Monday, October 01, 2007

Pudding Season.

Today, October 1st ...

Many almanacs insist that October 1st is the “official start of the pudding season” in England. I have been completely unable to find anything authoritative on the “official” part of this phrase, but the time of year was indisputably (in the Northern hemisphere at any rate) when “puddings” in the original meaning of the word were made in earnest.

The OED has some difficulties with the etymology of the word, no doubt due to its antiquity. It is related to the French word “boudin” (say that with a terrible French accent and you get near enough to “pudding”), and originally it did mean “a stuffed entrail or sausage.” In other words, guts stuffed with meat. Eventually the word also came to apply to the “stuffing” itself, so that you could, for example, cook a nice little rabbit with a pudding in its belly for dinner. “Stuffing” of course is a great way to make a little rabbit go a lot further, and over time the starchy and fatty additives of flour and suet got a life of their own, resulting in “suet puddings”. Suet puddings can be “savoury” (steak and kidney) or “sweet” (jam roly-poly) for example. The sweet variety seems to have been more enduring than the savoury, and with even more time and more stretching of the concept, in England “pudding” came to be synonymous with “dessert”.

So why this time of year? It is (in the Northern hemisphere) harvest time, and in olden times before they could be over-wintered, all but the breeding stock was killed and the meat preserved. The traditional start was Michaelmas (29 September), so clearly by October 1st the butchering, salting, and sausage (pudding) making was well under-way.

This day is not to be confused with “Stir-Up Sunday”, which is, according to the Christian calendar, the last Sunday before Advent, and so called by the happy association of ideas biblical and culinary. It is the traditional day to stir-up your Christmas puddings, and this year falls on November 25th – so perhaps we will have more pudding fun on that day.

I had thought to give you one of the English sweet boiled or steamed puddings today – perhaps the alarmingly-named Spotted Dick – but suet puddings are nutritionally incorrect these days, and sometimes I do want to give you a recipe you might actually be tempted to make. The one I have chosen is a savoury pudding, suitable for those of you entering winter. It is suet-less, in spite of it coming from slap-bang in the middle of the suet-era, and instead has an unusual “batter” made from potatoes.

Mutton Pudding.
Season with salt, pepper, and a bit of onion ; lay one layer of steaks at the bottom of the dish, and pour a batter of potatoes boiled and pressed through a colander, and mixed with milk and an egg, over them ; then putting the rest of the steaks, and batter, bake it.
Batter with flour, instead of potatoes, eats well, but requires more egg, and is not so good.
[A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy; Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell (1824)]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Hotel Dressings.

Quotation for the Day …

There is nothing so awkward as courting a woman whilst she is making sausages. Laurence Sterne (1713)

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