Friday 21 August 2015

The English Pudding ~ or ~ Comfort Foods of the British Isles

Today I welcome Becca St. John to the salon, for a tasty dip into English puddings!


The English Pudding ~ or ~ Comfort Foods of the British Isles

Peas pudding hot, peas pudding cold
Peas pudding in the pot nine days old

If you are shaking your head and saying, “peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold’’ you would be right, for the south of England. Up north, it’s ‘pudding.’  And for both, the consistency can vary. Today, we will refer to the ‘pudding’ in the rhyme.

Pudding, like custard, is one of those many English words that has an entirely different meaning in the states. To American ears, the word conjures visions of a soft creamy sweet dessert, not quite as firm as an American custard. The British custard, that Jane Austen would have been familiar with, is not solid but a thick sauce poured over dessert. 

A Regency pudding referred to a dessert or a savory. Peas pudding, for instance, is a dish made from dried lentils, most commonly yellow split peas. It can be thick enough to spoon and serve on a plate with a nice bit of ham, or thin enough to be considered a stew or soup.  

In the poorer households, a pot of peas pudding would be continually on the boil, in a heavy kettle over the fire. Add a few more legumes, a bit of water or a freshly found carrot to make up what was eaten the day before. There you have it, your everyday dinner.  Hence, the ‘Peas pudding in the pot nine days old.’ 

Most are familiar with Yorkshire Pudding, similar  to our popovers.  These are made with batter and poured into hot drippings to billow up like baloons, all but the tall sides falling flat when taken out of the oven. Dense popovers are a poor  substitute compared to the light and savoury side dish of the English.

Introduced by the Romans, meat puddings, like Steak and Kidney or Beef & Ale, were quickly adapted to the English kitchen.  Think pot pie with a hefty  difference. The outer dough, a cross between bread and pastry, surrounds a thick stew-like center. Jane Austen  might have stuffed it into well-cleaned, pig ‘innards’,  but nowadays, cheesecloth is used. This is placed into a boilding pot to ‘steam’ for hours. The rich, heavy dish is a perfect foil to damp cold evenings.

But we mustn’t forget the sweets: plum pudding, figgy pudding, sticky toffee and, of course, spotted dick. Old standbys, but you can make a pudding out of any ingredient.  These days steamed chocolate puddings with gooey running centers are very popular. Similar to a choclate lava cake. 

Sweet puddings are similar in texture to  moist, rich, fruit cake. Rather than bake, you pour the batter into a mold and steam.  

By 1728 cast iron ranges started finding their way into the average home kitchen. Boiling was still the easiest method for consistency.  The cook could put the pot on, check the water level from time to time, and get to her other tasks.  There is another advantage to a steamed puddings. Sweet or savory,  it only took a little bit of this and a little bit of that to provide a good stodgy dish in one pot. 


An excerpt from An Independent Miss ~ Available on Amazon.

~ Lord Andover announces the betrothal:

