The word pudding usually means one of two things in Britain. First, it's a synonym for dessert, or the sweet course to end a meal. Second, and most importantly, it points to a group of starchy sweet dishes, most of which are served warm or even hot. Christmas pudding and bread pudding may be the only ones widely known in other countries, but there are more. Way more.
If you are a fan of slightly older English literature, of the Dickensian persuasion or even E. Nesbit and C.S. Lewis (or, for that matter, Nigella Lawson or Mrs. Beeton), you will encounter mentions of pudding quite a lot. They have delectable names like jam roly-poly and spotted dick. In Victorian times, they were boiled in or steamed in a large cloth bag, just above the pot of soup or stew that was to be served for dinner. Later on (and in more refined circles) it was steamed in a decorative pudding mould on its own.
Sometime in the '60s or '70s, Brits seemed to lose interest in the traditional steamed pudding (along with many other traditional British foods). Instead they turned to imported fare like tiramisu, cheesecake and black forest gateau, and started calling the sweet course dessert. In 1985, a group of people realized that "real" puddings simply weren't served anymore, and thought this was a shame. Why not have a gathering of traditional pudding enthusiasts? And so The Pudding Club was born, to "prevent the demise of the great British pudding".
I'd first heard about The Pudding Club some years ago when it was the subject of a BBC TV travel show segment. It looked like a lot of fun, but it got filed away somewhere in the back of my mind and forgotten. Then, when I was planning the most recent trip to England, I stumbled on their web site . This time, I knew that I had to go.
The Pudding Club gatherings take place two to four times a month, depending on the time of year. There are more meetings during the winter, which makes sense - there are cold puddings fit for summer consumption, but a steaming hot pudding is perfect for a chilly English evening. It is held at a lovely old-fashioned hotel in the heart of the Cotswolds called the Three Ways House Hotel. Membership in The Pudding Club costs £25 a year (£26 from Jan. 2007), but you don't have to be a member to participate in a Pudding Club meeting.
What takes place at a Pudding Club meeting? Well basically, you eat pudding. Seven kinds of pudding. There is a small savory 'main course', to prepare the palate so to speak, but other than that, it's all pudding. At the end of the evening, the guests vote on their favorite pudding, and the pudding with the most votes at the end of each year gets duly designated as Pudding of the Year.
Neither my dining partner nor myself are Brits. I did spend a few years growing up in England, but my mother was not at all into steamed puddings. So we were relative novices in the pudding tradition. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but one thing was for sure - our fellow diners were very excited to be there, and the atmosphere was very animated. (Incidentally, I think we were the only non-Brits there that evening out of about 70 fellow Pudding eaters, though later on the Pudding Master Peter Henderson, who is a partner in the hotel, told us that they do get guests from all over the world.)
There is a great account of a Pudding Club gathering on the web site  so I won't repeat the whole thing here. Here are some highlights from our evening.
So, if you are British, you'll probably love The Pudding Club. What if you're not British? If you have a sweet tooth, are curious about British puddings or food history, or have read any Dickens or Paddington Bear or similar food-oriented English literature, you'll love it too. The hotel itself is a lovely place anyway, and you can really immerse yourself in the Pudding Experience by staying in one of the themed Pudding rooms. We stayed in the Oriental Ginger Room, where even the dragon on the wall was eating pudding.
And, if you feel the several thousand calories of sugar, fat and starch consumed to be weighing on your conscience as well as your tummy, there are plenty of beautiful nature walks to embark on in the area the morning after.
The Pudding Club web site  has loads of information about the hotel, the Club, books, and much more.