Puddings, Desserts, Sweets or Afters, there’s always been a wide variety of ways as how to end a meal, never mind what to call them. Your choices will in the main part depend on where you grew up. My first husband spent his childhood in Kenya and has never lost his appetite for the 50s expatriate finish to a meal, tinned fruit with evaporated milk. Man is Dutch and from a very young age, yoghurt played an important part in his ‘toetje’ menu. Large glass bottles of the unsweetened kind, to which you could add fruit if desired. He was shocked to discover that I hadn’t even tasted yoghurt until I moved to London when I was 17.
Today yoghurt is revered all over the world as a functional superfood, claiming a number of health properties. But over 50 years ago, the yoghurt market did not exist in the UK and it wasn’t until 1965 that Swiss-invented Ski was commercially produced by Express Dairies, in Haywards Heath, Sussex. That yoghurt included real fruit but also ‘four teaspoons per pot’ of sugar. It quickly made a real impact on the market with early adoption by the high-end food stores, such as Harrods, Fortnum and Masons and Selfridges.
I was introduced to a Ski pot by a Danish friend who, in the days when we all desired to have legs like Twiggy, only ate a strawberry yoghurt for supper. I tried a spoonful or two but, despite the large amount of sugar it contained, my teenage taste buds still registered sour. I’ve never quite recovered from that first impression and now I’m older I have trouble digesting any kind of yoghurt. Man, on the other hand, eats plain full fat yoghurt daily, mixing it with orange segments. It’s the combination of dairy and citrus that sets my teeth on edge.
Ice-cream was commercially available in the 50s but was viewed as a dessert for special occasions as only a small percentage of households owned a fridge. Our cool place was the pantry, a dark, multi-shelved walk in cupboard just off the kitchen on the north side of the house. Blocks of Walls ice cream were sold in a cardboard box and carried home wrapped in multiple layers of newspaper. Left in the pantry until ready to serve, when it arrived at the table, the ice cream was unleashed from its box in a state of ‘soft scoop’.
Walls Neapolitan was a favourite with its pink, brown and white stripes. My brother and I favoured the chocolate whilst my grandmother liked strawberry, and the white ‘vanilla’ had to be endured by all. Vanilla ice cream was more acceptable to us children in the choc ice form of individual blocks covered with a thin coating of chocolate. Nanna would not have approved of todays’ street food culture. She thought it common to be seen eating food in the street – her only exception was choc ices. As children we were very careful to not let escaping flakes of chocolate decorate our clothes in case these would be banned too.
Today, ice cream, fruit, and yoghurt seem to make a regular appearance for afters, but I wondered what happened to puddings, you know the English kind? The ones that dotted my childhood suppers: apple crumbles, lemon meringue pies, jam tarts, spotted dick, bread and butter, rice pudding, fruit fools, jam roly-polys, pineapple upside down cake and even just plain old stewed fruit and custard. ‘Afters’ were always a pudding, always homemade and either included seasonal fruit or in winter was served with jam.
One of my childhood favourites was Apple Charlotte, a combination of bread and unsweetened apple puree. It could be made in a couple of ways; one with breadcrumbs and the other with slices of stale bread. My grandmother made it with the latter, lining a flat bottomed, not too deep dish (more a casserole than a pudding bowl) with slices of bread from which the crusts had been removed and dipped in butter before being sprinkled with sugar. This lining was then filled with the apple, covered with more butter soaked bread, pressed down and then sprinkled with more sugar. An ovenproof plate was placed on top to keep it weighed down whilst being baked until a golden brown. If you were careful this could be turned out on a plate, but I think we normally served it in it’s dish as I remember being allowed to scrape the caramelised bits from the sides.
Unfortunately, it’s summer and not the season for the iconic English Bramleys. So, I decided to try the recipe replacing the apples with a summer fruit, one that I find wonderful to look at but disappointing in taste, the apricot. Yes, you can make apricot tart tatins or even upside-down cakes, but it’s hot and I wanted to serve something chilled. So, I was excited to discover in my 60s Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book a recipe for what it called a Scandinavian apple charlotte. This is a cold version that is made with layers of crisply fried breadcrumbs, laced with nuts and sugar. All I did was to substitute apricots for apples.
Scandinavian Apricot Charlotte
85 grams butter
227 grams breadcrumbs
57 grams demerara sugar
750 grams fresh apricots
2 tbs water
28 grams castor sugar
150 mls double cream – lightly whipped until it holds its shape
Coarsely grated chocolate
Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add breadcrumbs and fry slowly until crisp and golden, stirring frequently. When they are ready, remove from heat and blend in the demerara sugar. Leave to cool.
In another pan cook the halved and de-stoned apricots, with the juice of lemon, water and castor sugar. Cover and cook until the apricots are soft then mash to a smooth puree. Leave to cool.
Assemble the dessert by putting a thick layer of apricot puree at the bottom of each dish, then spread with a thin layer of cream, and on top of this a layer of breadcrumb. Repeat these layers once again. Place in fridge to chill for at least 30mins. Just before serving pipe the rest of the lightly whipped cream on top and sprinkle with grated chocolate.
NB: Man was away when I made this, so I only made one and used the leftovers on a cooler evening to make a hot version of Apricot Charlotte by layering fruit puree with the cooked breadcrumbs in an oven proof dish, dotting the top layer of breadcrumbs with butter and baking it in a 180C for 15 minutes. This worked beautifully as well. So, two desserts, puddings, sweets or afters for the price of one.