The Proof is in the Summer Pudding

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Summer pudding originated in spas and nursing homes in mid-18th century England, where it was served to patients as an alternative to heavy, fattening puddings made with pastry, suet or butter. It was known as hydropathic pudding but summer pudding was obviously a better name.

Although water spas have always existed, bathing was frowned upon for decades until 1702 when Queen Anne visited the ancient Roman city of Bath. When the fashionable Richard “Beau” Nash arrived in Bath two years later, the new regimen was established. Suddenly the health benefits of drinking water and bathing were all the rage. Bath became the social capital of Britain, attracting the rich and famous over the summer to bathe and drink the water in the pump room, while amusing themselves with gambling and gossiping. The pump room has been seen in many Jane Austen movies.

Diet was an important part of this health-based regimen so the traditional puddings were now frowned upon. It is not known when fresh fruit became part of the mix and scholars argue over when the summer pudding, as we know it, originated.

Before bread had additives to prevent it from drying, summer pudding was a good way to use up stale bread and summer fruit. It’s an old favourite in my family and has the advantage that it can be made any size with any fruit. In late summer, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, black/red currants and gooseberries make a wonderful mixture. Once pitted, cherries, plums and apricots would also work. In winter, use canned fruit and omit the cooking. You can make one large pudding or individual teacup puddings for an event.

Combine a mixture of soft berry fruit (2-3 lb) lightly cooked with sugar in a saucepan (don’t let the fruit lose its shape) or in the microwave.

Cut a loaf of white bread (no crusts), brioche or sponge cake into thick slices. Line a pudding basin with the bread, making sure there are no gaps.

Pour in the fruit and juice but keep back some juice and a few berries for decoration. Cover the pudding with more bread (cut slices to fit). Put a plate on top of the pudding and a weight on top. Leave it in the fridge overnight.

To serve, take the weight and plate off. Put your serving dish on top of the pudding and flip the pudding. Pour over the reserved berries and juice if needed. The pudding usually turns out with a spectacular marbled white and burgundy look. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or Bird’s custard.

Bird’s Custard is the original version of custard powder, which is cornflour-based and thickens to form a sauce when mixed with milk and heated. Bird’s Custard was formulated in England by Alfred Bird in 1837 because his wife was allergic to eggs, used to thicken traditional custard. He did the world a service because now you can make custard in a matter of minutes. I’m ashamed to say my father and I used to fight over the skin on the top of the jug.

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Afternoon Tea, Anyone?

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Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is said to have started afternoon tea in 1830. She complained about “a sinking feeling” between lunch and dinner and began having tea with bread and butter served mid-afternoon. Teatime became more elaborate as she invited her friends and the dishes increased: crustless sandwiches, pastries, crumpets, and scones with jam. It wasn’t until the price of tea came down that everyone began drinking it and it became part of the working class high tea, or supper, a meal served with eggs and ham around 6 pm.

We associate tea with scones and jam, but Devonshire cream teas may have started centuries before tea was introduced to Britain. As far as we know, scones, jam and clotted cream originated in Tavistock, Devon in the early 11th century. Monks served scones to the labourers who helped them restore the monastery after a Viking raid in 997 AD. Apparently they had no difficulty finding volunteers!

This recipe makes 8 scones (no raisins originally):

225g / 9oz flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

50g / 2oz butter

25g / 1oz caster (berry) sugar

150ml (1/2 cup) milk

1 medium egg
Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease baking tray.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter to breadcrumb texture.

Stir in sugar. Add milk. Mix lightly into a soft dough.

Scoop dough onto a floured board and knead briefly.

Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut into circles. Put on baking tray.

Brush the tops with beaten egg.

Bake for 7-10 minutes or until well-risen and golden brown.

Cool on wire rack.

Tea was drunk only by the wealthy in the 1600s and it was highly taxed. Even in the early 1800s ships could take a year to transport loose tea from China to Europe, making transport expensive. The East India Company had a monopoly on the tea trade in 1832 and began to reduce the journey by building light, fast ships called clippers. We now use the expression “at a good clip,” which comes from the ships. They were streamlined square-riggers and could make 15-22 knots under full sail. The most famous was the Cutty Sark, built in 1868. It made the tea run only eight times (clippers rarely lasted 20 years) and can be seen at Greenwich, London.

We use tea bags without thinking, but they were invented only about 100 years ago. The first tea bags were hand-sewn silk-muslin sample bags. By 1904, Thomas Sullivan of New York was shipping tea bags around the world. A machine was soon invented to replace the hand sewing.

The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC, used to serve tea and crumpets with honey for 35 cents but even that price became too high during the Depression, when many of the Empress residents lost fortunes in the crash. One lady made economies by ordering hot water at teatime because it was free. She then slipped a teabag surreptitiously into the pot while the staff looked the other way.

Hooray for Rice Pudding

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In the United Kingdom, rice pudding is a popular traditional dessert. The earliest rice puddings were called whitepot, as were bread and butter puddings. Gervase Markham has the first known recipe in his worthy book, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman, published in London in 1615.

