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Traditional English Puddings

Despite some worry in the food blogging world that traditional English desserts are dying out, there are some indications to the contrary. The picnic at Henley featured a Bakewell Tart competition in honor of its increasing rarity, but there's some hope yet for this rather dry fruity tart. They're an in-demand staple at traditional English teas around the capital, and traditional English teas are, I read, all the rage. If you want to have afternoon tea at Fornum & Masons or the Ritz, you'll need book four to six weeks in advance at the moment!*

Today, a new friend from the Leeds conference met up with me at the British Library for a visit to Beowulf - and for lunch. Top of her agenda was a traditional pub lunch culminating in something absolutely traditional, like treacle tart or spotted dick. If she'd been up for some extra travelling, I'd've gambled on St. John's or Smith of Smithfields off of the top of my head as places likely to go the traditional route for sweets. As was, we did a tour of pub menus from King's Cross to Tottenham Court Road, eventually giving up in favor of actually having lunch at all.

I realized, in other words, that I have no idea where I'd need to go to have a guaranteed chance at a treacle tart, spotted dick, or, for that matter, bakewell tart - unless I made them myself or booked a table for tea, ideally weeks in advance. So what's the answer, Traditional Pudding Eaters of London? And was the King's Cross area indeed an entirely lost cause when it came to finding one?

* Some of you have suggested resuming my cream tea tour here in London. Not only would I have to plan way ahead to do it - the project would be endless here! Still, it's sometimes tempting...


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
[info]_nicolai_'s favourite pub in Cambridge makes an incredibly delicious treacle tart, but I'm afraid even I think that an hour's train journey is a bit much for a pudding. However, if you ever happen to be in Cambridge, give me a shout and I'll try to remember the name of the pub instead of what it looks like. Or, I might even ask him and live with the mockery.

Actually, I'm having serious brain issues today, because what they make is a treacle sponge pudding. Which is delicious. Clown's is where the treacle tart is, and it is also delicious. Plus, you can probably get a map, and save me the mockery.
Jul. 21st, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely going to be in Cambridge in early-to-mid September for a few days, so appreciate the recommendations.
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC)
Try Simpson's in the Strand. Though I have to confess that I haven't been there in years.

(see http://www.english-restaurants.com/english/areas/restaurant.asp?catID=1&classID=28)
Jul. 21st, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC)
A "bastion of Englishness" sounds promising. I was already tempted to go there by this week's review of its breakfast in the London Review of Breakfasts.
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
I can think of nothing better suited to mass extinction than traditional English puddings. They are, without exception, vile. (nb in "proper" English it's "pudding", "sweet" at a pinch, but not "dessert" which (if it means anything) means nuts and fruit to go with the wine after the ladies have withdrawn)
Jul. 21st, 2006 07:14 pm (UTC)
I never realized pudding was a collective noun before! "Would you like some pudding?", not, "Would you like a pudding?" "Many kinds of pudding", not "Many kinds of puddings."

Thanks for the dessert note too - while I knew the word wasn't always used here, I hadn't realized it ever had that particular baggage. Either because of external influence or the death of the nuts-and-fruit course, dessert does appear with some regularity these days in the UK to label the sweet section of the menu.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
I agree. The modern use of "dessert" is pretty much identical to the American usage. I think it's a combination of menuese and women's magazines!
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC)
Come on... we'd lose not just the treacle suet pudding and the Sussex pond pudding but also plum pudding (aka Christmas pudding), treacle tart, mince pies and Eton mess. None of which can really be counted as "vile" unless you have an antipathy to suet. And a good, light, fluffy suet pudding is an infinity away from the appalling travesties that sometimes get served under that name.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
I think an antipathy towards both suet and what the English pretend is custard is the problem. If I were being scholarly and entirely serious and so on I would concede that the traditional English puddings are probably every bit as suitable for resurrection as many other fine old English dishes. In the form one usually encounters them however, I stick with "vile".
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm certainly with you on the subject of custard.
Jul. 21st, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
Properly made custard is lovely, but I can't stand the stuff produced from custard powder and have never quite forgiven my mother for refusing to write me a note excusing me from having custard with my pudding at infant school.
Jul. 24th, 2006 07:42 am (UTC)
But what of Gooseberry Fool? Rhubarb and ginger crumble? Summer fruits pudding?
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC)
Mmmmmm ... sweets and puddings! Although I'm probably really sad, since I tend to prefer savouries. And really, nothing in the world compares to a perfect creme brulée ... except maybe a really good zabaglione over fruit? nope. Despite the League of Gentlemen, it's the perfect creme brulée.

Not that you won't be able to convince me to go on any food tour you might choose ... dim sum, pub lunches, fancy stuff ...
Jul. 21st, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
French desserts are a dime a dozen in the greater Euston area, as I can report from today's menu canvassing. I don't know if they're good, but French desserts are standard on Euston-area pub menus, as well as the ubiquity of French-style bakeries at all good takeaway locations - or at least at train stations. (Also now Paul is making good and rapid inroads on the London market - a France-based chain specializing in patisserie.)

