A short history of puddings (in 5 Regency rooms)

Lifting a pudding in a pudding cloth from a steaming copper filled with hot water. Children gather round watching with glee.

Imagine pushing open the heavy, creaking door of a Regency house.

You feel a pang of hunger and a spark of curiosity. What can this building reveal?

Let me whisk you through this historic house feeding you morsels of puddings, in all sizes and varieties, in each room we enter.

Are you ready to begin?

Entrance through the servants’ quarters.

Door to The Regency Town House's meat safe in the servants' basement at 10 Brunswick Square. It is old and has original brown paint on the door and a black metal grille.

In the Meat Safe eat a sausage – the first pudding

Puddings have MEATY origins. 

So we find ourselves in a meat safe.

You are standing in a cage for meat and around you, you can see hooks where meat would have hung. That metal gauze that imprisons you is to keep out flies. 

An open back door would have kept this space cool.

Because next door you have the fierce heat of the kitchen. If you listen carefully you might hear the voices of the kitchen staff working.

You should also smell sausage now because that’s what I will be serving to you here.

I will serve you an Oxford Sausage from a recipe from the 1830s.

Eat an Oxford Sausage

While you munch on the sausage (vegan/veg alternatives are available) I will tell you the tale of pudding’s origins.

So although we have no early recipes or archeological evidence, we can imagine puddings being boiled early in history.

Because the first puddings were sausages, probably blood sausages.

In pre-historic times all the ingredients/techniques for sausages were available:

  • There was offal and cereal to go inside and skins, paunches or intestines to cook the soft bits within.
  • There was boiling water. (They heated stones and drop them into pits filled with water). 

The word pudding itself is thought to come via botellus, meaning sausage, to the French word boudin bastardised to pudin or Pudding.

Before we leave the meat safe let me mention suet. Suet is the hard fat surrounding beef or mutton kidneys, leaf lard is the name of the fat surround pig’s kidneys.

Why suet? High melting temperature produces excellent, succulent pastry. And suet is a vital part of many of the puddings you will encounter on our journey.

Come with me to the dining room.

Dining room at the Regency Town House, soft light through the windows. The dining room has tables in it, the tables are covered with table cloths and there are chairs under the table.

In the Dining Room eat an elite pudding

Puddings were eaten by all of society, rich and poor alike.

That’s why we find ourselves in the dining room.

You are standing in a classically decorated room painted in soothing shades of cherry blossom. A table with a starched white tablecloth awaits you.  I invite you to sit.

As you look around you, you see the best decorated room in the house, it is designed to impress your guests with your knowledge of culture and refinement. Classical Roman motives, columns, friezes drip from the walls.

A servant has just brought your food as you sit to eat it.

Firstly here’s a grand pudding for you. Please take a slice of Duke’s Pudding as I explain this to you. 

Duke’s Pudding

Take eight eggs using only four whites 3/4 of a pound of beef suet chopped small, 3/4 of a pound of stoned raisins 1/4 lb of sugar, four spoonfuls of flour, four spoonfuls of cream, one nutmeg, one oz of Candied lemon cut small, a glass of white wine, butter a cloth & dust it with flour, tie it very tight and boil it four hours.

A cooked dish consisting of various sweet or savoury ingredients especially as enclosed within a flour-based crust or mixed with flours eggs etc.

It’s typical of a whole range of boiled pudding using suet, relatively expensive (at this period) dried fruits which, as you can see in the recipe, would have involved stoning and some cleaning, there are expensive spices and wine too. 

Many of these puddings have famous people’s name for example Prince of Wales, St Agnes and very lovely Sir Robert Walpole’s Dumplings but varied only marginally in their ingredients.

How would these sorts of puddings been eaten?

How were puddings served in the Dining Room?

Chart showing the service layout for a course of a Regency dinner. It's a view from above, a bird'e eye view. Looking down on the table.

Dinner would have been served in the a la Francaise style. It’s a sort of family style way of eating, though highly formalised. 

As you entered the dining room the dining table would have been laden with platters of steaming food. Soups, small bowls of deliciousness.

Look forward to the moment when the dishes and the table cloth is whisked away to reveal a second clean tablecloth. Because now it’s time for the second course and the puddings.

The diagram of the table service shows how sweet puddings were laid out alongside savoury dishes.

Dessert did come later but it was usually a lighter course, fruit perhaps, ice cream maybe, some nuts. But the puddings remained an important part of the main dinner service.

The Servant's Hall at Christmas lit by candlelight, there is a ghostly figure standing by the fireplace.

In the Servants’ Hall eat a servants’ pudding

Puddings weren’t just eaten by the rich. Indeed quite the opposite.

That’s why we find ourselves in the servants’ hall.

You are standing in a barely decorated room lined with cheap Regency wallpaper. The room smells of damp and has a cold slate floor. The table is bare and I invite you to sit on a hard wooden chair.

As you look around you, you see a functional space. The room where the servants would have eaten their meals.

And I serve you a bowl of steaming pottage.

Pottage – eaten by all members of society

Pottages like this would be eaten by the poor and rich alike. The richer you were the more high cost ingredients would have been added.

Stews like these are the basis of puddings too.

Indeed if I whisk away your simple pottage for a Plum pottage we can pretend it is Christmas.

This time you’ve jumped to 1728.

I give you Christmas Pottage.

