A frivolous subject, but after having enjoyed one specially made for me, I feel inspired to celebrate the demise of what I, in my culinary ignorance, considered to be normal. I thought that most families who could afford it had a two-course meal once a day. Something savoury followed by fruit or something sweet if the person cooking felt inspired. I’ve asked my friends of every generation and the answer is, ‘Only if we have guests’.
This has led to some discoveries. The pudding seems to be largely an invention of the West, and more prevalent, historically, in the northern countries. I’m reading Mill on the Floss and find Mrs Tulliver worrying over her son Tom. If, as Mr Tulliver wishes, Tom is sent away to board with a vicar and receive some education, he might be deprived of his puddings – perish the thought! Mind you, Mrs Tulliver had a cook and a maid.
What an influence mothers have! I assumed everyone prepared puddings once a day because my mother did, like my grandmother. She had a cook and her eleven children never went without pudding, even though grandfather, a great inventor according to family legend, had a fondness for the bottle and often lacked money. Debts accumulated, but not directly because of the luxury of the puddings!
While I continue to plan puddings, this is not the case in my son’s family. My daughter-in-law kindly produces some ice cream when welcoming us for a meal, but her mother came from Iran, and there are no puddings there. I imagine that, after a meal, they pass round those sharply sweet concoctions, rather like large and elaborate sweets.
When John was working at Sotheby’s it was decreed he should join a London club. He chose the Travellers’ Club, not to my liking as it was one of those still male only. Indeed, in the dining-room there was an oval table at the centre entirely occupied by elderly males, starched white napkins tucked under their chins, delighting themselves with such childhood delights as ‘spotted dick’, junket, suet pudding, treacle pudding and bread-and-butter pudding.
I got into trouble with the latter. On one study tour I organised’, I announced the evening menu and told them I had avoided the dreaded bread-and-butter pudding. All the males in the coach, to my surprise, protested loudly, joined even by a few female voices. I had to repent and restore it as a choice. Junket I quite liked, but that has disappeared, unless it is ‘panna cotta’, but I doubt it. Suet pudding was my pet hate. In the days of rationing and shortages, the meals at school consisted of so-called meat with a few lines of lean in the fat, and suet laden puddings which I just couldn’t swallow. I went to many schools, and this one was a convent. We had to eat everything that was put on our plates because of all those children starving in other parts of the world – I strived to find a logical connection and just wished to send them all this congealing mass in front of me. The prefect at the head of the table served me with a large portion when I asked for a small one, so I was left behind while the lay sisters were clearing away. I sometimes stuffed it into my gymslip pocked and then emptied it out behind a hedge in the playground until one of the sisters took pity on me. She came close with the serving dish carrying the remains of the suet pudding, so I could shift the piece on my plate back on to it. What a relief!
We’re talking about puddings, not desserts. Nancy Mitford in her You and Non-You pushed ‘dessert’ aside, along with ‘serviettes’ and ‘toilet’, as ‘non-you’, while ‘pudding’, ‘table napkin’ and ‘W.C.’ were definitely ‘you’!
The demise of the pudding will deprive future generations of some of the best slapstick humour. Can one hurl a beef steak or even a plate of pasta with a similar effect as a creamy pudding to plaster someone’s face? Hardly.