Proving My Pudding

· 1 October 2019 ·

[Eponymity on a plate]

Shake-Speare appears only briefly today. Falstaff is mentioned, Iago is quoted. The rest is a frivolous commemoration of the blog’s fourth birthday. The pudding is legit.

While wandering in the Antipodes, I randomly ran into this.

Traralgon Record, Victoria, Australia
20 March 1930, page 6

About halfway down the fifth column:
recipe for Vere PuddingVere Pudding was one of This Week’s Dried Fruits Recipes, Series No. 42, as tested by the Victorian Dried Fruits’ Board and recommended for housewives to try.

When you unexpectedly unearth a ninety-or-more-year-old recipe that’s named with your name, your first thought is to wonder whether there’s any connection. Your second is to wonder whether it’s any good.

Poking the search engines, the first result was at House of Vere [fair warning, that homepage is… something]. The same recipe, with no attribution. Next was Crispy Bread Pudding on the menu at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento, California. Handsome establishment, but not helpful. The Victorian Dried Fruits Board put their recipe into the Melbourne Age in 1931, but that didn’t count. Then it was back to the Record, closing the circle with a total lack of success.

The book Great British Puddings contains a Forgotten Puddings chapter whose introduction teases “Some British puddings can be traced back as far as the 15th century.” Not this one, it seems. There’s Oxford Pudding, with no description. Earldom? University? Shire? The recipe is entirely different, anyway.

The Great British Puddings website (not related to the book) has a Historic Puddings section and a goodly number of old recipes, but no Vere Pudding.

A 1970 Calendar Of Puddings turned up on eBay, compiled by the South Australian Country Women’s Association, with De Vere Pudding (No Eggs) in its contents. So is this an Australian thing? What happened to the eggs? Alas, the listing was closed, the book sold. A frustrating dead end.

Could an ur-pudding have antedated the rise of chemical leavening in the 1800s? Did members of my family emigrate, voluntarily or otherwise? Perhaps someone simply borrowed the name. Answerless, I abandoned my quest. I’m a poet, not a culinary historian.

Even so, for a taste of Vereless culinary history dating back to my era, here is The Good Huswifes Jewell, from Thomas Dawson in 1585. Books aimed at female readers were a new phenomenon, as the growth of printing encouraged wider literacy and access. Earlier ‘receipt bokes’ had typically been compiled in manuscript over time by the lady of the house, often the only woman present who could read and write.

How to keepe Larde after my Lady Westone Brownes way: Flea the fat Lard from the flesh, and put it in bay salt, ye must cast a good deal uppon it, and even so salt it, and roule it together round, and so put it in a heap of salt, and when ye will occupie any of it, cut of it as yee need, and lay it in water, and so ye may keepe it as long as ye will.

Eighty-five years later, Hannah Wolley’s recipe for Quaking Pudding read like this:

Take Grated Bread, a little Flower, Sugar, Salt, beaten Spice, and store of Eggs well beaten, mix these well, and beat them together, then dip a clean Cloth in hot water, and flower it over, and let one hold it at the four corners till you put it in, so tie it up hard, and let your Water boil when you put it in, then boil it for one hour, and serve it in with Sack, Sugar and Butter.

Bibliographic studies have neglected the fact that early cookery-book authors were restricted to one sentence per recipe. The Stationers’ Company could grant exemptions, but rarely did. Violators paid heavy fines, and repeat offenders were arrested, dragged through London on hurdles, then hung at Tyburn. This draconian policy, hard as it was on writers and readers/cooks, relieved pressure on developing domestic punctuation husbandry during frequent shortfalls in full stop crops in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Typesetters were thereby spared the tedious task of filing the tails from surplus commas, whose harvest yields were higher and less prone to fluctuation. Expensive Flemish semicolons and colons were imported through the Antwerp and Amsterdam exchanges, increasing book prices until late in the reign of Queen Anne, when improved English full-stop farming methods finally kept up with demand.

Wolley’s recipe for cough syrup in her 1675 edition of The Queen-Like Closet (no exemption granted here) contains an exemplary but potentially painful instance of ambiguous medial ſ typography.

William Camden, in the Proverbes section of his 1623 edition of Remaines, concerning Britaine: but especially England, [etc] (see Sources), wrote:
All the proofe of a pudding, is in the eating.

The idea behind it is older, but Camden set down the expression that stuck. The modern phrase is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. National Public Radio (US) addressed its metamorphosis into the proof is in the pudding in a segment aired on Morning Edition in 2012. They also explained that puddings were not originally sweets served at meal’s end, nor starch-thickened custards.

The Origin Of ‘Proof Is In The Pudding’
NPR Morning Edition, 24 Aug 2012 – 01:38

  • pudding (noun)
  • circa 1300, a kind of sausage: the stomach or entrails of a pig, sheep, etc, stuffed with minced meat, suet, and seasonings, then boiled and kept till needed; perhaps from the West Germanic stem pud, ‘to swell’

In my plays I used pudding only a few times, most often in the sense of a tightly stuffed sausage, or as a metaphor for a great full belly – Jack Falstaff’s, on a couple of occasions. Iago spits it with sarcastic disdain at Roderigo in Othello, Act 2, Scene 1.

Blessed fig’s end. Blessed pudding. Blessed my eye. Pull the other one.

As for my second wondering thought about the recipe, Camden’s proverb applies. Only one way to find out. My cook chose to double the quantities to make a larger pudding, and the instructions have been improved. You’ll have to do your own metric or volume conversions. Old recipe, old units.

Edward de Vere Pudding

  • • 12 oz all-purpose flour, sifted
  • • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • • 8 oz total fat: softened butter, shortening, lard, or combination
  • • 6 oz white sugar
  • • 2 large eggs
  • • 6 Tbsp milk (whole is best, or even single cream)
  • • 2 Tbsp fruit jam or preserves
  • • 6 oz total: raisins, sultanas (golden raisins), or dried currants, or combination
  • • pinch or two of salt
  • 1. Cream the fat and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Electric mixers are anachronistic, use a wooden spoon and your elbow.
  • 2. Add the eggs one at a time, then the milk, mixing each addition well.
  • 3. Stir the bicarbonate and salt into the sifted flour, then add to the wet mix. Combine well with a rubber spatula.
  • 4. Add the jam and raisins, blending just until evenly distributed.
  • 5. Transfer mixture to a greased basin or mold. Cover and steam for 1½ hours, per the video (or instructions here).

  • • 8-10 servings
  • • PDF recipe (Happy Birthday): [A4] [Letter]

With apologies to Camden, the proof of the pudding is in the rave reviews. If it wasn’t mine before, it is now.

  • Sources and Additional Reading
  • Vere Pudding (Steamed.)
  • · National Library of Australia []
  • · Traralgon Record (Traralgon, Victoria, 1886–1932)
  • · 20 March 1930, page 6
  • · Melbourne Age (Melbourne, Victoria, 1854–1954)
  • · 31 March 1931, page 4
  • Gode Cookery []
  • · This extensive medieval and Renaissance cooking site mentioned no Vere Pudding, however this page has a large zipfile (521 MB) containing a treasury of 16th and 17th century cookery books and other related articles, all in PDFs. The Manuscripts folder in the zipfile has copies of Dawson, Wolley, and many others.