Historically, fall and winter are the best times to begin making rich and savory puddings filled with meat, nuts and fruits. But if this sounds nothing at all like the sweet puddings you’re used to eating now, that’s because what was once a form of meat preservation and dense cooking has now evolved into a dessert. Not only has the name evolved; puddings have gone through several different shapes and flavors to become what they’re commonly known as today.
Puddings have been around for a long time—long enough that Homer wrote about them in the Odyssey. The puddings he described weren't custard or spongy cakes, but instead were akin to blood-based sausages like black pudding (a sausage made from pork blood and oatmeal). These early puddings were mixtures of meat, blood and fat, along with a thickener like rice or bread, then stuffed into animal stomachs or intestines before being boiled. The natural casings were a resourceful way to hold food while utilizing as many parts of a butchered animal as possible.
Over time, other styles of puddings began to take form. With some ingenuity and the addition of spices, sugar and fruits or vegetables on hand, puddings began to resemble crust-less pot-pies. By the 1600s, a new invention called the pudding bag (or pudding cloth) spared queasy chefs the task of shoving savory dinner concoctions into animal-created containers. The pudding bag, made from thin pieces of fabric coated with flour, could hold onto ingredients during boiling, roasting or baking, and the ability to make puddings of all shapes and sizes was no longer dependent on an intestinal tube or stomach. And without the necessity of a meaty casing, the United Kingdom experienced a pudding frenzy that spawned a new generation of fruit-filled sweet puddings (like plum pudding). Specialty puddings began to crop up and were served only on special occasions, like murtatum, a myrtle berry-flavored funeral pudding.
Around the turn of the 19th century, puddings once again shifted course as most homes now had ovens. Instead of being boiled as was most common, puddings could now be regularly baked. A wave of pie-like puddings became popular, spawning tart-style puddings with creamy, custard-filled centers. Others like the spongy treacle pudding began to emerge and were served with cream and custard.
In 1837, Alfred Bird created the one of the first instant custards—called Bird’s Custard Powder—because of his wife’s egg allergy. Bird’s popular powder resembled modern-day puddings made with milk. Bird’s invention could be quickly used for custard puddings and likely helped link the term “pudding” to the notion of a smooth and buttery dessert option. By 1918, My-T-Fine instant pudding launched in the U.S. in chocolate and sweet flavors, further cementing pudding mixes as a stand-alone dessert without needing to be baked in a pie.
While puddings have had different forms, they remain a standard food around the globe and many are made without a box of instant mix in sight. If you’re looking for a warm or cool treat, consider these worldly puddings.
1. BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING // IRELAND
Bread and butter puddings are popular throughout all of the United Kingdom, but they are especially fitting for Ireland. Irish countrysides were perfect pastures for dairy cows, which helped Ireland become a top exporter of butter during the 1800s and 1900s. This classic pudding utilizes day-old bread, butter, milk and raisins to create a spongy dessert treat.
2. CAAKIRI PUDDING // CENTRAL AND WESTERN AFRICA
Caakiri pudding is popular among many countries in Africa, but is commonly attributed to Niger or Congo. This couscous-based pudding is easy to make with sour cream or yogurt because it relies on fermented dairy to deliver its unique taste. In some regions, caakiri pudding is also made with maize or millet.
3. CHRISTMAS PUDDING // GREAT BRITAIN
Also known as plum pudding, this British dessert is a cultural icon recorded into history by none other than Charles Dickens, who included it in A Christmas Carol at the Cratchit family meal. Early Christmas puddings date back to the 15th century when they were called "plum pottage," and featured meat, fruit and vegetables for an early dinner course. But, plum pottage took on the Christmas pudding name and tradition when it was supposedly banned by political figure Oliver Cromwell in 1647. But the alleged ban didn’t last, which is why Christmas pudding remains a treat you can legally make at home.
4. CASSAVA PUDDING // FIJI
Cassava pudding gets its flavor from the cassava fruit, which grows on bushy shrubs south of the equator. The pudding traces its history back to the colonization of Fiji, where European plantation owners tried to create inexpensive food for farm workers. Now, this pudding combines cassavas, banana leaves, cloves, and coconut for dessert.
5. RAS MALAI PUDDING // INDIA
In India, ras malai pudding takes a page from historical puddings by adding in baked cheese, though it's still considered a sweet, after-dinner treat. Ricotta cheese is mixed with flour to make a baked biscuit-like disk that’s covered in clotted cream and topped with spices and nuts.
6. PO'E PUDDING // TAHITI
While po’e was at one time wrapped in banana leaves (as opposed to pig’s intestines) before being cooked over a fire, you don’t have to work that hard to enjoy this banana-and-fruit pudding.
7. KUTIA // UKRAINE
This wheat berry and nut pudding is often served during the holidays in Ukraine and Poland. Kutia is considered a traditional Christmas Eve dessert, though the dish may have existed long before Christianity. On some occasions, this festive treat may also make an appearance at Easter (after being blessed).
8. BUDINO // ITALY
The Italian word for pudding is "budino," and this sweet dessert can come in many textures based on what it’s mixed with (often semolina, rice or ricotta). In some cases, budino is baked in decorative molds to get a firm shape and thick consistency. Mangia!