I like both creme brûlée AND zabaglione!
Jul. 21st, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
I love the comparison in the tea column of Morrissey andAlan Bennett on the one hand, and Jessica Simpson on the other. Not that it doesn't work, but it's such a lovely picture, Morrissey and Alan Bennett as the standard-bearers of warm, fuzzy English tradition!
Jul. 21st, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
There used to be a place that specialised in trad English puds - made by Women's Institutes or some such - but I've completely forgotten the name. There also used to be a place called something like 'School Dinners', but I think the spotted dick, etc, took second place to waitresses in abbreviated school uniforms... Most gastropubs I've been to have things like bread and butter or sticky toffee pudding on their menus. Maybe it was a combination of the area and the time of year.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
Lightbulb moment
You know, I think it was actually called 'The Pudding Club' - a term which has certain, ahem, connotations in Britglish (think of buns in the oven for a similar image).
Jul. 22nd, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)
Re: Lightbulb moment
The Pudding Club exists as an organisation who get together to sample puddings of all varieties.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)
Should you find yourself in San Francisco any time in the near future, there's a little place down the street from my current office called "Crossroads Cafe" that does full high tea when you order it, daily.

It's quite scrumptious though not exactly traditional English. Close. Very yummy though.
Jul. 22nd, 2006 12:55 am (UTC)
A bit off the topic: Cornish pasties have been adopted by various other ethnic groups in parts of the US. Mining areas, where Cornishmen were initially the experts.

Intended mostly for sale in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: "Toivo and Eino's really secret pasty sauce." Toivo and Eino are apparently the standard names of the two Finnish-Americans in jokes. It's basically American-style catsup with jalapeno flavoring added (which doesn't sound either Cornish or Finnish to me).

I recall reading some time back in the Los Angeles Times food section that a mining town in Mexico has pasties as a common food -- somewhat spiced up from the UK version.
Jul. 24th, 2006 07:40 am (UTC)
Even further off-topic... it is bad luck to take a Cornish Pasty on board a boat.

Why? Because said snack was the province of the cornish tin miners, and the fishermen and miners formed two distinct groups that never got on too well. Hence, if you take a pasty on board, you are aligning yourself with the miners and are likely to be blamed for all kinds of stuff going wrong...
Jul. 22nd, 2006 06:31 am (UTC)
met up with me at the British Library for a visit to Beowulf

Many, many years ago, when the British Library was still in the British Museum, "my friend the medievalist" was working on her thesis on vertancular manuscripts in medieval monastic houses. Not surprisingly, she spent a lot of time there. One morning she handed in a chit for the manuscript she wanted to look at that day (she was going through the whole darned lot because even a sentence in something other than Latin counted) but to her surprise what turned up was a very apologetic person who asked whether she absolutely had to study that particular manuscript that morning, or would the afternoon be all right?

Startled, she said, yes, it would. He sighed a big sigh of relief and explained that there was a museum lecture due on it in ten minutes: it had completely slipped her mind that that was the one with Beowulf in it.
Jul. 23rd, 2006 10:24 pm (UTC)
Now there's something that just doesn't happen anymore. For the extra-restricted mss, one generally has to write letters explaining why that one in particular in-the-flesh and not just in slides or other form of reproduction. Back in the days when one could request Beowulf by accident...
Jul. 22nd, 2006 11:14 am (UTC)
For an excellent cream tea without the wait, try the Dorchester. The Marriott in the old County Hall has also recently started doing a cream tea that's been recommended in their restaurant overlooking the Thames.

Also at the Ritz, you can often not have to wait if you take the early sitting for cream tea. They have two, and it's the 'proper' tea time one that gets full up (there's always been a six-week queue for the Ritz because it's so famous). I've been there several times, as I like to take visitors there, and never had to wait lke that. they also get last-minute cancellations, so that's worth a try. Fortnum and Masons is not worth the wait imho.

Pubs don' tend to serve that kind of food, as it's time-consuming to prepare. Although having said that, I once had a delightful Figgy Pudding in a pub in Bingley.

Bakewell Tart, you need to come to Bakewell itself (although its correct name is a bakewell pudding!). Come visit me and I'll take you for one! ;)

In London, at the mid-range spectrum Gary Rhodes W1 is a good place. Mr Rhodes is renowned for using traditional British cuisine very well, sometimes with a bit of a twist but he does like his puddings. There's also Porter's English Restaurant in Covent Garden, which is highly recommended and good value for money. Simpson's Tavern in Cornhill, is a recommended as a pub serving British puddings. The classic place has to be Simpsons in the Strand, but that's slightly more pricey.

If you do resume your cream tea tour of London, can I come too? ;)
Jul. 23rd, 2006 10:28 pm (UTC)
I would love to go cream tea touring with you! You've already started to make inroads on it.

But Bakewell tarts ARE tarts! Still, I'd be more than happy to sample the "real thing". Having a car is really going to help with food tourism options...
Jul. 22nd, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
If you want to see what a really good chef can do with English puddings (and other traditional English food) I recommend Heston Blumenthal's other restaurant, The Hinds Head Inn in Bray (about 25 yards from The Fat Duck).

See http://www.thehindsheadhotel.com/menu-dessert.aspx
Jul. 23rd, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
I've been contemplating a trip to the Hinds Head for months now. We're definitely going as soon as we have a car. (Any week now!)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )