By the Regency, hasty pudding was not as widely popular as it had been in previous centuries. Nevertheless, it was still enjoyed by many people as comfort food or a special treat during our favorite period. It depended upon where one lived which ingredients were used to make it, but it was usually prepared in much the same way, regardless of the location in which it was made. One of the best things about this particular dish was the speed, or haste, with which it could be made, something which could not be said of any other pudding during the Regency.
Hasty pudding through the Regency . . .
The earliest puddings were actually what most of us today would call sausages. However, by the Middle Ages, the term was also used for boiled, baked and steamed mixtures of milk, eggs and flour, many of which were seasoned and/or sweetened before or after cooking. One of the distinguishing features of most of these puddings was that they required a great deal of time and effort to prepare. In many instances, some, or all, of the ingredients had to be left to soak for several hours, often overnight. Then, most of them had to be cooked by boiling, steaming or baking in a specially prepared pudding cloth for several hours, before being left to cool for at least a half hour before serving. Other puddings took even longer, as they had to be hung in the pudding cloth in a cool dark place to cure for several days before they were considered fit to eat. Therefore, it was not possible to cook and serve any of these puddings on short notice. Such was not the case with hasty pudding. If the ingredients were available, one could be cooked in an ordinary saucepan and served within an hour or less.
There are varying opinions regarding when hasty pudding was first enjoyed in Britain. According to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the name was first used in writing in 1599, but many food scholars believe that puddings of that type were being made in Britain as early as the late Middle Ages, regardless of what they were called. In its basic form, a hasty pudding is a mixture of fluid and flour or meal made from cereal grains which is boiled until it is thick and fairly smooth. It could usually be prepared and be ready to serve within an hour, which is why it acquired the name hasty pudding. In some areas, hasty puddings were also known as hurry puddings or stir-about puddings. There was no need to spend hours preparing any of the ingredients, then cook for several more hours and spend days to cure a hasty pudding. It could be made and served hastily, with simple ingredients and simple kitchen equipment. In its time, a hasty pudding was a form of nourishing fast food, since it could be prepared and served so quickly and provided a warm, tasty and filling meal.
In England, hasty puddings were usually made with milk and crushed or ground wheat flour, boiled in a pot over a hot fire with constant stirring until the mixture was thick. Up to the eighteenth century, hasty puddings in England might also be made with the addition of beaten whole eggs, or egg yolks. By the early nineteenth century, eggs were less likely to be included in the ingredients for hasty puddings, and those puddings which were made with eggs were usually given different names altogether. Once the hasty pudding was thick, it was usually sweetened by the addition of sugar, honey or molasses. Often spices were also blended in and the finished pudding was usually topped with few pats of butter. Right through the Regency, rosewater remained a very popular flavoring for hasty puddings in England, as was orange flower water, though to a somewhat lesser degree. The most popular spices included cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and ginger.
In her book, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse included some recipes for hasty pudding. To make a "flour hasty-pudding," she instructs the cook to add four bay leaves to a quart of milk and set it on the stove to boil. The yolks of two eggs were to be beaten with some salt and then a few spoonfuls of milk, after which the egg mixture was to be added to the pan with the heated milk. Once the milk was heated, the bay leaves were to be removed and the wheat flour was to be blended in gradually. Then the mixture was to be stirred constantly over the heat until it was thick. After it was removed from the heat, the hasty pudding was to be poured into a serving dish, ready for the table. Glasse suggested that the surface of the pudding should be dotted with small pieces of butter, which she wrote " . . . makes it eat short and fine." She wrote that the eggs could be omitted, if they are not wanted, but noted that they were a great addition to the pudding.
