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Puddings conjure up a myriad of concoctions. For many of us born in the later half of 20th century America, the first pudding that probably comes to mind is the one that comes powdered in a box to which you add milk and cook until it's thick. But this is a pale suggestion of the puddings that have graced the past of our ancestors.
Although many of the names for specific puddings are old English ones, the word "pudding" itself is probably an Anglicized version of an old French word, "boudin," which meant sausage. (Some old European words have traveled across the Atlantic and never changed. Boudin is still the name for a kind of sausage that you'll find in Cajun Louisiana). "Sausage" somehow doesn't seem to translate into pudding. But the first puddings, mixtures of bread or flour, eggs, milk, suet and flavorings, were stuffed into animal casings (just as Cajun and other sausage still is) and then set into boiling water to cook. These were materials, ingredients and methods that everyone had access to in the days of yore. The puddings themselves, full of carbohydrates and fat, were designed to provide a hard working populace with a lot of energy .
As the pudding evolved, the animal casing was replaced by the pudding cloth which was used up until the last century. In 19th century cookbooks you'll find tips for making a successful "bag pudding" that include flouring the pudding cloth completely after you've wet it so the pudding won't stick to it as it cooks; allowing enough room when you tie it into a bag for the pudding to expand as it cooks; keeping the bag from touching the bottom of the pot it's cooking in so it doesn't stick to the pan; keeping the water from seeping into the bag at the top where it's tied shut, and turning it occasionally so it doesn't develop a peculiar shape. Oddly shaped bag puddings were probably the first "Slumps." Lots of little things to worry about when embarking upon pudding making.
Sometime in the mid-19th century the pudding cloth or bag gave way to the pudding steamer, a fancy tin-plated mold, which made the whole process of pudding making much easier. It also enabled the pudding maker to create something that no longer slumped and was actually quite elegant. As ingredients became more diverse and plentiful, the adventurous pudding maker began to create tastier and more interesting concoctions. "Duff, " by the way, is a phonetic spelling of the word "dough" as the English pronounced it 200 and more years ago, just as we today pronounce "tough" as "tuff" rather than "toe."
The following recipe is typical of a pudding that was made "down East" in the late summer days of early New England. This version is made with whole wheat flour which old timers were apt to use; it is full of wild Maine blueberries which have ripened on the scrub lands of Maine for time immemorial; and it's sweetened with those old-fashioned sweeteners, brown sugar and molasses. Because our energy needs have diminished somewhat in this century, we've made this version without suet or fat of any kind so it will fill you up without filling you out. By the way, going "down East" was a term coined by sailors who were sailing before the prevailing east wind (down wind) along the coast of Maine, which runs east/west, not north/south as a quick glance at a map might make you think.
2 cups King Arthur Traditional Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger (or cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, a blend, etc.)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar (or for a lighter taste, use 1 cup brown sugar and no molasses)
1/2 cup dark, unsulphured molasses
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups wild Maine blueberries (or blackberries or raspberries, etc.)
Mix the flours, baking powder, soda, salt and spice(s) together. In another bowl, beat the eggs and add and beat in the brown sugar, molasses and buttermilk. Stir the blueberries into the dry ingredients and mix these quickly into the egg/molasses/buttermilk mixture.
Pour the batter into a greased 2-quart pudding mold (it should fill it about two-thirds full). Secure the lid and place it in a kettle or saucepan that is tall enough so you can put a lid on it. It's important to put something on the bottom of the pan so the steamer isn't directly in contact with it ('a la the bag pudding). Crinkled tin foil or a vegetable steamer will do.
Fill the pot with boiling water about two-thirds of the way up the pudding mold. Cover, bring the water back to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Steam for about 2 hours, adding water if necessary.
After the pudding is done, remove it from the water and let it stand for a few minutes. If it seems to be sticking anywhere, loosen it gently with a knife. Then take a serving plate, upend it over the mold, and turn the pudding out, giving the mold a tap if it's reluctant to let go.
This pudding makes a delicious (and healthy) dessert or snack as is, but you can dress is up by spooning a bit of yogurt sweetened with a little maple syrup over it when you serve it.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 8, August 1991 issue.