Today, pudding, in the United States, is firmly associated with sweetness and dessert. However, in Early America, the forms and tastes of pudding were much more wide-ranging. Most readers will define puddings as a milk-based dessert with a custard-like consistency, something like the puddings pictured in the 1950s advertisement for Jell-well pudding below. The earliest puddings and food historians agree puddings are very ancient, were similar to sausages. The English word pudding reflects this origin, deriving from the French “boudin” and the Latin “botellus” meaning a small sausage. The ancestors of the most recognized pudding, the plum or Christmas pudding served during the holidays, were savory dishes concocted from meat and other ingredients, moistened, encased, and steamed or boiled. Present day examples include black pudding and haggis.
Mary Randolph’s Chicken Pudding is an example of the simple, even rustic, recipes that dominated early American cooking. Boiled meats, baked or boiled puddings, a variety of pies, baked fish, and fresh bread would provide wholesome and filling family meals. A dish like Randolph’s Chicken Pudding was a simple, easy dish for early American cooks. Housewives could simmer the chicken and bake the pudding while completing other tasks around their homes. Unlike other recipes, the hands-on time to prepare this dish is relatively limited. Perhaps this Chicken Pudding was a favorite of Virginians for its ease of preparation?
Randolph advises serving the pudding with a “nice white gravy.” As this dish is rather bland, the fresh thyme and parsley do little to flavor the boiled chicken, and the only spices included in the pudding batter are salt and pepper, some sort of seasoning at the table is essential. Since Randolph does not provide a white gravy recipe (instructions for a brown gravy are provided), the cook would need to pull from their repertoire for the accompanying sauce. The final result is somewhat reminiscent of the British favorite, Toad-in-the-hole, with chicken instead of sausage and a different texture for the pudding. Contrasted with the lightness of a Yorkshire pudding, the lack of eggs in this pudding makes for a stodgier bake. However, the butter and milk add richness and flavor. We found it to be an enjoyable dish, but not one we’re adding to our list of favorites.
Chicken Pudding, A Favourite Virginia Dish
Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 85.
Adapted by RA Snell
- One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 parts (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings), excluding the back
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 ¼ cup flour
- Salt & pepper
1. Boil chicken pieces with salt and thyme until nearly cooked through, 30-25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a deep dish with butter or cooking spray and add the chicken. Randolph likely left her chicken piece intact, I opted to remove the chicken from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.
3. Prepare the pudding batter: beat three eggs until very light. Add milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add flour and whisk to make a thin batter.
4. Bake for 70 minutes or until pudding is cooked through and golden brown.
Yield: 5-6 servings