British Puddings: Sweet Mercy

The British like a pudding. They like it smothered in custard or cream or just plain. Not just after a main course either. There are a plethora of fantastic British puddings or desserts from all corners of the Kingdom. But first it is necessary to understand a little about the culture and language around British food.

The English language has some kind of ‘glitch in the matrix’ when it comes to descriptions of food and mealtimes. It starts easy, breakfast is breakfast but by lunch, which can be dinner the confusion begins.

Come early evening things get really tricky. Tea is not only an early evening meal but also the enormously popular hot beverage, which just to skew matters a little, is unlikely to ever be served at teatime. Dinner and supper can also mean tea but not from a cup. At the end of dinner, supper or tea there’ll likely be a sweet course. This can be called dessert. It can also be called pudding but for pudding you may or may not be served a pudding. A pudding being generally a steamy, stodgy, sweet mess of a dish and dessert meaning any sweet course at the end of the meal. Also just to add to the melee there are savoury puddings, which would definitely not be served as a dessert but may appear at breakfast, lunch or tea.

Got it? No, no real surprise. The English language around mealtime and food is as confusing to a non-native as ‘where, ware and we’re’ or ‘there, their and they’re”. To avoid confusion here, we’ll stick to the following dictionary definition.

Pudding: noun
a cooked or cold sweet dish served after the main course of a meal: dessert

Some absolute favourites:

Heavy and Sticky

Jam roly poly:
With it roots in the pantry cooking idiom of the early 19th century Jam roly poly is essentially a sweet suet pudding laid flat with a rolling pin then spread with a generous layer of strawberry jam and rolled up presenting a sweet gooey swirl at either end. Then steamed or baked and served warm with cream or custard. It’s a heavy stodgy dessert, just right for grey, wet winter days. Like many puddings Jam Roly Poly
will appear temptingly in any good gastro pub that professes an English menu.

Spotted Dick:
Another 19th century suet based dish designed to use pantry ingredients. This time the suet is joined by a generous helping of currants or other dried fruit, rolled into circular pie shape and again steamed or baked. Its obligatory partner is custard. Ladles of sweet pouring custard smothering the steaming pudding like molten lava on a satisfyingly dense volcano.

Sweet and fruity

Eton Mess
Eton College is world-famous as one of Old England’ finest educational establishments. It has in its near 600 year history educated future, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, Kings and Generals. Perhaps as an atonement for this it has also presented the world with a delightful English pudding, The Eton Mess. A wonderful mix of strawberries or other fresh fruit, meringue and whipped cream best served on a warm summers day with the occasional thwack of willow on leather and polite
applause in the backdrop.

Apple Crumble
Take a bag of juicy Kentish apples slice them, smother them in a breadcrumb like mix of suet or butter, sugar and flour and then bake.
There are as many variations on this theme as there are kitchens in Britain and at its core the British Apple Crumble is a home-comfort food to be imbibed at a familiar kitchen table with a jug of custard. Apple crumbles more tart cousin is Rhubarb crumble, the stewed rhubarb complimenting perfectly he sugary crunchy sweetness of the crumble.

Cakes and pies

Eccles cakes
Originating from the northern English town of Eccles the Eccles cake is a crumbly flaky pie-like butter pastry. Filled with currants and topped with Demerara sugar it is something of a staple in many bakeries up and down the country.

Mince pies
A hand-held winter favourite that don’t actually contain minced meat per se but instead a sweet concoction of chopped fruit, spices, suet and a little alcohol, rum or brandy named misleadingly mincemeat.

Puddings: Steaming and glorious

Rice Pudding
A bowl of steaming rice pudding often with a generous dollop of jam is a ‘school dinners’ favourite. It is white rice boiled swollen and creamy in milk and sugar. Not necessarily an entirely British dish there are examples of the same method of sweet rice from Europe, Africa and Asia. That many cooks can’t be wrong.

Chocolate Pudding
Cocoa powder, flour, eggs and sugar steamed in to a dense hunk of a chocolate sponge. Invariably served with a lubricating smooth custard or chocolate sauce to ease the digestion. Homemade chocolate puddings are not so common as every corner store has a tinned version temptingly on a shelf for those not guilty about such an indulgence.