March 1st …
On this day in 1853 the Committee of Management of the Carlton Club in London considered “most seriously” a complaint from the the Duke of Birmingham about “the unfair way in which Members helped themselves to rice pudding”. It was resolved that in future, the Steward would “point out … to any Member who may help themselves unfairly, to the impropriety of so doing”.
It is difficult to understand, this attachment of grown men to rice pudding, considering its Victorian associations with the nursery (being bland) and boarding school (being cheap).
It was once an exotic and interesting dish, and it is difficult to understand how it had sunk so low from its origins – although such is often the fate of expensive imported foods when they become common enough for the common folk.
Rice appears in European cookery books of the fourteenth century as a thickening agent. It was an essential ingredient of “blancmange” (“white food”), the distant ancestor of our rice pudding, as well as the insipid jellied milk pudding which we still call by the same name. Blancmange was originally a dish made from shredded chicken mixed with boiled rice, almonds, sugar and sometimes cream and eggs. Even when the chicken got left out, it remained exotic and interesting - for a while.
From Thomas Dawson's The Good Huswifes Jewell (1596)
To Make a Tart of Ryse
Boyle your rice, and put in the yolkes of two or three Egges into the Rice, and when it is boyled put it into a dish and season it with sugar, synamon and ginger, and butter, and the juice of two or three Orenges, and set it on the fire againe."
Gradually it was reduced to this, from Mrs Beeton’s Household Manual (1861) - the dish that the Carlton Club gentlemen squabbled over:
Plain and Economical; a nice Pudding for Children.
1 teacupful of rice, 2 tablespoonfuls of moist sugar, 1 quart of milk, ½ oz of butter or 2 small tablespoonsful of chopped suet, ½ teaspoonful of grated nutmeg.
Wash the rice, put it into a pie-dish with the sugar, pour in the milk, and stir these ingredients well together; then add the butter cut up into small pieces, or intead of this the above proportion of finely minced suet; grate a little of the nutmeg over the top, and bake in a moderate oven, from 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Tomorrow: The sailors’ feast.