One thing pretty much everyone agreed upon back in the early days of puddings was that they were a very good idea. Organs, blood and grain all stuffed into a bladder and boiled? What’s not to love? Yet the big problem for pudding lovers of the period was that puddings were prisoners of seasonality. I mean let’s face it, the average person didn’t have fresh blood, guts and bladders lying around everywhere all the time. On the farm animals were only slaughtered in cool weather to prevent spoilage (refrigerators being in very short supply in the first few millennia before Christ). Thus at the dawn of the Age of Pudding, it would have only been a once-in-a-while treat.
It wasn’t until the 1600′s (A.D.) that puddings became regular fare. This thanks to an advance in textiles that made the so-called “pudding cloth” possible. What was that you ask? Simply a piece of fine-mesh calico that a cook could spoon batter into, boil and reuse. It was a great stand-in for a bladder, and it freed puddings from the seasonal cycle they had previously been trapped in. Cooks could suddenly get creative with them. Instead of the same old blood and guts, a pudding could be made from scraps that were available at other times of year: eggs, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts…you name it. In this way pudding evolved from a what into a how.
This is how the white pudding was born. And it remains with us to this day. Of course there are still plenty of black puddings out there, notably among the Scots who still place a high value on foods like haggis, which if you haven’t tried…is completely understandable. South of there however, in England, white (usually sweet) puddings now reign, some of the most famous exemplars being plum and date puddings like sticky toffee pudding. Only very few are made in pudding cloths nowadays.
Today pudding makers use tin forms or shallow dishes — as with Yorkshire pudding — or prepare them in pans over a flame on the stove top. These bear very little resemblance to that thing that was once knows as a “pudding”, yet they can all trace their roots back to the same, ancient tradition…of cooking up odds and ends in a form, using some sort of thickener or binder to hold everything together. And that’s as close to definition of “pudding” as I can honestly get.