I was recently in Quebec city to explore the changing face of Quebec’s cuisine, and though I ate some wonderful fancy dishes there, I was reminded again how wonderful the snack food is in Quebec. Who can say no to treats such as poutine and steamies? I also managed to sample several of my favourite desserts, including the lovely pouding chômeur.
A basic cake batter topped with caramel or syrup before baking, pouding chômeur is an everyday dish whose name translates literally as “Employment Insurance pudding” or “Unemployment pudding”. As one might imagine, it is a simple, cheap dish, made without expensive ingredients. The pudding comes with its own lore; it is said to have been invented in 1929 by female factory workers, using butter, flour, milk, and brown sugar. Tracing this simple cake would be an interesting but difficult bit of food research; it was almost always served only at home, or in very blue-collar canteens and casse-croutes.
I found a tasty serving of pouding chômeur at the snack bar in the Quebec City Public Market, which is a great market along the lines of traditional French markets, overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables. However Unemployment Pudding is appearing in higher end restaurants that are rediscovering traditional foods, often with cream instead of milk, and maple syrup replacing the brown sugar. In its current form, pouding chômeur is a twist on upside down cake, and is typical of early twentieth century desserts. Most of Canada’s cookbooks shun this simple dish, though I do like the version in From Pemmican to Poutine by Suman Roy and Brooke Ali.In any case, this is an under-appreciated treat. A version with raisins can be found in Nova Scotia where it is called Liberal Pudding with Tory sauce, one of the more interesting names in the history of food.