M: The proof is in the pudding. I mentioned to someone that I made this recipe, and when asked how it was I threw out this hackneyed response. It got the shrug it deserved and I went on to talk about the merits of this superb cousin to one of my favorites, corn pudding. More on that in a second. As I considered the phrase later, I had to wonder what that even means. It is understood as shorthand for judging something by the final result, but in itself it doesn’t really make a ton of sense. As it turns out, the expression has been beaten around so thoroughly over time that it bears just a glancing resemblance to its origin. It began as “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. But still. Why pudding?
Pudding has referred to many things over the years, all more or less holding to the idea of a food reliant on binding agents. And it goes back a good long time. Today, the first thought when pudding is mentioned is something sweet and generally akin to custard. Chocolate, banana, butterscotch, what have you. But go back a few hundred years and you’re looking at a melange of meats, spices and filler, usually bound in a vessel of some sort before being boiled. Think blood pudding or haggis. Sometime in the 1700′s sponge puddings like Yorkshire pudding were in vogue. Although sweet custard (that is, egg-based) puddings have been around since the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until the 1800′s when it regained popularity in England and spread to America, where it became what we most commonly think of as pudding today.
Now back to that proverb. The proverb dates back to the 14th century and became used more commonly after the expression appeared in Don Quixote in 1605. At that time, pudding was still most commonly thought of as that dubious blend of whatever meat was on hand, blood, fillers and plenty of spices that sometimes masked the smell of perhaps less than fresh ingredients. A risky proposition. Fit to eat? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Yeah. Yuck.
Now that I’ve managed to creep you out with tales of pudding (who’d have guessed), let me tell you how much I like this recipe for caramelized onion pudding. So many recipes start with the onion. It seems like every soup I come across starts with a little sautéed onion, but it doesn’t often get the privilege of such prominence as it sees here. This works on any plate where one might usually see starchy sides like potatoes, stuffing or the aforementioned corn pudding. Raw or slightly cooked onion can bring a welcome bite to many a recipe, but a long sauté breaks down those sugar molecules, transforming it into a sweet, mellow superstar. Stir that into a simple soufflé and you get this light, spongy and sweet side that steps a little off the path of familiarity, but qualifies as comfort food without question. Still not sure? Give this one a try. The proof is… well, you get the idea.
Recipe: Caramelized Onion Pudding
Summary: Onions cooked to sweet perfection take center stage in this uncommon, but uncommonly good “comfort” side dish. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.
- 1/4 Lb (one stick) Butter
- 6 c Yellow Onions (about 4 medium), halved and sliced thin
- 6 Large Eggs
- 4 T Sugar
- 2 tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Baking Powder
- 3 T Flour
- 2 c Heavy Cream
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and stir in onions, coating thoroughly.
- Cook onions, stirring frequently, until soft and the color of caramel (30-40 minutes).
- Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, baking powder and flour.
- Slowly stir in heavy cream.
- Stir in onions.
- Bake in a buttered 9×13 baking dish at 350 degrees until pudding is set and top is golden brown (about 45 minutes).
- Serve hot.