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Queen of puddings - a forgotten oldie

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"Sweet but oh so glorious." Nigel Slater

Queen of puddings has turned up twice in recent times in The Guardian's newsletter, so I decided to 'do' it. And you know part of the reason was that I couldn't quite remember what a Queen of puddings was. I recognised the name, but I don't remember having it when young, and apparently neither do a lot of people, according to one of those quick surveys that people do of their friends and colleagues. Not at all scientific, but still it rings true to me. I wasn't even sure what it was, although I quickly saw that it had meringue on top - and looking at that picture - one of the best by the way and it just comes from Taste. The meringue sort of puts me off because I'm hopeless at meringue. My mother wasn't and I do remember plenty of lemon meringue pies, but no Queen of puddings. Which is very curious.

It's sort of very old, sort of Victorian, sort of post-war and sort of modern trendy - well maybe about to be trendy. They think it's origins go back to the 17th century when there were puddings made with breadcrumbs soaked in milk. Because the first of those layers you see in the glass dish there is a custard that has breadcrumbs in it. The second layer is jam - traditionally strawberry or raspberry jam, but of course, today go for whatever you fancy. Even Delia says so:

"It is a moveable feast because the conserve can be whichever you prefer. Our home-made Dark Apricot and Almond Preserve below, would be a star choice. It works divinely with marmalade, cranberry jelly, or even lemon curd. Definitely one of my top puddings of all time."

And one of her three versions is a Cranberry queen of puddings. She just adores cranberries, and I gather has been called the Queen of cranberries after her use of them in Christmas pudding, caused a shortage in British supermarkets. Well that's Delia for you. The Delia effect they call it.

A lady called Evelyn O'Grady of The Antrim Guardian doesn't have jam at all and goes for a rhubarb and raspberry compote in her Rhubarb and raspberry queen of puddings and Nigel Slater goes for oranges and lemons in his St. Clementine's queen of puddings. Anna Jones also goes citrus with mandarins turning them into a sort of jam made with honey rather than sugar. Indeed quite a few people seemed to think that the citrus thing, or something tangy anyway was the way to go. Maybe someone soon will come up with a version with pomegranates.

Back to the history though. Before Queen of puddings there were Monmouth and Manchester puddings - which are virtually identical it seems to me. The Monmouth one is supposedly simpler and has no egg yolks:

"A Monmouth Pudding is said to consist of layers of meringue, jam or seasonal fruit, and bread soaked in milk" Wikipedia

However, when I looked for pictures and recipes I found that it just seemed to be the same as a Queen of puddings recipe. Ditto for Manchester. But one of the origin stories has it that Queen Victoria visited Manchester, tasted the Manchester pudding, loved it and asked her chef to make it for her. Which he did, probably tweaking it in the process and eventually calling it the Queen of puddings in her honour.

And post World War 2? Well:

"They may have fallen in and out of fashion overtime, however, puddings such as this one saw a revival in post war Britain meaning that many of today’s recipes date from around this time." Evelyn O'Grady - Antrim Guardian

I guess that would have been partly because of post-war shortages, although you would have thought that the shortage of eggs would have been a bit of dampener. I mean you can't make a meringue with powdered egg whites. Yes they existed. So maybe it was just a nationalistic thing - British pride in 'winning' the war, Pyrrhic victory though it may have been?

I bet it was served with custard back then though - as Wikipedia showed, which seems a bit silly since the base is a kind of custard anyway. Makes it look a bit like Iles flottantes - which in some ways is very similar - though without the jam. Maybe jam makes it more common - though where would you put the jam in Iles flottantes? A swirl on top perhaps? With a scattering of breadcrumbs instead of nuts as shown here.

Everyone seems to think it's good though. And simple, and economical - a waste not, want not kind of thing - except for the eggs I suppose - but they're pretty basic too I guess. Why do we think of eggs as luxury things?

"soft bread crumbs, eggs, milk and jam. Only the British could take such something as simple as these things, and create something totally scrumptious." The English Kitchen

And all the Brits, except surprisingly, Felicity Cloake, have a recipe. Heston seems to have kept his hands off this one too, though he had a go at a Jubilee trifle which is a bit similar. I didn't collect them all together so here just two - Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, who says of her version

"I wasn’t brought up on nursery food, so this sort of old-fashioned English pudding holds a certain exotic charm for me. Traditionally, a queen of puddings is made with breadcrumbs, but this is the Marie Antoinette version, using brioche instead."

Incidentally with respect to yesterday's post on photographs, I have to say the Australians win hands down on making these puddings look delectable. The British, virtually all of them, went for the pudding in a pie dish kind of approach, which is a bit harder to make look classy, but the Australians seem to have preferred an individual pudding approach - witness the one at the top of the page - and these three too: Gourmet Traveller, Valli Little of delicious Magazine, and, of course, Donna Hay

And you know I might give it a go in spite of the meringue. You only have to whip the eggs until stiff and then cook it for a pretty short time. They all raved about it so much and I do like Iles flottantes, so maybe this would be a bit the same.

"This, with a cloud of meringue on top, is probably one of the lightest and most mouth-watering puddings ever invented." Delia Smith

"A most subtle and lovely way to end a meal" Jane Grigson


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