My mother's cooking was middle European with French and Italian recipes assimilated from neighbors. It was not until my second grade class gave an "authentic" performance of "A Christmas Carol" that I was confronted with a classic English pudding. The drama teacher in our school was English and she took great pleasure in finding various pretexts for subjecting her students to the subleties of British gastronomy. Dickens described Mrs. Cratchit's pudding as a speckled cannonball, blazing in brandy and considering the heaviness of the old suet-based recipes, the cannonball metaphor was aptly chosen.

Today's puddings, however, are lighter mixtures of eggs, milk and honey with various fruits. Basically the preparation of a pudding consists of making a mixture of the ingredients, pouring them into a lightly buttered covered mold, and steaming the contents either partly in, or over, boiling water for about an hour. It is a dish whose final presentation can be uncomplicated as when the mixture is steamed in a baking dish, or quite spectacular, as when brought forth from a magnificent mould.

Pudding molds are not expensive. They can be used for cold mold recipes as well as hot, and will last indefinitely. My favorite mold was made in the 1800s; it still works perfectly and looks handsome on my wall. There are no great names to look for in pudding molds, but there are some basic criteria to consider and three types from which to choose.

Always look for a mold that has a tight fitting lid with at least two clips to hold it in place. Water and steam seeping into the pudding can destroy all your work. Make sure that there is a securely attached handle, high and wide enough to afford a good grip when it is time to remove the pudding mold from the steaming water. Recheck the lid clips to make sure that they will hold the mold to the lid while you are lifting everything with the lid handle.

The classic tubed pudding mold consists of a flat-bottomed, tapered-sided bowl with a tube in the center.They are about 6 inches high and 7 inches in diameter at the wider top and have a capacity of between 2 and 3 quarts. There is a tube coming up from the base center. Tubes are found in all baking or steaming vessels where the ingredients to be cooked are either so delicate or moist that the outside of the mixture would burn before the inside would be properly cooked. The tube conducts heat to the center of the compositon. They retail for under $15.

A slight modification of the classic mold is the Rosette Pudding Mold. It has the same basic structure and function as the classic molds but a rosette pattern has been pressed into the base of the mold. As with many molds, the tool's bottom becomes the pattern for the food's top. The puddings cooked in this form will have a pleasant floral relief along their bonnet. The central tube on the rosette model is tapered slightly from the top down which will make the removal of the finished pudding somewhat easier. They are priced at about $10.

The second basic style of mold does not have a tube and is often somewhat smaller in capacity than the tubed models. They are available in shell patterns, turbins, fluted forms from nature and Mrs. Cratchit's cannonball model. Some of the molds have bayonet mounted tops with slits that fit down over two knobs and twist to lock in place. These have proved to be extremely secure and my preference when available. As I have grown older I have noticed that some of my moving parts function less efficiently than they once did. This seems to be a common problem with cooking equipment as well as people, and I select my kitchen tools with an eye toward limiting the number of moving elements whenever possible.

Finally there is the Charlotte Mold. An Apple Charlotte is made by lining a tinned steel mod with sauteed bread; filling the center with a thick apple sauce, and then baking, chilling and unmolding. Culinary historians tell me that the Charlotte in Apple Charlotte is the heroine in Goethe's romance of Werther. "Werther had a love of Charlotte Such a words could never utter. would you know how first he met her? she was cutting bread and butter.

In the 10 years that I worked in France, I saw Apple Charlotte on only one restaurant menu and it was never served at any dinner party I attended. Yet, Apple Charlotte is constantly taught in the United States by instructors in French cooking. The dish itself is not particularly interesting to me but the mold that it is prepared in is splendid. It is a slightly flared cylinder without tube or decoration. There are two handles that are traditionally shaped like hearts and a heavy lid with a good handle of its own. It will, of course, make an Apple Charlotte but it is fine for puddings, cold molds and souffles. They are available in many sizes ranging from 6 ounces to 2 quarts and are priced from $6 to $25. The small ones are nice for individual servings of pudding and cold desserts as well as vetetable molds.