Food Facts & Lore, Fricassee of Words

Fricassee of Words – The Proof is in The Pudding

The Fricassée of Words is a stew of musings on food-inspired expressions, words and word play. Here is today’s food-inspired expression for us to nibble at.

The Proof is in The Pudding

Proof here could be replaced by the words, test or evidence. This expression is an affirmation that something is expected to perform reliably or to be satisfactory based on past performance. It could also be an endorsement of someone, suggesting that this person has kept their word or performed a job satisfactorily in the past and is therefore trusted to do so again. Or it may be uttered after the fact, when one is about to assess a performance by checking in on the “pudding,” so to speak. And when a statement’s veracity is in question, well, the truth is in the pudding.

As for that pudding, things get a bit twisted. We must first turn to the baker’s kitchen for the origins and use of the word “proof,” and it has nothing to with pudding. Bakers “proof” yeast in warm water to verify that it is active before preparing the dough for fresh loaves. In this sense, again, to proof is to test.

The original expression is a 14th-century British proverb that went like this: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Ah! This does shed more light on our pudding. Taken figuratively, this clearly implies a test. But taken at face value and in context, it informs us about the true nature of that pudding.

This is the Medieval incarnation of the pudding, not our modern version as a sweet and creamy dessert to savor by the spoonful. Though that does not reduce the effectiveness of the expression. Pudding, back then, referred to a form of sausage, generally made of pig or sheep entrails stuffed with minced meat, fat and seasonings.

Some argue that the expression should be attributed to Spanish writer Cervantes (1547 – 1616). In this case, the very phrase we are examining is suitable to the claim, for it cannot be shown that Cervantes used the expression, or that he was in any way familiar with its intended meaning. Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote, where some claim said phrase was used, was the most translated literary work in history (next to the Bible). The Spanish word for pudding, “budín,” does not appear in the original text, but it was used in a later translation in a fashion suggesting kinship to the expression “the proof is in the pudding.”

The earliest, verifiable use of the phrase, “the proof is in the pudding” in its original form is attributed to “Remains of a Greater Works Concerning Britaine,” (1605) by educator, historian and antiquarian William Camden, where he writes, “All the proof of a pudding is in the eating.”

Remains is a collection of ancient and medieval history, names and speeches where, interestingly, Camden includes excerpts from an ancient text known as “The Fable of the Belly.” We may guess this to be a fitting context for a reference to pudding, although in this case “belly” represented Rome in observations regarding its less than wholesome environment. Perhaps a good topic for statesmen and the populace to discuss over a substantial meal, including pudding of one sort or another.

This is a fitting place to stop and let this rest, lest we start sounding like Don Quixote lost on yet another quest with no end in sight. The journey itself provides satisfaction as we have hereby nourished our minds for a bit. What’s more, a craving for pudding (the dessert that is) is suddenly impeding concentration.

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