Claimed as a British invention and considered a characteristic dish of British cuisine, pudding historically was a savory dish in England, usually a sausage in which meat and other ingredients were mixed with a grain product or other binder, encased in animal gut, then steamed or boiled until the contents were set. The English word is thought to come from the French boudin, and originally from the Latin botellus, which means a small sausage (some writers point out that sausages came to England with the Romans in the first century BC). Examples of these savory puddings still with us today are black pudding, which was a favorite of King Henry VIII, and Scotland’s haggis.
By the 17th century, the term came to include sweets, and the pudding cloth was invented to replace animal gut as an encasement. By the 20th century, with domestic servants less prevalent, housewives found pudding cloth difficult to use, and puddings were steamed in pottery basins covered with greased papers and foil. The outbreak of World War II brought rationing of sugar and fats, and the British pudding tradition went into decline; it remained out of favor after the War due to health concerns. Is it nostalgia that has brought puddings back with a vengeance in recent years?
In today’s usage, a pudding is more often a dessert. In fact, in Great Britain the word pudding has become a synonym for the dessert course (as in “What’s for pud, mum?”). They can include the sweet, dairy-based egg custards familiar in the United States and parts of Canada. Commonwealth countries call these custards (or curds) if the thickener is egg, blancmange if it is starch, and jelly if gelatin is used. Bread pudding and rice pudding are further examples of the genre, as are summer puddings (uncooked members of the tribe), sponge puddings, and puddings fully encased in pastry.
Decorative metal molds with tight fitting lids are available for steamed puddings, or you can improvise using bundt pans sealed firmly with aluminum foil. If you attempt the latter, make certain that you do not seal the center hole with foil, or steam will rise through it, drip into your batter and leave you with a sodden mess.
A STEAMED PUDDING MOLD