He was to be married. 
A smile carried him down the steps and across the upper terrace garden. He could see Felicity’s brother Thomas, and Rupert Upton, one level below. 
 “Wish me happy!” he called, as he strode down the slope. 
Upton’s sword lay upon the ground, his shirtsleeve stained green. Thomas, a regular at Jackson’s and a keen student of Angelo, still held his foil. 
“Grass slip you up?” Andover asked Upton, as he reached the two men. 
His spirits higher than in months, Andover crossed to a table covered with sabers, foils and protective gear. He found a padded vest and slipped it on, standing still as a servant fastened the buttons along the right side. “Treat to get some fresh air without a load of drizzle.” He looked over his shoulder. Thomas and Upton stared at him. 
“Happy?” Upton asked. “You’ve proposed to some poor lass? By the post? You proposed by letter?” Upton marveled.
“No.” Andover smiled, surprised by his own happiness, especially under the circumstances. He needed to be married, urgently. He owed his family that. He had not expected to feel so joyous about it.
“There’s been no one here for you to propose to, except my fam…” Thomas stopped, scowled, “You have been speaking to my father about farming, correct? Taking his counsel during all that time in his study? Riding out on the farm?”
It was not going to go well. He should have anticipated that. In respect, Andover offered another bow, this one for Thomas. “I have taken your father’s wise counsel.”
“On farming?” Thomas’s nostrils flared.
Smile gone, Andover nodded. “On farming. As well as other things.”
“Oh Lord!” Upton swallowed. “You’ve been spending considerable time with Lady Felicity.”
Both men had figured it out and Thomas, for one, was not about to wish him happy.
“You’ve proposed to my sister?” Thomas exploded.
“No!” Upton whispered. “Right under our noses.”
“Damn you!” Thomas took a swing. Andover blocked it.
“Hold on, Redmond!” Andover wanted to defend his proposal, but he knew and understood Thomas’s position. They had drunk and gambled and chased petticoats together from Eton through Cambridge and beyond. “I didn’t come here with that intention. I did not anticipate caring for Lady Felicity.” 
“That’s my sister we’re speaking about, and no damned hums about love. I know you better than that.”
He did, Andover thought. Love was not the idea. He had a title to carry on, sooner than he had expected. She would not be sorry. He had promised.
“I didn’t invite you to seduce my sister.”
Upton put a hand on Thomas’s shoulder and was shrugged off. That didn’t stop his counsel. “Come on, Redmond, leave it. Andover will be a good husband.” He defended his childhood friend. “And your sister’s a sweet girl.”
“Too good for him,” Thomas snapped. “She doesn’t need the mess he is in.”
Andover looked up at that. “I will be good to her. I promise you that.” He wished he could think of something else to say, but nothing else came to mind. He frowned. “Do you think I don’t know how special she is? How fortunate I was to meet her before either of us found someone else?”
“No. I don’t think you know that. You haven’t had time to learn the depth of her, or to give her time to know about you.”
The depth of her. Something in that worried Andover. He pushed it away. “What is it you really don’t like?” he asked, doubting Redmond knew just how bad things were at Montfort Abbey. A situation that would reverse as soon as he married. A positive focus was all his mother needed to pull her from the spiral of malaise.
Thomas snorted, looked away at the distant horizon. “You said you were going to marry quickly for your mother.” He swiped away a lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes. 
“Thomas…” Upton broke in, but again, Thomas pulled away.
“As intelligent as she is, as practical...” he bent, picked up the foil that Upton had dropped, tossed it to Andover. "Felicity is a romantic. It is part of her beauty.” He lifted his own foil, tested its flex, then looked at Andover. “You admitted there was no room for emotion in your goal.”
“Look here, Thomas,” Upton interrupted. “Men never think of such things.”
They both looked at him and scowled. “Shut up, Upton.” Thomas flared. “I don’t like this, not one bit.” He faced Andover, signaled for the servant to hand him a mask, then pulled his own down. “You have not been forthright in your suit.” He waited as Andover put on the meager protection. “You better not have touched her. There had best be room for her to change her mind.”
Andover flicked his mask down. “You know me better than that.”
“Do I?” Thomas snapped. “You managed to tie yourself to her right under my nose.” He lifted his foil before his face. “Prepare yourself.”
Even as Andover raised his foil, Thomas shouted, “En garde!” and lunged.


About the Author 

When living in the mountains of Wyoming, Becca prepared hearty comfort puddings for her British hubby. Now, on the coast of Florida, light meals of seafood and salad hit the spot. This leaves more time to indulge her love of writing and reading medieval and Regency romance. 

This post copyright © Becca St. John, 2015.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Mm, my mouth is watering!

lynneconnolly said...

Nice article!
I'm British, from the North of England. Pudding is what we have after dinner. Posh people call it dessert! Ice cream can be a pudding, if it's served after the main meal. I had a yogurt for my pudding today.
There are some dishes called puddings, but they're different. Pease pudding can be served cold, and it's not a soup, it's a porridge-like mass, a bit like mushy peas. Ick. Not on my menu.

Sarah said...

Pease pottage, hot or cold as an accompanyment to salad, yum. And amazingly good for you; lentils and pulses are the poor man's protein, and amazing for weight loss and controlling diabetes. And a lot depends on how long you cook it; Lynne appears to have had it the way my brother makes it, overcooked! I like my peas al dente... and with garlic, fennel, cardamon and asfoetida. Instead of bacon, you can stir fry some lamb with clove, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper and add your cooked pottage at the last minute for muglai lamb, and I wouldn't argue against a member of the honourable east india company bringing that back!

RADay said...

I was born in England, lived there when I was six, went back for a year when I was 15, and then lived there in my 20's. I still remember Bread Pudding, Spotted Dick and anything with custard very fondly! Yum!

Unknown said...

No-one made spotted dick like my mother.

Catherine Curzon said...

Oh, I know!

Catherine Curzon said...

I've had pease pudding once... I won't again. ;-)

Catherine Curzon said...

Now that sounds far nicer!

Catherine Curzon said...


Catherine Curzon said...

A favourite pud in our house...

Sarah said...

I make mine along the lines of a proper dal....

Unknown said...

I love English puddings ~ both savory and sweet. Lynne, I didn't remember it as a soup, but my research books mentioned it as a one pot stewy soup sort of dish constantly kept on the boil. That's how broth was kept too ~ constantly on the back of the fire, with new ingredients added daily. Don't know if people could handle that these days! Have to admit, dal came to mind more often than not when researching. Interesting how every country has it's own version of a dish.