According to gastronomic legend, Winston Churchill once rejected a proffered dessert with the stern rebuke "Take it away. This pudding has no theme." An unnecessarily irascible judgment, perhaps, on what was probably an inoffensive blancmange or sherry trifle. The great man's moods, after all, were famously unpredictable. Yet I can readily sympathize with Churchill's gruff response because I also fall into a slough of despond when confronted by themeless puddings.
Indeed, my prejudice against such culinary crimes perhaps runs even deeper, since I will reject any pudding that does not exhibit a single, unified theme based on a series of leitmotifs evident in the preceding soup, salad and fish. In other words, my pudding must bind all courses of the entire meal together as a fully realized concept, rather like Wagner's Götterdämmerung concludes and completes his epic Ring of the Nibelung cycle, or else I will fling my spoon to the furthest recesses of the dining hall and storm away from the table, flapping my napkin violently in the astonished faces of any nearby waiters.
Wagner's ultimate theme, of course, was the death of the ancient heroes and Gods of the Northern people. A noble if frequently misunderstood subject, I'm sure you will agree. But the unifying theme I look for in my puddings, in fact the only theme that I consider acceptable, is even more momentous and Nietzchean than the destruction of Valhalla: it is the Elimination of Trans and Saturated Fats.
Admittedly, this is an almost impossible undertaking, at least in the realm of conventional puddings; a Herculean feat of sweetmeat preparation, if I may borrow allusions from southern European mythology, that makes Theseus' battle with the Minotaur seem nothing but an exchange of playful slaps. Any pudding, for example, whose ingredients include milk, eggs or butter is absolutely verboten; a dietary untouchable; an Ishmael made out of cholesterol and calories. Restaurant cake trays have become my equivalent of leper colonies in Calcutta, and there is no Mother Theresa in the kitchen.
So, on the whole, this leaves me with an unappetizing choice between the plate of sliced, seasonal fruit or a handful of walnuts. At least both selections have a strong and easily recognizable theme.
Alas, history does not record the exact nature of the themelessness that Churchill found objectionable in his pudding. Perhaps its components did not conform to his strict idea of puddings historically consumed by the English speaking peoples? More likely, as I suggested earlier, it was a simple blancmange that some whimsical chef had unwisely augmented with elements of crème brûlée; or maybe an experimental form of trifle, foolishly flavored with cointreau instead of sherry. But we shall never know, and nobody with an ounce of common sense and a healthy constitution should ever really care.