Let me be quite clear about this, I am a fan of stodge, the thick, warm, comforting hit of carbohydrate rich puddings and cakes, that come steamed or baked, sticky with jam or fruit purees or chock full with dried fruit. I’ve written about it in Oh, Lardy, Lardy, where I make my love for lardy cake happen. Unusually I’ve dropped a couple of kilos recently. We’ve just moved house and the twelve hours of standing on my feet all-day event of organising, unpacking, putting things away and filling recycling bags has taken its toll. Man and I are both exhausted, aching in various bits we weren’t aware we had, and ravenously hungry. That type of hunger that feels as if your empty stomach is sticking to your backbone. The one you feel when you first go skiing and it takes enormous effort to stay upright, never mind stop on a gentle incline. Our routine desk jobs hunched over laptops seem a life time away. We are no longer used to burning these amounts of calories.
When I was 17 I was hungry regularly. Nobody had taught me how to budget, never mind the cost of food. I tried to save money on non-essentials, one of which was tube fares. In my mind, walking to work must be cheaper. The walk from my hostel in South Kensington to the Bank in Gracechurch Street was four and a half miles, or about one and a half hours at a medium pace. Despite long legs, I was unable to walk quickly as, at just over six foot, any mini skirts or dresses of the time turned out to be more ‘micro’ on me. An upright posture had to be maintained at all time to conserve modesty. They were great for stopping traffic – yes, I did once on the Brompton Road – but not for a speedy transit to work.
Despite it being the ‘swinging 60s’, at 17 I was quite shy and unconfident. I would have been happier without the attention the length of my skirts received, but I was not prepared to give up on the fashion of the day to achieve that. For my first three or four weeks at the Bank I was forced to wear a mid-blue smock over my garments like the majority of female employees. To a certain extent, I didn’t mind that as, one, it was similar to those I had worn at school and it protected my own clothes and two, at least it was knee length. Then some bright spark spotted that, as I was the first female management trainee, wearing a smock was below my status and I had to hand it back in. I could sense the consternation on the face of the HR director as my skirt skimmed the top of her desk when I arrived to discuss my next assignment. That amount of thigh had trouble written all over it.
My master plan for budgeting however didn’t take into account two things, one, the amount of shoe leather I walked my way through and, two, to get to work on time I had to leave the hostel before breakfast was served. This was the meal that was included in my rent. By 10am I was ravenous. Lunch, paid for by luncheon vouchers, was a good two plus hours away. At 10.30am my embarrassment at the loud rumbles emanating from my stomach were saved by the rattle of the trolley as the tea lady came around the offices supplying cups of hot sweet tea from her churn. If I was lucky someone would offer to buy ‘elevenses’ for the poverty stricken intern and I could indulge in a life saving hunk of dark fruit-filled stodge of a bread pudding, from the pile of squares balanced high on a white plate. Woe betide me, if the tea lady had sold out before she reached ‘Bills inwards’ department – or was it ‘outwards’? I never understood either.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about bread pudding. It used to be standard fare in bakeries all over the country. I certainly haven’t seen it in London shops for a while. I assume it’s considered too fat-laden a beast for health conscious urban dwellers.
So I’ve resurrected a recipe I remember my grandmother making, using up the crusts of bread left over from dainty tea time sandwiches and squeezing them into submission with full fat milk. To keep it traditional I had to buy a loaf of white sliced. I haven’t eaten white sliced since I was put on a special diet for a few days to enable a certain medical procedure. The less said about that the better. I’ve spiced the recipe up a lot more than ‘Nanna’ would approve and used half and half cream to milk which certainly wouldn’t have happened in her day, but as I had some to use up in the fridge it served its purpose, resulting in a richer, creamier effect. Bread pudding keeps well. But I made it in a large bread tin and sliced it in half so I the other half could be kept in the freezer.
Rich Bread Pudding
Enough for 15 – 20 people. Preparation time two and a half hours
500g white sliced bread (use brown if you have that left over)
500g dried fruit – I used equal amounts of currants and raisins
90g mixed peel
2 tbsp mixed spice
300ml double cream
2 large eggs – beaten
140g dark muscovado sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
100g butter- melted
2 tbsp demerara sugar
Tear the bread into a large bowl. If you are using crusts, tear those into extra small pieces. Add the dried fruit, peel, and spice. Pour in the milk, then stir or scrunch it through your fingers so that the bread absorbs all the milk and the breaks down into soggy crumbs. Beat the eggs, muscovado and lemon together and add, mixing thoroughly. Then leave for 15 mins to soak.
Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
Butter and line the base of a 3lb loaf tin. You don’t have to do this too accurately. One strip down the ends and base is fine. Stir in the melted butter to the pudding mixture, mix again and then tip into the tin. Scatter the demerara all over the top. Bake for 2 hrs until firm and golden and moist but not sticky on top. If it starts to brown cover it with foil or greaseproof. Leave to cool in tin for 10 mins then turn it out onto a rack and strip off the paper.
This is a heavy pudding, so cut a thick slice and then cut in two to get a square. Best if served warm, although this was not the case when eaten off the tea trolley. Some people like to serve with custard or cream but for me that is a richness too far. Like any fruit rich cake, a slice of cheese goes with this well.