Readers reply: why do we eat pudding last? | Life and style


Why do we eat pudding last in a meal? Thomas, via email

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers reply

To enhance the soul. bellaphon

Because dessert/pudding is usually sweet, or if not sweet, normally rich (eg a cheese course). This is not only quite unhealthy, but also expensive (and delicious). If we had desserts/puddings as a first course, we’d be at a risk of people filling up on sugar and fat and then not wanting to eat any of the rest of the meal.

Any kid who has sneaked a chocolate bar and then had to sit down and be served a plate of veg knows this to be true. SnowyJohn

The first day that I left home to start my nurse training, I celebrated by eating my pudding first – and did so for a whole week. I felt so rebellious, as my mother insisted that we had to finish our main course first. The joys of adulthood! Despairinglysad

Perhaps as a reward for finishing the savoury dishes first? GrasmereGardens

That was how my mum saw it. The meat and boiled to death veg had to be got down; the pudding was the reward. So the threat was: clear your plate or no pudding.

Maybe it goes back to when sugar and honey were expensive treats, not to be guzzled on an empty stomach. Fill up on gruel, pease porridge, dumplings, potatoes, turnips and pearl barley first. Typingmonkeys

We didn’t used to have pudding last. Tudor recipes have apples with fish, pies with meat and dried fruit (the original mince pie), various savoury and sweet puddings with or without meat eaten in no set order. Recipes were for the rich; the poor ate a lot of bread, sometimes stew from a pot over the fire. Dairy would be only seasonal, if at all, cheese being a way of preserving whatever milk was available.

Tudor banquets saw all the dishes ceremonially placed on the table. Elizabeth I had notoriously bad teeth from her high-sugar diet. Top of the table had first choice in any order they wanted, or ate the pick of the kitchen separately. Down the table, servants picked over whatever was left from further up.

The formality of courses arrived as a Victorian fashion, supposedly from the practice of Russian nobles (à la russe), but the extra plates, cutlery and servants to bring courses restricted the practice to those who could afford it. The separate courses fixed the practice of a sweet pudding after a meat course – or more formally soup, fish, meat, dessert and so on, as extensively served as your purse allowed.

Why pudding as one of the later courses? Practically, puddings and desserts are either cold (the “sweet trolley”) or will withstand being kept warm until needed. Fish or meat served as a course is best hot and fresh out the kitchen or it dries out. When sugar became more widely available, it was seen as “aiding digestion”, so sweetened drinks and “comforts” – sugar-coated finger food – often completed the Georgian meal; sweet treats in Victorian times became the “pudding” course. leadballoon

Not true in all cultures. In China, you’ll often get a mix of sweet and savoury dishes, all served at the same time. Soup is very often left till the end of a meal, too, rather than served as a starter. BluebellWood

I refer you to Wikipedia: “A savoury is the final course of a traditional British formal meal, following the sweet pudding or dessert course. The savoury is designed to “clear the palate” before the port is served.” I am a little taken aback that more readers of The Guardian have not rushed to point this out Harlowrefugee

In the UK, the cheeses and port used to follow the dessert, although these days they are usually an alternative, so the order starter/main/dessert/cheese or starter/main/dessert/savoury/port used to be the norm. In France, the cheeses precede the dessert and red wine accompanies them, not port. So, “dessert last” would seem to be a French thing that has spread to Britain. As the savoury course also seems to be largely a thing of the past – although still alive and well at some London clubs – it seems even the English innovate. Let’s hope they do in terms of the Queen and the Tory party, too. ohanyname

I have always believed that this was a version of the creation story. We start with soup, representing the beginnings of life, devoid of form – hence “primeval soup” – moving on to main course (animals, birds and fish) and finishing with an elaborate dessert, representing the artful creations of humankind. I could, of course, be entirely wrong. Uderzo

When I went to wine tastings, we started with the driest and progressed to the sweet at the end. The other way round, even a demi-sec tasted disgusting. But for breakfast we eat the sweet cereal first. Oh, I give up. ethelfrida

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