anglo-Norman word bodin meaning entrails). Sometimes they were kind of like dumplings, cooked in the broth with the meat for dinner.
Some of these types of puddings have survived into modern times e.g. black pudding, white pudding and haggis, but many others fell by the wayside because there are several main problems with this technique. Firstly, the ick factor. Secondly, processing the intestines is time consuming and, if not done properly, can make people very sick. Thirdly, fresh entrails are only available when you have slaughtered an animal and even then the quantity is limited.
The result of all this was that sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century realised there was a better way – the pudding cloth! Instead of slaughtering an animal and then spending hours, if not days, soaking and cleaning the intestines all the home chef had to do was butter and flour a piece of tightly woven cloth (calico is ideal). It was easier, faster and a lot less messy, plus the cloth can be re-used over and over again.
The earliest pudding boiled in a cloth that I’m aware of is in John Murrell’s ‘A New Booke of Cookerie’ from 1615. His recipe for a Cambridge Pudding contains breadcrumbs, flour, dates, currants, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, suet, milk, sugar and eggs and most importantly, it’s boiled in a cloth. This however is the only pudding which he recommends using a cloth for, the other boiled puddings are all made in guts or cauls and he offers one fried pudding and one Italian baked pudding. By 1671 though napkins, bags and cloths were much more popular, used in 26 of Robert May’s recipes for puddings.
Boiled puddings continued to be popular well into the Victorian era, but over time most puddings have also become sweeter (with a few exceptions such as haggis, see here for a sweet haggis recipe). At first they were starch, offal or maybe meat spiced up with a little dried fruit and some cinnamon but by the Victorian period the only reminder of most puddings’ savoury heritage was the suet. Others were based on eggs, such as the popular Quaking Pudding which I chose to make this week, it’s essentially a boiled egg custard with breadcrumbs or flour to keep it together.
Take a pint of good cream, six eggs, and half the whites, beat them well, and mix with the cream; grate a little nutmeg in, add a little salt, and a little rosewater, if it be agreeable; – grate in the crumb of a halfpenny roll, or a spoonful of flour, first mixed with a little of the cream, or a spoonful of the flour of rice, which you please. Butter a cloth well, and flour it; then put in your mixture, tie it not too close, and boil it half an hour fast. Be sure the water boils before you put it in.
I chose to use Hannah Glasse’s recipe for Quaking Pudding (available here) because I was intrigued by the use of rice flour, which conceivably means it could be made gluten free. The only issue with that is flouring the cloth, for which I used normal flour but I imagine it could be done either with gluten free plain flour or possibly with rice flour.
In the end, the pudding was easy to put together but took a lot longer to boil than the recipe said. Setting up the saucepan etc is also a bit of a faff if you don’t just happen to have a copper boiling for wash day. To top it all off, I found the taste extremely plain and rather eggy, although some of my taste-testers enjoyed its simplicity. To make it a little more interesting I made a quick sauce based on aside on Ivan Day’s site which says it was frequently served with a sauce of melted butter, sugar and rose-water. It helped a bit. If after that glowing endorsement you would still like to try it, my version of the recipe is below.
3 egg yolks, extra
2 cups cream
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1 1/2 tbsp rosewater
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp rice flour
A couple of tbsp of flour
Slivered almonds to decorate
For the sauce:
30g butter, melted
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp rosewater
You will also need a large piece of unbleached cotton or calico (wash well in hot water prior to use), kitchen string and a very large saucepan.
- Fill the saucepan with water and bring to a rolling boil.
- Take the eggs and extra egg yolks and beat them with the cream. Stir in the grated nutmeg, rosewater and the salt. Add 1 tbsp rice flour and whisk till smooth.
- Lay the clean cloth on a flat surface and rub the butter into the cloth, squidging it in with your fingers to make a waxy barrier. Spread the flour over the buttered cloth, then carefully lift the cloth into a round bottomed bowl.
- Pour the mixture into the cloth. Gather the edges of the cloth and tie tightly, leaving a bit of room for the mixture to expand. Place gently into the boiling water and boil for 60 mins.
- Using tongs, carefully remove the pudding from the water. Cut the string and very gently unwrap the pudding. If as you begin to unwrap the pudding you find that it is still liquid you will need to carefully retie the string and boil the pudding for longer.
- To make the sauce mix the melted butter, sugar and rosewater together. Stud the pudding with the almonds and serve with the sauce.
The Recipe: Quaking Pudding from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (available here)
The Date: 1774
How did you make it? See above.
Time to complete?: 25 mins to put it together and 60 mins to boil.
Total cost: About $6 for the cream and the rosewater. Everything else was in the cupboard.
How successful was it?: It did turn out which was one of the things that I was worried about, but it took a lot longer to cook than the recipe indicated. The taste, however, was very bland and very eggy so not that great.
How accurate?: Pretty accurate, although I used thickened cream instead of plain cream which wasn’t ideal.
 “Pudding, N.,” OED Online (Oxford University Press), accessed September 6, 2014, http://www.oed.com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/view/Entry/154127.
 John Murrell, A Nevv Booke of Cookerie VVherein Is Set Forth the Newest and Most Commendable Fashion for Dressing or Sowcing, Eyther Flesh, Fish, or Fowle. Together with Making of All Forts of Iellyes, and Other Made-Dishes for Seruice; Both to Beautifie and Adorne Eyther Nobleman or Gentlemans Table. Hereunto Also Is Added the Most Exquisite London Cookerie. All Set Forth according to the Now, New, English and French Fashion. Set Forth by the Obseruation of a Traueller. I.M., 1615th ed., Early English Books, 1475-1640 / 1146:17 (London: Printed for Iohn Browne, and are to be solde at his shop in S. Dunstanes Church-yard, 1615), 37.
 KM Wall, “May Pudding Baggage,” Pilgrim Seasonings, May 21, 2013, http://blogs.plimoth.org/pilgrimseasonings/?tag=quaking-pudding.
 Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published … (W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, J. Hinton, 1774), 219.
 Ivan Day, “Some Interesting English Puddings,” Historic Food, N.D, http://www.historicfood.com/English%20Puddings.htm.
Day, Ivan. “Some Interesting English Puddings.” Historic Food, N.D. http://www.historicfood.com/English%20Puddings.htm.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published … W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, J. Hinton, 1774.
Murrell, John. A Nevv Booke of Cookerie VVherein Is Set Forth the Newest and Most Commendable Fashion for Dressing or Sowcing, Eyther Flesh, Fish, or Fowle. Together with Making of All Forts of Iellyes, and Other Made-Dishes for Seruice; Both to Beautifie and Adorne Eyther Nobleman or Gentlemans Table. Hereunto Also Is Added the Most Exquisite London Cookerie. All Set Forth according to the Now, New, English and French Fashion. Set Forth by the Obseruation of a Traueller. I.M. 1615th ed. Early English Books, 1475-1640 / 1146:17. London: Printed for Iohn Browne, and are to be solde at his shop in S. Dunstanes Church-yard, 1615.
“Pudding, N.” OED Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.oed.com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/view/Entry/154127.
Wall, KM. “May Pudding Baggage.” Pilgrim Seasonings, May 21, 2013. http://blogs.plimoth.org/pilgrimseasonings/?tag=quaking-pudding.