17 Nov The Rise of Rice Pudding, a History and a 14th-century recipe
11 april 2016, I was asked to come on the BBC One Breakfast television program to talk about the history of rice pudding in light of the sudden craze for rice pudding – I know a thing or two about pudding having written Pride and Pudding, a whole book about pudding. But now in November 2022 British supermarkets are noticing a surge in sales again! So how has rice pudding got itself back on our menu’s and in our hearts?
Rice pudding has its own restaurant in Manhattan, New York dedicated to rice pudding – called ‘Rice to Riches’. The BBC journalist contacting me told me that Waitrose executive chef, Jonathan Moore, said that after visiting Manhattan’s rice pudding-only shop recently, Jason Atherton’s Michelan star restaurant, Pollen Street Social, and Berner’s Tavern in London have both re-invented the classic dessert. He also said sweet, savoury and embellished versions are becoming more ‘extreme’, with options at The Rice Cream Shoppe in Greenwich Village including gluten-free and vegan versions. Waitrose also reported that sales of rice pudding have risen by 8% year on year.
I’m sure that in this modern day and age with dishes that look like works of art, we are all craving for something real and honest. Something which just isn’t pretending to be more than it is. Something so humble it conjures up memories of your nan, your mum or the auntie who made it, especially when you were visiting. I have faint memories of my mum making rice pudding and I can remember the impatience for it to cool off and develop that glorious yellow skin which was really, the best part of the pud.
Rice pudding is also easy to make, and not at all very unhealthy if you don’t drop in half a ton of sugar. Jackie Kearney – Masterchef finalist – was also on the show with me and she brought in some puddings for us to try. A delicious vegan one (check out her book Vegan Street Food btw) with spices which I wanted to finish there and then – only I was on live TV so had to politely give it back!! Then one with passion fruit and a traditional baked one with a big skin which just made Jon Kay, the presenter cringe. He does not like a skin on a pudding, he does not know what is good I say!
But has rice pudding always been a humble dish, a pudding for all, a dish so plain we nearly forgot about it?
Rice pudding started its life in the kitchens of Kings and Queens. Rice was an expensive import so it would have been only for the elite. The first ones were pottages, which you can more link to a side dish or something more like a risotto than a dessert pudding (see what I did there, ‘dessert pudding’, cos not all puddings are sweet!!!) like we know it today. The Forme of Cury (1390) – the earliest surviving collection of recipes in England – gives a recipe for a rice pottage, and one for Ryse of Flesh. The Rice of Flesh is savoury and made with broth, almond milk and saffron, while the rice pottage is what would become the modern-day rice pudding and the recipe just omits the salt and broth, using water instead to cook the rice the first time.
Sugar isn’t added in The Forme of Cury; for a sweetened rice pudding we have to wait until the 15th-century Austin manuscripts, which include a pudding sweetened with honey and sugar. John Murell (A Newe Booke of Cookery) in 1615 adds eggs, suet, currants, cinnamon, sugar and barberries and stuffs the rice pudding into sausage skins, like a white pudding. In 1660, Robert May (The Accomplisht Cook) adds eggs, beef suet, salt, nutmeg, cloves, mace, currants, dates and powdered coriander seeds.
Unlike a modern rice pudding, these recipes uses suet as in most boiled puddings. As we can use arborio or pudding rice today, we don’t need to steep the rice overnight. I find arborio rice has a better result if you’re going to stuff the pudding into sausage skins. If you are making this as a regular rice pudding without using sausage skins, you may use pudding rice, and use a knob of butter instead of the suet. When made in sausage skins the puddings were usually roasted or fried before serving which really is very good. Also, I think it’s a laugh to serve people their dessert pudding in a sausage shape.
Take Ryse and waishe hem clene. And do hem in erthen pot with gode broth and lat hem seeþ wel. Afterward take Almaund mylke and do þer to. And colour it wiþ safroun an salt, an messe forth.
The Forme of Cury, ed. Samual Pegge, c.1390
14th century rice pudding
- 120g short-grain rice, such as arborio
- 500ml beef broth
- 500ml almond milk
- A few saffron strands
Put the rice and broth in a deep saucepan and heat gently. Stir well and bring to the boil. Simmer and stir often so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
When the liquid is almost completely absorbed, after about 15 minutes, add the almond milk and saffron. Stir well, then simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every now and then until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked and thick. Spoon the cooked rice pudding into a serving dish.
Recipe from my book Pride and Pudding, published by Murdoch Books in English, Guido Tomassi in Italian, Carrera in Dutch