There is a widely held belief that summer pudding was once called 'hydropathic pudding' and was served in spas, precursors to today's health farms, where earlier generations went to be cleansed and reduced.
Another theory - that it was a summer substitute for the great suet puddings of Victorian England - would fix its origins in the nineteenth century. Many modern food writers adhere to this version of history, hinting that the dessert has only recently been rediscovered.
Alas, it is not true. Summer pudding appears not to have existed before the twentieth century. Although there were antecedents, they used stewed fruit. Dr Johnson's pudding consists of rhubarb between layers of bread in a pudding basin, while Wakefield pudding is any stewed fruit, though most commonly rhubarb and gooseberries, inside a bread-lined bowl. Before the twentieth century there is no evidence of any pudding of any name that packs raw summer berries into a bread casing.
In Mary Novak's book English Puddings Sweet and Savoury first published in 1981, she explains that "raw fruit was considered extremely unhealthy...there are still many people of the older generation who refuse raw fruit and will even stew strawberries and raspberries before eating them". Hardly likely, then, that spas would be offering raw fruit puddings to their clientele. Massey and Sons Comprehensive Pudding Book, published in 1874 lists one thousand recipes, none resembling summer pudding.
The earliest published summer pudding recipe appears to be in a book unassumingly titled Sweets No. 6, published in 1902 and written by S. Beaty-Pownall, departmental editor of Housewife and Cuisine at 'Queen Newspaper'. However, into her plain china mould or basin lined with bread 'as for apple charlotte', the esteemed departmental editor pours hot stewed fruit. Although the fruit in today's summer pudding may be warmed until the juices run, the whole point of the pudding is a filling of unstewed berries in their juicy prime.
Somewhere along the line, we appear to have invented a romantic history for this, one of our favourite puddings. The ruthless truth is exposed by John Ayton in The Diner's Dictionary where he says "The name 'summer pudding' was coined in the 1930s".