In Scotland, and in some parts of northern of England, hasty puddings were generally made with oatmeal, sometimes with the addition of barley. Though hasty puddings in most of England were nearly always made with milk, in Scotland, they were usually made with water. The oatmeal, and barley, if used, were boiled together in lightly salted water until the mixture was thick and relatively smooth. The pudding was then poured into a serving dish and, as in England, was typically topped with butter. It was the practice in Scotland to then pour wine or ale mixed with sugar over the finished pudding. In some areas, instead of alcoholic beverages, milk or cream was mixed with sugar and poured over the finished hasty pudding. In The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse also included a recipe for making an "oatmeal hasty-pudding." She advised her readers that these hasty puddings were " . . . best made with Scotch oatmeal."
Hasty pudding recipes traveled with the Pilgrims and other British immigrants to the new world in the early seventeenth century. However, when they arrived at their destination, there was no wheat, barley or oatmeal available there in the early years. The British immigrants had to make do with the native maize, also known as corn. Cornmeal, that is, ground corn or maize, was boiled in water or milk until the mixture was thick and smooth. In America, this dish came to be known as Indian pudding, since the corn used to make it was originally a crop cultivated by the native residents of the region. Originally, it was common practice to serve the Indian pudding at the beginning of the meal, to take the edge off the diners’ appetites and thereby reduce the consumption of the more expensive meat dishes which came after. Indian puddings were sometimes sweetened with molasses, honey or maple syrup, until the eighteenth century, when refined sugar became more readily available. It was during that same century that sweetened Indian puddings gradually became a dessert rather than the first course of most meals. Various spices and other seasonings may have been mixed into an Indian pudding to give it added flavor, depending on the preferences of those to whom it would be served. This version of hasty pudding has survived from Pilgrim times into the twenty-first century. Here in the United States, yesterday was Thanksgiving, and Indian pudding is a regular dish on many tables on that holiday.
In Regency Britain, hasty pudding was no longer a popular or fashionable dish and it was not generally served at formal meals, particularly those which included important guests. However, hasty puddings were still made as a quick and palatable meal for someone who was not feeling well or for children in the nursery. Even in a great house, the cook might stir up a hasty pudding when someone was in need of a warm and nourishing dish outside of the daily meal schedule. Despite their diminished popularity, hasty puddings were still a staple in the homes of the lower classes. There, they were served as a tasty dessert or as a quick and comforting meal since the necessary ingredients were generally available. In some households, the woman of the house might prepare a hasty pudding as the main dish for a meal on a day in which she had heavy responsibilities, such as washing clothing, making soap, or a strenuous round of spring cleaning. Hasty puddings in Regency England were typically made with milk and wheat flour, while hasty puddings in Regency Scotland were usually made with oatmeal, and maybe some barley, boiled in salted water. Similar puddings in America were made with cornmeal and milk or water, but were called Indian pudding, rather than hasty pudding. There is information that raisins, currants and other dried fruits were sometimes added to English and Scottish hasty puddings, as well as Indian puddings in America. One cookbook author stated that one should make a hasty pudding using the ingredients which "suited their purse." By the Victorian period, hasty pudding had all but disappeared in Britain. Recipes for hasty puddings were no longer included in the cookbooks which were published in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, other stirred puddings became popular during that time, such as those made with tapioca, sago, or semolina.
Dear Regency Authors, might you allow one of your characters in an upcoming novel to make, and/or eat, a hasty pudding? Perhaps an eloping couple take shelter in a crofter’s cottage while on their way to Gretna Green. Will one of them find some oatmeal, salt, wine and sugar and realize they have the makings of a hasty pudding, Scottish-style? Mayhap the heroine, working as a governess, makes a hasty pudding for her charges, since the cook is feeling ill and the family is dining out for the evening. How will the hero view her care for his younger siblings? Might he decide to join the party in the nursery that evening? Of course, the hero, recovering from a carriage accident in the home of the heroine, perhaps the vicarage, might pitch a fit at being given hasty pudding to eat, disdaining it as nothing but a paltry milk pudding. Will she have the determination and persuasive skill to convince him to eat it anyway? Are there other ways in which a batch of hasty pudding might nourish a budding Regency romance?