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I was just reading William and Ceil Baring-Gould's sadly under-Annotated Mother Goose, in which rhyme #274 is:

Hyer iddle diddle dell,
A yard of pudding's not an ell;
Not forgotten, tweedle-dye,
A tailor's goose will never fly.

Characteristically, the Baring-Goulds footnote the literal meaning of "ell," but are completely silent on the tougher meaning of "yard." (And never mind trying to explain the nonsense syllables!)

I'm vaguely familiar with the concept of a "yard of ale" — Wiktionary says it's "The amount of ale that fills a very tall tapering beer glass (approximately 1 yard)," not that that really narrows it down if you don't provide the width of the glass too. Wikipedia says roughly 1.4 liters.

I found this reference from John Taylor's 1639 A Juniper Lecture:

... a bowle of pottage that holds a Gallon, and a Barly bagge pudding of a yard long, and some Bull Beefe ...

and this reference from John Shipp (1840):

I was exceedingly hungry ... I longed for a slice ... [Finally, Shipp and the plum-pudding woman] agreed that in consideration of a quarter of a yard of pudding and a shilling, to be to me paid and delivered, my new shoes were to be handed over to the dealer in plum pudding, as her own proper goods and chattels. This contract being honourably completed, I retreated [to eat his quarter-yard of pudding in a single sitting "without any great exertion."]

I'm also vaguely familiar with the idea of a boiled pudding, in the Christmas-pudding sense, but I thought those were typically ball-shaped. I'm tempted to guess that a "plum-pudding dealer" might well use a long skinny bag to make it easier to portion out slices, and that a "yard of pudding" would just be a three-foot slice from one of these long skinny pudding-sausages... but is that right?

Looking for some historical context to connect the dots here. How precise of a measuring unit is this "yard"? How much hunger would be sated by a quarter-yard of plum pudding? Can anything besides ale and pudding be measured in "culinary yards"? :)

EDITED TO ADD: The nursery rhyme that kicked this all off is of the genre that the Baring-Goulds call "self-evident propositions." Commenter YosefBaskin points out that the nursery rhyme might be saying that just as a tailor's "goose" is not a member-of-the-category "birds," similarly a puddingwise "yard" is not a member-of-the-category "units of length"! However, I think it's equally reasonable to read it as saying that self-evidently a tailor's "goose" won't fly, and (independently) self-evidently a yard of anything is not as much as an ell of the same thing. It's not necessarily an exact parallel with the preceding line. (Trust me, I've read enough of these rhymes this week to know they're not all paragons of parallel construction! ;))

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    Pudding is another term for sausage (also in Scotland it can refer to one's bowels). So a linear measurement is not out of the question. "pudding b. A sausagelike preparation made with minced meat or various other ingredients stuffed into a bag or skin and boiled." – Robusto Jul 21 '20 at 21:45
  • Lexico says of pudding 2.1 The intestines of a pig or sheep stuffed with oatmeal, spices, and meat and boiled. Which I presume measures by the yard. Sausages too are traditionally made from intestine. – Weather Vane Jul 21 '20 at 21:47
  • Can't we say that just as a tailor's goose will never fly, because it's no bird, pudding is not meant to be measured in lengths of yards or ells? Wouldn't taking it literally remove the joke? – Yosef Baskin Jul 21 '20 at 21:47
  • A yard is shorter than an ell. – Weather Vane Jul 21 '20 at 21:48
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I see the Annotated Mother Goose was published in 1962. In those (pre-decimal) days the yard was familiar to every British reader.

12 inches = 1 foot. 3 feet = 1 yard. An inch is about 2 1/2 centimetres, and a yard is a little under a metre.

The point of a 'yard of ale' is the difficulty of drinking from such an awkwardly-shaped glass, not the exact volume.

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  • Surely by analogy with 'tailor's goose' = 'heavy flatiron' ie not a goose in the standard sense, a 'yard of pudding' might be expected to be 'not around a metre of [pudding]'. As with a budgie giving its owner a peck, not to be understood as 1/4 of a bushel. Admittedly, OP is, on this analysis, wrongly involving the yard of ale. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 22 '20 at 11:57
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    I don't think this answer adds anything that wasn't already mentioned in the question, does it? The question is what is a yard of pudding, not "how long is a yard." – Quuxplusone Jul 22 '20 at 17:34
  • I thought you were puzzled by the term yard - sorry if I misinterpreted the question. Before 'pudding cloths' were invented, a pudding was like a sausage cooked in animal guts, as Weather Vane says (like 'black pudding'). Presumably a yard of pudding was an exceptionally long one. – Kate Bunting Jul 22 '20 at 18:10
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    @KateBunting: The "presumably" is the main part I'd like more information on. (I'm tempted to guess that a "plum-pudding dealer" might well use a long skinny bag... but, like, is there any evidence textual or otherwise for that hypothesis?) I'm also a bit shaky on Shipp's use of "plum-pudding" if it means something-like-a-sausage; I thought a plum-pudding was more of a starchy fruity affair. But I'm operating at or beyond the limits of my actual knowledge here. – Quuxplusone Jul 22 '20 at 22:42
  • See britishfoodhistory.com/2011/11/15/what-is-a-pudding for the difficulty of defining puddings! – Kate Bunting Jul 23 '20 at 8:20
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As Robusto points out in a comment beneath the posted question, a "pudding" can be, among other things, a form of sausage. Early modern English dictionaries, such as Edward Phillips & John Kersey, The New World of Words: Or, Universal English Dictionary (1706), are unfortunately inexact about the precise sense of the term, referring to it as "a well known Dish." But elsewhere in that dictionary, one can find entries such as these:

Chitterlings, Hogs-guts well cleans'd and boil'd ; also a kind of Pudding, or Sausage.

and

Farciminalis Tunica, (Lat. in Anat.) a Coat belonging to a Child in the Womb, which receives the Urine from the Bladder, and is so call'd, because in many Beasts 'tis of the shape of a Gut-pudding ; but in Man and some few other Living-creatures it is round.

and

Jurium, (Lat.) A kind of Pudding call'd an Ising or Sausage.

These instances suggest that a pudding mixture encased in hog intestine was known as a gut-pudding a sausage, or (sometimes) more generically as simply a pudding—although the generic term also applied to many other mixtures of meat, bread, and spices as well.

Instances involving the sale of intestine-encased puddings by the yard evidently go back very far indeed. Here is a relevant instance from Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Diuell (1592):

I would English the iest for the edification of the temporalitie, but that it is not so good in English as in Latine: and though it were as good, it would not conuert clubs and clowted shoone from the flesh pots of Egipt, to the Prouant of the Lowe countries, for they had rather (with the Seruingman) put vp a Supplication to the Parliament house, that they might haue a yard of pudding for a penie, than desire (with the Baker) there might bee three ounces of bread sold for a halfe penie.

Clearly, Nashe did not imagine that his audience would have any more difficulty inetrpreting the proper sense of "a yard of pudding" than "three ounces of bread."

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