Bakewell pudding – a slice of dessert history

In England’s wild and wonderful Peak District there lies a small market town with a long history.

Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the settlement grew up around a cluster of thermal springs which gave the place its name: ‘Badequella’ meaning Bath-well.

Nowadays the town is synonymous with one of England’s classic desserts, yet a mystery lies at its heart – one that is more controversial than the great cupcake debate and almost as hotly contested as the jam-or-cream-first scone rivalry of the West Country.

Bakewell, Derbyshire ©

Origins of Bakewell Pudding

It’s the origins of the Bakewell Pudding.

To be clear we’re not talking Bakewell Tart here, an early 20th century interloper.

No, this is all about the good, old-fashioned and more substantial Bakewell Pudding whose beginnings lie somewhere in the vast kitchens of the 1800s.

Next year in this delightful little Derbyshire town the spirit of that debate will be woken afresh with the Bakewell Baking Festival.

Amid all the fun and frivolity, the custard pie contests, celebrity chefs and vintage fairground games, there’s a gentle nod towards the pudding’s disputed history.

Who made the first Bakewell pudding?

Rutland Arms Hotel Bakewell, Derbyshire ©

Some say… it was invented by accident in 1860 at a local inn called the White Horse when a misunderstanding between the landlady and her cook led to a variation on a jam tart.

As the White Horse was demolished somewhere round 1804 this seems unlikely.

Some say… its roots lie even further back and claim to have traced its existence to the 15th century.

Some say… the recipe first appeared in cookbooks in America – a shocking allegation for such an English dessert!

Bloomers, Bakewell, Derbyshire ©

Original recipe

In the town today several bakeries and cafés serve the local treat with at least two of them, Bloomers of Bakewell and The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, claiming to use the original recipe.

The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop Bakewell, Derbyshire ©

We’re sticking to the version as told on the Peak District’s own website as it seems to have the ring of family truth and a well-documented chronology. It’s a long and convoluted story, so settle down and bear with me.

The Rutland Arms replaced the White Horse in 1804 and Ann Hudson and her husband moved in to run it. He died, she remarried becoming Ann Greaves and continued to run the Rutland until she retired in 1857.

Her name is engraved on the family tombstone in Bakewell churchyard but she’s not there, having died and been buried in Manchester in 1866 at the grand old age of 88.

Although the tombstone claims she was 89!

Ann Greaves gravestone Bakewell church, Derbyshire ©

Now back to the pudding

Sometime in the early 1850s a servant called Anne Wheeldon (see what I mean about convoluted?) moved to the Rutland Arms to become a waitress.

One day young Anne was called to help out in the kitchen and she made a mistake while baking a jam tart.

The customers liked it and Mrs Greaves, who was clearly a good businesswoman, noted down the recipe and began serving it regularly.

Whatever the truth of the matter the Bakewell Pudding is a great English cooking tradition, mentioned by Mrs Beeton and Eliza Acton, and as with all good recipes, it’s been modified, improved upon and generally messed about with over the years.

Bakewell Pudding Factory Bakewell, Derbyshire ©

Just to confuse matters even more there is a third pudding shop called The Bakewell Pudding Factory. They however do not claim to have the original recipe.

Whatever the story they all taste good according to Pork Belly who ate all three in one sitting, purely in the interests of research!

Try them all and make your own mind up!

Bakewell puddings, Bakewell, Derbyshire ©
Take your pick of the puds ©

They’re sweetly, satisfyingly delicious and as they say, the proof of the (Bakewell) pudding is in the eating.

Here’s Pork Belly’s version.

Where to next?
Kevin Sutherland, award-winning winemaker
Long Man Brewery
Following in the footsteps of Grace

  1. There are at least four bakeries in Bakewell producing the puddings with variable and unverified claims to be the original. A common story is that the puddings were invented in the 1860s when a nobleman visiting the White Horse Inn (now The Rutland Arms) ordered strawberry tart and the cook, instead of stirring the egg mixture into the pastry, spread it on top of the jam. However, in line with the usual suspicion of anything in the food line claiming to have aristocratic origins, the receipt is known from at least the 1840’s, the name occurs as far back as ‘The Housekeeper’s Book (Philadelphia, USA, William Marshall & Co) of 1839, and there is record (‘Derby Mercury’ – Wednesday 24 February 1841, p3) of “the far-famed Bakewell Pudding” being served at a ball, not at the White Horse, but in the Castle Inn on Castle Street.

    1. Oooh the plot thickens. Thanks for the extra info – we must have missed one. Now Pork Belly wants to go back and do another taste test, although four puddings in one sitting may be too big a challenge, even for him!

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