The Long and Complicated History of Ozark Pudding
When Harry S. Truman invited Winston Churchill to dinner in Fulton, Missouri, Bess Truman helped plan a memorable meal. Churchill had worked up an appetite delivering a powerful speech that warned Americans about the rise of the Iron Curtain after the communist takeover of East Germany and the First Lady knew what he needed—a big piece of Ozark pudding.
Ozark pudding isn't actually a pudding, as most Americans know the confection. Instead, it's a soft cakey dessert filled with fruit and pecans or black walnuts and it was a favorite treat of President Truman. There's no doubt Ozark Pudding is delicious, but equally alluring is the dessert's complicated and somewhat mysterious history.
President Truman reportedly first encountered the pudding while growing up in Missouri and he brought that childhood favorite with him to the White House where the First Lady would serve it up on special occasions. According to Epicurious, another version of the dessert's origin myth is that Bess created the sugary treat in an effort "to cheer up homesick Harry in the White House." (Guessing the jaw-dropping sugar-to-flour ratio would help perk him right up.)
However, that scenario isn't particularly likely as Ozark pudding isn't the dessert's only name. South Carolinians and other Southerners may know it better as a Huguenot torte, which has roots that are older than Truman's presidency. A history of the dessert in Gastro Obscura says that a Charleston chef named Evelyn Anderson Florance put an Ozark pudding on the menu at the Huguenot Tavern in Charleston, South Carolina, back in the 1940s. The New York Times tracked Florance down to the nursing home she was living in, and she confirmed that she had eaten Ozark pudding on a trip to Galveston, Texas, in the 1930s, long before Mrs. Truman was in the White House kitchens. It was so delicious that Florance never stopped thinking about it and set about recreating it when she was working in the Huguenot Tavern. After she tweaked the recipe, she renamed the sweet a Huguenot torte after the restaurant. The new name stuck when the recipe was later printed in the beloved cookbook, Charleston Receipts by the Junior League of Charleston.
The Huguenot Tavern may not have been the only Huguenot in the dessert's past, though.
According to the cookbook All American Desserts, the so-called pudding may have been inspired by the French Huguenot cake gateau au noisettes (hazelnut cake). The immigrants brought the recipe with them when they came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution in Europe. They settled in South Carolina and swapped in walnuts or pecans for the harder-to-find hazelnuts and a new favorite dessert was born.
The CKBK website has yet another version of the story, though. The site claims that food historians and authors John and Ann Egerton, the folks behind Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History, trace the roots of Ozark pudding to an apple torte created by Henrietta Stanley Dull. While you may not recognize the name, Dull helped put Southern cooking on the map. She included the recipe in her landmark 1928 cookbook Southern Cooking, and the combination of apples, sugar, and nuts led the Egertons to believe it was the inspiration behind the Ozark pudding craze.
Whatever the history of the dessert, it's on record as being delicious enough for a president, a prime minister, and the Junior League and that's certainly worth a try.