The Clown’s Rice Pudding from The Winter’s Tale

rice pudding

Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice,–what will this sister of mine do with rice?

Make rice pudding, of course! This recipe is inspired by a line in The Winter’s Tale. It’s an odd play; there’s romance, comedy, and death, and the play never quite knows which genre it should be in.

Polixenes, King of Bohemia, is visiting his old friend Leontes, King of Sicilia. Sicilia’s nice, but after spending nine months there, he wants to go home. Leontes wants him to stay. Since Polixenes won’t listen to Leontes, he sends his wife, Queen Hermione (not that Hermione), heavily pregnant, to persuade him to stay a bit longer.

She does, which makes Leontes suspicious; how did she get him to change his mind so easily?! He pretty much convinces himself that Polixenes and Hermione are having an affair. He asks his Lord, Camillo, to poison Polixenes at the first chance he gets.

Camillo doesn’t poison Polixenes, instead revealing Leontes’ plan to him, and the two quickly flee to Bohemia. When Leontes hears of this, he takes it as absolute proof of the affair, confronting Hermione and deciding that the baby she is carrying is Polixenes’- for ’tis Polixenes has made thee swell thus. Hermione denies it, and practically everyone else in the play is on her side, but Leontes ain’t listening, and he throws her in jail. There, Hermione gives birth to a daughter. Her friend Paulina visits, and agrees to take the baby to the King, hoping he may soften at the sight o’ the child.

It doesn’t go well and Leontes asks Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to get rid of the baby, bear it to some remote and desert place quite out of our dominions, and that there thou leave it.

Two Lords arrive with news from Apollo, The Oracle, who has sent a message saying Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; and the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.

At Hermione’s trial, a servant interrupts, telling them that Mamillius (Hermione and Leontes’s young son) has died after the stress of his mother’s imprisonment. Hermione faints, is rushed away by her maids, and Paulina returns to inform Leontes that woe the while! His wife has died, too. Realising what he has done, Leontes swears to spend the rest of his life atoning for his sins.

Unaware of what has transpired over in Sicilia, Antigonus wanders through the outskirts of Bohemia with the baby princess, Perdita.  He leaves the child in the woods, with gold, jewels, and a note, but he’s chased away with the stage direction, exit, pursued by a bear. A shepherd arrives, accompanied by his son, a clown, and they find the baby, and vow to raise her themselves.

On an empty stage, Time arrives to tell the audience that sixteen years has passed between the last act and the next act. Polixenes and Camillo are in Bohemia talking about the Prince’s son, Florizel, who’s fallen in love with a shepherd’s daughter. Curious, they disguise themselves and follow him to a sheep shearing feast where Florizel and Perdita are getting married. Horrified, Polixenes reveals himself and demands that Prince Florizel never see the lowly shepherd’s daughter again. Instead, Florizel and Perdita run away to Sicilia.

Polixenes isn’t far behind. There’s a reunion between Leontes (still mourning his wife) and Polixenes. The shepherd (who had accompanied Florizel and Perdita to Sicilia) reveals how he found Perdita in the woods, and they realise that she is really the abandoned princess. Leontes takes Perdita to see a recently completed statue of her mother at Paulina’s house. Leontes is almost driven to tears at the sight of it, and in the final scene, the statue of Hermione miraculously comes alive. Maybe it wasn’t a statue after all.

Somewhere along the way, Shakespeare shoe-horned a rice pudding in there and I’ve got an outstanding ability to spot food in everything. The rice pudding serves to show how the Clown and the Shepherd spent the wealth they gained from the gold and jewels left with Perdita. The clown says he must have saffron, nutmegs, a race or two of ginger, and as many raisins o’ the sun so naturally, that’s what goes into this recipe (bar the expensive saffron).

Here’s the secret to making fantastic rice pudding: the skin on the top is practically essential. The creamy, sticky-sweet rice is hidden beneath that crispy golden crust and if you serve it in a large dish, people will fight over the skin (fact). This is such a quick pudding, just leave it on low in the oven and by tea time it will be ready, and rice pudding is so easy- definitely an underrated home comfort.

Give it a go- you don’t need to serve it at a sheep-shearing feast, nor do you need to find a baby abandoned with gold to make this recipe.

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PREP 10 mins

COOK 2 hours

▪ Best eaten on day of preparation


50g pudding rice

20g caster sugar

Handful of currants and raisins (about 50g combined)

350ml semi-skimmed milk

Pinch ground nutmeg

Pinch ground ginger


Butter, for greasing


1 Pre-heat the oven to 150°c/300°f/Gas mark 2. Grease a 400ml baking dish, or two individual dishes, with butter.

2 Mix the pudding rice, sugar, and dried fruit together, then tip into the baking dish. Pour over the milk and stir well to mix it all together.

3 Sprinkle over the nutmeg and ginger. Bake in the oven for about 2 hours, or until the milk has been absorbed by the rice and it just wobbles in the centre.  ▪

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