The earliest puddings (not bread puddings) in history were created
during the medieval period and were very similar to sausages. Seventeenth
century English puddings were meat based and savory or sweet from a
combination of flour, fruit, nuts and sugar. They were encased in a
dough made from flour and suet, (animal fat from the kidneys and loin),
and then boiled in a mold or special bag. In fact, at one point the
word pudding referred to all boiled dishes.
In France, the word pudding referred
to a type of cake made from bread sweetened with milk, raisins, rum,
eggs and oranges. (Still not our classic bread pudding.) Yorkshire pudding is a type of popover made from eggs,
milk and flour baked in beef drippings. Rice pudding is based on rice,
tapioca on, you guessed it, tapioca, Nesselrode pudding uses cream enriched
custard and chestnut puree, and soufflé pudding employs choux
paste to name a few variants.
We are still waiting for the appearance of bread pudding. What we think of today as pudding
has its genesis in history in 1840's America when people began to thicken custard-based
desserts with either custard powder or cornstarch. This thickened custard
was then flavored with various items such as vanilla, chocolate, fruit,
etc. Custard is a cooked mixture of eggs, milk and sugar and dates back
to the middle ages. Pastry cream, crème brulee, flan, and crème
anglaise are all custards.
Just to confuse the ihsitory a little, bread pudding was born in the 13th
century. Known as 'poor man's pudding' it was created as a means of
salvaging stale bread. The bread was soaked in milk or water, then sugar,
butter, fruit, and/or spices were added, and then it was baked. Sometimes
the mixture was housed in a 'sop', a hollowed out loaf of bread. Modern
bread pudding is made by pouring custard and other flavorings over cubed
bread and then baking it.
Many of our current Christmas traditions,
including culinary ones, can be traced back to Victorian age England.
Various puddings, including bread pudding became classic Christmas fare.
In Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, Christmas dinner is highlighted
by the presentation of Mrs. Cratchit's plum pudding, which Bob Cratchit
proclaimed "the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since
their marriage." Hmmmm. Well I can't guarantee your spouse will
feel the same, but a bread pudding recipe will at least make their