Fat is Beautiful

Now seems a good time to put up a question I got about a week ago from reader Kati:

I’ve been curious about English-style puddings for years now but I’m told most of them have things like beef fat in them, which doesn’t like anything I’d want to eat. If puddings are supposed to be sweet, why do they call for animal fat?

The answer to that is probably obvious by now. Sweet puddings evolved out of savory concoctions and suet (beef or mutton fat) is a vestige of that tradition. More than that, though, our forebears thought a little differently about sweets than we do today. This is especially true of country folk. Go back a handful of decades and you’d find that lard pie crusts were common. A bit further, say 100 years, and you’d find suet as an ingredient in everything from fruitcake to mincemeat. Press on even further and the line between sweet and savory baking would begin to blur, until you got all the way back to the Middle Ages when there was scarcely any distinction between them at all. Pastry as a craft that’s devoted primarily to sweets is a modern concept, which is why I’m forever wanting to do more savory baking on this blog.

All that said, there’s really no reason to steer away from suet as an ingredient in a pudding. Contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t make dessert taste like steak. And if you’re worried about its health implications, studies are increasingly showing that solid fats like lard and suet are better for your arteries than butter. So dive right on in, Kati, it’s good for you.

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