It’s the tale of two puddings. A bachelor’s pudding and a spinster’s pudding.
Two discovered recipes from mysterious sources and two antiquated words for being single.
We can only guess at why these puddings were named after bachelors and spinsters. In essence they resemble many other puddings with ingredients like breadcrumbs, flour, suet raisins and apples.
The two puddings I present to you could have had other names: Double-shotted Duff, Drowned Baby, Figgy-Dowdy, or Spotted Dog. They could have been named after worthies: Queen Mab’s Pudding, or even Sir Watkin Williams Wynne’s Pudding. The names are (almost) interchangeable.
But the multiplicity of names tells us how important puddings used to be.
Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides praises the pudding.
“Let us seriously reflect what a pudding is composed of. It is composed of flour, that once waved in the golden grain, and drank the dews of the morning; of milk pressed from the swelling udder by the gentle hand of the beautiful milk-maid, whose beauty and innocence might have recommended a worse draught; who while she stroked the udder, indulged in no ambitious thoughts of wandering in palaces, formed no plans for the destruction of her fellow creatures.”
These beautiful milk maids could become spinsters. But where does the term spinster come from?
Spinster entered the English language at about the same time as bachelor. At first it simply meant ‘woman who spins for a living’, being a spinster in the 1300s, being empowered by a guild was a good thing. Later in the middle ages tradeswoman who had a husband had greater access to raw materials and the market, hence spinsters became associated with lower income jobs and then onwards to the eighteenth century spinster became synonymous with ‘old maid’.
“Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.”–Louisa May Alcott in Little Women
A bachelor was a knight too young or poor to gather vassals under his own banner. From the 14th century, the term was also used for a junior member of a guild or university and then for low-level ecclesiastics, young monks and recently appointed canons. In the Victorian era, the term eligible bachelor was used in the context of upper class matchmaking, a young man who was not only unmarried, but also considered “eligible” in financial and social terms. In the Victorian era, the term “confirmed bachelor” denoted a man who was resolute to remain unmarried.
Today seventy percent of American males between the ages of 20 and 34 are not married, and many live in a state of “perpetual adolescence” with ominous consequences for the nation’s future.
“Far too many young men have failed to make a normal progression into adult roles of responsibility and self-sufficiency, roles generally associated with marriage and fatherhood,”The Washington Times
The high percentage of bachelors means bleak prospects for millions of young women who dream about a wedding day that may never come. “It’s very, very depressing,”
But back to the past and back to the puddings. Why a Spinster’s Pudding or indeed a Bachelor’s Pudding? My guess would be pudding made with lowly ingredients. Simple ones. Both spinster and bachelor seem to imply constrained finances. So a pudding made with constrained or cheaper ingredients might be named Spinster or Bachelor?
But where did both of my recipes come from?
The cookbook had arrived battered. The back of its spline was no longer connected to the rest of the book but just flapped open. I could run my fingers along the tape that just about held the pages together. It felt, rather aptly, like a bandage.
The recipe, was written on a piece of yellowed paper. It smelled musty but felt smooth. I had to give it a go.
Recipe for Bachelor’s Pudding
- 1/4 lb (112 g) flour
- 1/4 lb (112 g) suet
- 1/4 lb (112 g) bread crumbs
- 1/4 lb (112 g) raisins
- 1 egg
- 3 oz (85g) sugar
Mix well together with sufficient milk to make it a little moist be careful not to use too much milk for fear of making it too heavy. Boil for 2 1/2 hours.
The pudding was mixed. I felt that a pudding cloth was called for. I tore off a square of some muslin I pulled out of the dresser’s large drawers, I made sure it was big enough to containthe pudding mix, and tied it up taughtly with string. I then plunged it into a pan of boiling water and cooked for 2 1/2 hours.
Where did the recipe come from?
An internet search revealed a manuscript cookbook in an archive in Nottingham. Intriguingly there was almost no information about it at all. Just the fact that the name Caroline Waeick appeared in it.
The handwritten collection of recipes hasn’t really been studied. They have no idea who owned it or where it came from. In that it resembled the recipe I had found on a piece of paper inside the old cookbook.
Recipe for Spinster’s Pudding
Take 6 ounces of beef suet, with a little grated lemon peel; 6 eggs; 6 ounces of apple grated fine. Boil it four hours and serve with wine sauce and if liked just a little brandy or wine with the pudding. A glass of wine will be enough.
I’m busy saving my pennies for a trip to Nottingham to visit a cookbook and I can see the Spinster’s pudding recipe for real. Is this a terribly nerdy thing to do?
Taste the puddings for yourself on Valentine’s Day
If you’d like to taste both the bachelor’s pudding and the spinsters pudding in an old Regency kitchen in Hove.
I’m talking about Bachelors and Spinsters and serving Bachelor’s and Spinster’s puddings at the event Love and Loathing on Valentine’s Day, together with social historian Sarah Tobias.