A soup for Christmas? Christmas Pottage

Plum-Pottage, or Christmas-Pottage.
Take a Leg of Beef, and boil it till it is tender in a sufficient quantity of Water, add two Quarts of red Wine, and two Quarts of old strong Beer; put to these some Cloves, Mace, and Nutmegs, enough to season it, and boil some Apples, pared and freed from the Cores into it, and boil them tender, and break them; and to every Quart of Liquor, put half a Pound of Currans pick’d clean, and rubb’d with a coarse Cloth, without washing. Then add a Pound of Raisins of the Sun, to a Gallon of Liquor, and half a Pound of Prunes. Take out the Beef, and the Broth or Pottage will be fit for use.

Prof. R Bradley, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1728)

Why am I feeding you all these pottages? With the addition of a pudding cloth these pottage mixtures of cereal, fruits, wine, cereals, breadcrumbs, suet, etc would become puddings.

We’ll find out more about pudding cloths in the kitchen but first how would puddings have been eaten in a dining room like this?

Firstly here’s a grand pudding for you. Please take a slice of Duke’s pudding as I explain this to you. 

How were puddings served downstairs?

In the Duke’s Pudding recipe there is mention of a pudding cloth. Let’s go downstairs to the kitchen and find out more. 

Follow me to the kitchen.

The Regency kitchen with a cook's bench table set with a mixing bowl. The scullery door is to the left and to the right there is the old fireplace but there is not a range there.

In the Kitchen cook a pudding

Join me behind a wooden table in the vast space of the kitchen. Look above through the skylight and look below to the tiled floor.

Behind me I have a pan of boiling water. And just let me dip my pudding cloth into that and come back to you.

The vital importance of the pudding cloth

It is thought that the Elizabethans began experimenting with other methods of preparing puddings that didn’t involve animal parts.

A pudding cloth could enclose the fruit, cereal and fat mixtures. Like a Christmas pudding or Duke’s pudding your imaginatively ate upstairs

And although a piece of cloth might not seem revolutionary it meant that  these different types of puddings can be created. We no longer need the meat.

If you remember the pottage you ate in the dining room? These thickened milk based pottages were put into cloths and boiled to produce puddings too.

Puddings can be heavy and light

So I like to make the distinction between solid and lighter batter puddings.

A lovely example of this is the quaking pudding and I have here one I made earlier from a recipe from 1682.

Eggs, milk and thickening cereal. Which could be sago, wheat flour, breadcrumbs even. But these are almost more custard like.

Plum Duff

Now as a comparison I’ve made a Plum Duff. Duff just means dough, just as dick means dough in a Spotted Dick. 

Plum Duff was a cheap filling pudding often sold on the streets. But a similar type of sustaining filling pudding as Christmas pudding.

Christmas Pudding

In the Christmas pudding, which evolves from a Christmas pottage, you see a mixture of expensive, high status ingredients suitable for a feast. And these types of puddings were eaten, in the Elizabethan period, in all types of festive celebrations, not just during the winter. A harvest festival was a common time to eat it.

But during a gradual process, throughout the 18th century the pudding became more associated with Christmas until in 1845 in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families we find a recipe for a Christmas Plum Pudding. 

Two puddings. Very different.

And (as mentioned earlier) there are examples of puddings that don’t need pudding cloths. 

A good contemporary example is Yorkshire pudding. First called such in 1747 in Hannah Glasse’s book. Another is the jam roly poly but for that let’s go to the housekeeper’s room for your last taste of the tour.

For our final visit to the housekeeper’s room.

Housekeeper's room at The Regency Town House in Hove, 10 Brunswick Square,  with a table laid for tea with scones and a fresh loaf of bread. And a red teapot.

In the Housekeeper’s Room a batter pudding with fruit

In the Housekeeper’s Room we’d raid the cupboards.

They are full of freshly made jams plum, raspberry, damsons.

At the time I am writing this, September, the shelves would have been full with jams.

It’s almost something we can hardly imagine now. But in September already most of the jams would have be made to take the summer with you into the darker months of the year. 

Fruit wasn’t, as now, available throughout the year, and conserving the summer’s bounty was an important part of household management.

 And let’s finish with another form of pudding I haven’t yet mentioned. The Bakewell Pudding is an example of a pudding baked in a pastry case. 

For this you obviously needed an oven but also, in a time when oven temperature would only have been regulated by the oven itself naturally cooling down, skill to bake these delicate set pies. 

Bakewell Pudding

Before you leave the Town House today I would feed you a (small) piece of Bakewell Pudding. A proper one. It’s a pastry suet  layered with jam and then topping with a custard type filling.

So to eat a Bakewell Pudding would have been an treat mainly for the wealthy in society. With its jam layer underneath, it’s quivering custardy base and crisp pastry it’s a real treat.

It’s time for you to leave the house.

You leave the Town House full of pudding and hopefully full of history too. I’d show you to the door and thank you for coming.

Why are the English obsessed with puddings?

A kitchen scene at 13 Brunswick Square. The Regency Town House. There is a Pease pudding in a puddling cloth on top of a wooden dresser. A pair of scissors lies next to the bowl.

Just to finish. Why this English obsession with puddings? Perhaps its because during 16th, 17th and 18th centuries we had climatic advantages which enabled us to grow cereals, herd milk animals and husband pigs and egg laying fowls. And as a sea-faring we had links with countries to provide dried fruits, spices and later sugar.

That meant we could change the old medieval pottages and custards using pudding cloths and pastry cases to puddings.

But perhaps more importantly is the linking of the pudding with our nationality, our very Englishness and this linked with nostalgia for times past means that puddings have lingered longer in England than anywhere else. And that also puddings have returned.

Perhaps this will change and maybe the younger generations will turn their noses up at Bakewell puddings, Christmas puddings or even jam roly polys?

But for me, a French visitors praise during a visit in 1690, sums it all up.

Blessed be he that invented pudding for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people…because the people shall never weary of it.