Thirty percent of Canada’s labor force was unemployed during the Great Depression. In the French-speaking province of Québec, women had many mouths to feed and few ingredients to work with. Legend has it that pouding chômeur (“unemployed-person pudding”) was created by female factory workers relying on the inexpensive staples they had on hand, much like other desperation-inspired dishes such as sugar cream pie.
During tough times, Canadian women made the pudding from stale bread and brown sugar sauce. Then, they baked the syrup-soaked, bubbling casserole until a golden, caramelized crust formed on top. Despite its belittling name, pouding chômeur provided comfort and energy for those who needed it most. After 1939, bakers replaced the leftover bread with a buttery dollop of thick batter. Fresh maple syrup and heavy cream became the accoutrements of choice.
Locals still consider the melding of Canadian ingredients and French techniques an example of quintessentially Québécois cuisine. Today, restaurants and home chefs prepare the baked pudding with walnuts, citrus, and other ingredients reflective of economic stability. During the chilly saison des sucres (sugar season) in early spring, pouding chômeur keeps diners cozy and content, employed and unemployed alike.
Where to Try It
This French eatery specializes in rabbit and serves a maple gratin pouding chômeur.