The origins of the Great British Pudding are of animal guts stuffed with a filling of minced meats, blood, bread, grain, oats, fruits and spices. They were mainly a sweet-savoury concoction that served as a meal in itself. More like sausages, e.g. Black Pudding, Haggis or Clootie Dumpling they were portable and filling and could be taken into the fields by farmhands or on long and arduous journeys from town to town, or farm to market. But intestines, unless one knew a farmer or slaughter-man, were not always readily at hand.
The relatively simple discovery of the pudding cloth – first recorded in the early 17th Century – changed all that.
From humble beginnings, ever more complex flavours were developed and the sweet gradually sundered from the savoury. From this process evolved the steak-and-kidney pudding and the plum (or Christmas) pudding as we know them today.
Simple rules were established by cooks concerning the importance of a clean, well rinsed (soap free) cloth, that bread based puddings were loosely tied, that batter based ones tightly tied, that the water was boiling during cooking and that the pudding was to be moved around occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the sides of the pot.
From the early seventeenth, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the British pudding could be found, boiling away in its pot on the back of the stove, swelling wholesomely in its floured muslin, to await the cold and the hungry.
In the latter half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries forms and moulds began to replace the floured cloth, though the whole would still be wrapped in muslin before boiling.
The recipes, reproduced here from the cookbook, are the result of centuries of refining and improvement, but are all directly descended from what has turned out to have been ‘a damned good idea’