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The Pudding Trail

April 08, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

In medieval England, "pudding" meant either black pudding, which was blood sausage, or white pudding, a delicate sausage of ground meat and fat lightened with bread crumbs. Then the meat tended to drop out, leaving the starch and fat, and the Elizabethans took to adding sugar and dried fruits such as currants. By the 17th century, cooks were making the modern English pudding of sugar, flour and finely minced beef suet, though sometimes still including meat . . . minced tongue, for example.

To start with, these heavy, solid sweets were poached in sausage casings (as were rice and bread puddings sometimes, though they are actually older dishes that just got caught up in the pudding mania). Then people realized they could cook much bigger puddings if they wrapped them in cloth. These boiled puddings were popular right through the 19th century, and not just in England. From Beacon Hill to chuck wagons on the prairie, Americans often made "bag puddings" too.

Some puddings had a filling in the middle and, since the pudding dough resembled rich pie dough, cooks soon realized that instead of boiling a pudding or poaching it in a metal bowl (the usual modern English method), they could bake it in a pie tin. A lot of 18th and 19th century "pudding" recipes turn out to be pies, often with custard-like fillings.

We Americans had a particular taste for the suet-free, egg-thickened "quaking puddings." We were also more interested in the flavoring than the rich stodge. So we've ended up with soft, moist, highly flavored puddings usually thickened with cornstarch.

Finally, hasty pudding was a simple-minded 18th century dish of boiled eggy batter served with a sweet sauce. Bake the batter under a roast beef and you have the English quick bread known as Yorkshire pudding. It's a long, long way from sausage.

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