Pudding: A Global History by Jeri Quinzio: book review
Published on Friday January 18, 2013
Jeri Quinzio's Pudding: A Global History, Reaktion Books, 149 pages, $18
Ah! pudding, that versatile dish best served not cold, but sweet, warm and custardy. It wasn’t always so, however, as Jeri Quinzio explains in Pudding: A Global History, part of Reaktion Books’ Edible series.
Pudding can be traced to Homer’s Odyssey, where blood pudding was roasted in a pig’s stomach. And while we’re on stomachs, one can’t forget the chieftain of the puddin’ race, the much maligned and revered haggis that Scotland’s beloved poet Robbie Burns immortalized as political support for the common man in his 1786 poem, “Address to a Haggis.” Cadaverous stomachs, and the difficulty in cleaning them, is one reason why haggis is banned entry at international borders.
Still, Haggis is guest of honour at worldwide celebrations of Burns’ Jan. 25 birthday, and it’s washed down with copious amounts of “the amber bead.” The Oxford English Dictionary dates pudding to the 13th century as a stomach or entrails (e.g. lungs, heart and liver) of a pig, sheep or other animal stuffed with minced meat, suet, mixed with oatmeal and seasonings, boiled in a cloth, suspended over a fire or roasted inside the animal.
Clearly, the Scots didn’t invent haggis, or for that matter kilts, tartan or bagpipes. They all fall under manufactured or borrowed tradition. (Scotch whisky, however, has provenance and patent protection.)
Pudding was a way to preserve perishable blood, meat and offal. It started off life as peasant fare, originally served at the beginning of the meal in order to fill the stomach with as much roughage as possible and reduce the grocery bill for what came later — if anything.
Quinzio says savoury sausage-like recipes gradually morphed into sweet puddings, like plum duff or Christmas plum pudding, for the well-off. “Duff” was the Yorkshire pronunciation for dough and could mean any kind of pie, cake or sticky toffee pudding.
The author has filled her slim volume with entertaining food facts, memoirs and clever illustrations, as well as historical and contemporary recipes.
In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations and puddings as frivolous. It is said that Britain’s George I was so fond of the plum pudding he was served in 1714 that he became known as the Pudding King.
The city of Manchester has a World Black Pudding Throwing Championship, where blood sausages are stuffed into women’s tights and hurled at 20-foot-high stacks of Yorkshire puddings. This “sport” has its origins in the 15th-century War of the Roses, when soldiers ran out of ammunition and started throwing food at each other.
Variations abound for black or blood pudding. Alsace has Zungenwurst made from pigs’ tongues wrapped in bacon; Brittany adds prunes to its boudin noir.
An Egyptian version of bread pudding, called om Ali (Ali’s mother) was originally made by a poor villager for a sultan. Quebec’s pouding chomeur (Poor Man’s Pudding) is a Depression-era dessert with sweet dough and brown sugar sauce.
Renowned 17th-century chef Robert May, made a pudding from a heifer’s udder, adding almond paste, breadcrumbs, eggs, cream and minced beef suet, herbs, bone marrow, currants, saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon and diced preserved pears. He wrapped the mixture in a pudding cloth and steamed it, topping off the dish with almonds, dates, candied citron peel and doused with orange juice.
“Life’s a pudding full of plums,” sang Gilbert and Sullivan. In Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, it helps solve the crime.
For a dish that originally was a way to stave off hunger, today’s rich variations, from trifle to clafoutis, will pack on the pounds. I suggest you do, as Burns did, “Gie her a Haggis!” It’s gluten-free.
Joyce McKerrow, who has an MA in philosophy from the University of Glasgow Department of Scottish Literature, would never bring banned substances into the country.