In my last post, I mentioned my attempt to make a boudin di ricotta (below). It either went wrong, or this retro cheesecake just wasn’t to my taste. Either way, one thing the dish got me thinking about was the word budino, which can be translated as “pudding”.
As anyone who’s interested in food, or eating, or sausages, or dessert, knows, the meaning of the word pudding can be little complicated. Likewise budino.
English has the word pudding, French boudin, and Italian budino. Surely these are all related? It’s agreed that the latter words come from the Latin for gut or intestine, botellus, which relates to the modern Italian word budella. English etymological dictionaries, on the other hand, suggest that the word pudding may comes from old English and German words for swellings and lumps (puduc, puddek etc). Thankfully, other sources posit1 botellus as an alternative source too. The relationship seems too strong for the English word to not have the Latin root, surely?
Originally, pudding, budino and boudin all referred to much the same kind of product: sausages made with blood, meal, fat and animal bits (including ambergris, a sperm whale digestive byproduct), all stuffed into intestinal membrane and steamed or boiled.
This sense of the word still exists in the things like the Scottish haggis, or the British black pudding, its French cousin boudin noir, and even an Italian cousin called sanguinaccio 2 (from the Latin sanguis, blood). Interestingly, though, the latter straddles both the older sense of the savoury pudding, and the modern usage, which more commonly refers to desserts. Italy has various versions of sanguinaccio, running the spectrum from full savoury sausage, to a chocolate pudding traditionally thickened and flavoured with fresh pigs’ blood at the time of slaughter to a basic chocolate pudding like a mousse, with nary a pig byproduct.
Although in British English, the word pudding has become almost synonymous with dessert, for me (I’m English), it more specifically refers to dishes that have been steamed or boiled.
Again, in the Middle Ages, food, specifically the food of the rich, would blend what we now consider very different flavours: the savoury with the sweet, meat with spices, salt and sugar. British mincemeat (as in Christmas mince pies) originally took this form, for example.
When one strain of the pudding evolved into savoury sausages, other strains evolved into desserts. The meat in the dish would have been reduced to fat in the form of suet or lard, while the grain, fruit, sugar and spices might have stayed. The animal membrane was replaced with a cloth, then latter a ceramic bowl, though the pudding was still cooked by boiling or steaming.
This path of evolution gives us things like British Christmas pudding, schoolboys’ favourite spotted dick, bread-and-fruit summer pudding and other dishes where even the fruit and spice has evolved out, such as one personal fave, treacle sponge pudding. Strangely, the word’s usage narrowed down even further in North American English, where, as I understand it, pudding just refers to mousse or custard-like deserts.
The abovementioned treacle sponge pudding is basically just a steamed cake mixture made with golden syrup (a gingery version of mine can be found here). If an equivalent type of mix is instead baked, then served as a dessert, it’s still a called a pudding (in BE). It may be long way from stuffed intestine but it’s still a descendant. We also still have savoury puddings in Britain, where a pastry crust is filled with meat and/or vegetables and steamed or boiled in a ceramic pudding basin (eg this one made with venison).
So any time Anglophones from North America and the British Isles find themselves arguing about the meaning of the word pudding – something we’ve done with a Canadian friend – bear this wonderful, convoluted history in mind!
1 From Etymonline: pudding (n.) c.1300, “a kind of sausage: the stomach or one of the entrails of a pig, sheep, etc., stuffed with minced meat, suet, seasoning, boiled and kept till needed,” perhaps from a West Germanic stem *pud– “to swell” (cf. Old English puduc “a wen,” Westphalian dialect puddek “lump, pudding,” Low German pudde-wurst “black pudding,” English dialectal pod “belly;” also cf. pudgy).
Other possibility is the traditional one that it is from Old French boudin “sausage,” from Vulgar Latin botellinus, from Latin botellus “sausage” (change of French b– to English p– presents difficulties, but cf. purse). The modern sense had emerged by 1670, from extension to other foods boiled or steamed in a bag or sack (16c.). German pudding, French pouding, Swedish pudding, Irish putog are from English.
2 You can find recipes for various versions of sanguinnaccio online. There’s a more savoury one here (and pictured above). And while this one is made using sausage casings, it’s more a dessert. While this one (in Italian) is decidedly a dessert, made with neither sausages casings or even blood: so basically a chocolate mousse.