Revisiting sago…

Sago pudding… If you were at school in Britain in the ’50s and ’60s, the very mention of it may be enough to send shivers down the spine. Sago pudding, semolina pudding and tapioca pudding were all regulars on the school dinner  menu and, while some remember them fondly, many others have been put off these puddings for life by the gloopy versions they were confronted with as a child.

It’s a shame, as sago pudding is highly nutritious and, cooked well, serves as the perfect comfort food. If you’re brave give sago another go, why not start with this 18th century version from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies?

This sago pudding is prepared ‘an excellent way’ with flavourings of orange and lemon peel, cinnamon and brandy:

An 18th century style sago pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century style sago pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Segoe Pudding an Excellent Way

Take 2 handfulls of segoe & boyle it in just as much water as will cover it, stiring it while it is boyleing least it burn. Dont boyle it longer than till it is thick. Take 8 eggs, beat them with a qr of brown sugar. When yr segoe is cold, put it to them & some pounded cinnimon, a large spoonful of pounded orange & lemon peel, 2 spoonfulls of brandy, half a pd of melted butter. Let it cool. Mix all well together & besur[e] stir it well as it goos in the oven lest the segoe settle to the bottom. An hour bakes it in a slow oven.

Sago is derived from the pith of a palm tree, native to India and South East Asia. The Elizabethan Explorer Sir Francis Drake is said to have been one of the first Britons to experience the harvesting and preparation of sago on the eastern Indonesian island of Ternate. A written record by Francis Pretty, one of Drake’s attendants on his voyage around the world, states that the local people there gave them

meal, which they call sagu, made of the tops of certain trees, tasting in the mouth like sour curds, but melteth like sugar, whereof they make certain cakes, which may be kept the space of ten years, and yet then good to be eaten.

Our next starch pudding is based on an ingredient found closer to home: millet. This cereal was widely eaten by the peasantry of continental Europe and was generally considered as a food of the poor. However, in the 18th century millet puddings became rather fashionable in British kitchens.

This Georgian recipe shows how millet was appropriated for the middle classes. The pudding is enriched with large quantities of eggs, butter and cream: ingredients which would have put it out of reach of the labouring classes. Delicate flavourings of nutmeg and sweet bay (‘lawrell’) water lent an additional veneer of sophistication:

A Georgian-era recipe for millet pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian-era recipe for millet pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Millet Pudding

Take a handfull of millet, boyle it a little in a pint of water. Then, after you have taken it of the fire, stir in to it whilst it is hot 2 large prints of butter, a whole nutmeg, some sugar to your taste. Set it by to coole. When it is quite cold, put in 12 eggs and but half the whites, a pint of sweet cream boyled & mix all these well together. An hour boyls it. A boyled rice pudding is the same way but pound the rice & put in a little lawrell water.