 

WHITEPOT 1615

“Take the best and sweetest cream, and boil it with good store of sugar, and cinnamon, and a little rose-water, then take it from the fire and put into it clean picked rice, but not so much as to make it thick, and let it steep therein till it be cold; then put in the yolks of six eggs, and two whites, currants, sugar, cinnamon, and rose-water, and salt, then put it into a pan, or pot, as thin as if it were a custard; and so bake it and serve it in the pot it is baked in, trimming the top with a little sugar or comfits.”

 

COMFITS: whole almonds (blanched), 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp water

Toast almonds in dry frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with sugar, stir to coat. When sugar melts, add water to make syrup. Coat almonds in syrup. Put on wax paper to cool. Place on pudding.

To blanch almonds, soak them in boiling water for a few minutes; the skin can be rubbed off.

 

Rice was probably introduced to Spain in the 10th century by trade from India but was not cultivated in Europe until the 15th century. Britain began to import rice from Spain and Italy at this time. Both long and short grain rice were grown but by the 17th century the risotto type of rice, Arborio, predominated in the areas exporting to Britain.

The first rice pudding recipe is a good way to use up leftover cooked rice, either short or long grained. The second recipe is German/Austrian and a show stopper at a dinner party.

 

CREAMY RICE & RAISIN PUDDING

½ cup raisins

1 cup cooked rice

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs

1-2 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Grated nutmeg (optional)

Put the raisins and cooked rice in a lightly buttered deep 6-cup baking dish. Heat milk and butter to scalding (not boiling). Beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Gradually stir in heated milk. Pour over raisins and rice. Grate nutmeg on top and set the dish in a shallow pan of water. Bake in a moderate oven (300ºF) for one hour. Alternatively, put the dish in the microwave for 20 minutes on medium power without the pan of water.

 

REIS à la TRAUTMANNSDORF

1/3 to ½ cup washed short-grained rice

Vanilla pod

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon sugar

125 ml carton whipping cream

Packet of frozen raspberries, thawed

 

In a double saucepan boil rice in milk with sugar and vanilla pod. Cook for one hour but don’t let it get too dry. Cool. Whip cream and fold into cool rice. Chill and serve with raspberries.

 

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Lady Clementine Churchill’s Coffee Cream

 

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Sir Winston and Lady Churchill

LADY CHURCHILL’S COFFEE CREAM

In the 1930s Mrs. Landemare was one of the most sought after cooks in Britain. She had cooked for Sir Winston and Lady Churchill from the early twenties doing temporary work—Scotland in the autumn, Newmarket in racing week, ball suppers, Chartwell weekend parties—but in 1939 she offered Lady Churchill her full-time services. Lady Churchill knew she would be able to make the best out of rations and that everyone in the household would be happy. She worked tirelessly throughout the war, leaving the kitchen after midnight and returning shortly after to start breakfast. She noted the difficulties in preparing decent food during the Blitz. On VE night, however, Churchill told her that he could not have managed through the war without her. Mrs. Landemare remained for fifteen years, retiring in 1954.

The domestic suite in the Cabinet War Rooms below Westminster includes a tiny, windowless bunker kitchen where Mrs. Landemare was ready to fricassée a chicken, even with the Nazis at the door. Luckily they never arrived; instead she cooked for the Churchills in their flat above the Cabinet War Rooms, known as the No 10 annexe, or at No 10 itself, a quarter of a mile away. “One thing that tested her a lot,” recalls Churchill’s daughter, Mary Soames, “was when my father, to show that it was ‘business as usual,’ sometimes decided to use the dining room at No 10 instead of the annexe. So Mrs. Landemare would have to transfer from one kitchen to another and be driven round in the duty car with the covered dishes wrapped in shawls to keep them warm, clasped tightly on her lap.”

The night of October 14, 1940, was even worse. During an air raid, Churchill chivvied Mrs. Landemare out of the No 10 kitchen and into an air-raid shelter. Three minutes later the kitchen was, Churchill wrote, “a heap of black dust and rubble.”

On view to the public, the bunker kitchen at the Cabinet War Rooms contains waffle irons, pastry cutters, jelly moulds, and copper saucepans but no mechanical whisks or gadgetry, because Mrs. Landemare scorned such “modern” devices.

Churchill’s domestic suite with the bunker kitchen is at the Cabinet War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1 (020-7930 6961); open daily 9.30am-6pm.

In 1958, she published “Recipes from No. 10: Some Practical Recipes for Discerning Cooks,” with a foreword by Clementine Churchill: “Mrs. Landemare’s food was delicious. She is an inspired and intuitive cook, and it is I who encouraged her to write this book.” So she got as near to the kitchen as her desk and pen.

 

COFFEE CREAM

4 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup whipping cream

4 tablespoons strong black coffee

1 packet gelatine

Shredded, toasted almonds

Dissolve gelatine in coffee in a glass jug standing in saucepan of hot water.

Beat yolks with sugar in a basin standing in hot water until creamy and thick. Add gelatine and coffee mixture. Remove bowl from water and continue beating until cold. Whip whites of eggs. Whip cream. Add alternately to cooled mixture.

Turn out into cut-glass serving dish. Chill. Before serving, sprinkle with toasted almonds.

 Don’t forget to toast Mrs. Landemare.