Our long-time contributor Ro Howe, chef/owner of Barraud Caterers, in New York City, had a grim, dour mom. Happily, she acquired several second mothers: the stern but benign Benedictine nuns at her boarding school. She delighted in their sustaining comfort food. Here, in fond memory of the nuns-her-mothers, is a recipe for a real, and comforting, English pudding.—Ed.
I wish I could declare that I learned how to cook trailing apron strings at my mother’s knee, but my poor, benighted mama couldn’t boil water. (Somehow, though, she mastered how to steam vegetables to khaki death.) It wasn’t because she was unintelligent or inept: she was a bright spark right up to her death at 84. Unfortunately she carried in her all the rigorous blight of the authoritarian, stern, red-headed Yorkshireman who was her father. She learned to be jolly in company, but reverted to the grim dourness of resentment in the privacy of the family.
So it was a jolly good thing that, because of our colonial British circumstances—I was born in India—I was sent (at the grand old age of 4) to a strict, but quite benign, private English boarding school for most of my childhood. There I was under the care of Benedictine nuns, who were in those days addressed as “Mother.”
The school, on the grounds of one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies-in-Waiting residences, was a beautiful large Georgian mansion with fields, orchards, and farmland attached. As young children we roamed the pastures where cows chewed and lowed and chewed some more; played hide and seek and scampered in the poultry yard among chickens and ducks; and talked to the pigs in the pen. In the summer we picked the fruits and vegetables that would become our meals. It was all very idyllic and far-away-magical, in retrospect. The food we were served was simple British everything, including bread procured and made in the kitchens: barely seasoned but wholesome.
It was living with the nun mothers that showed me the work that went into the process of bringing food from farm to table. I met the cows, ducks, chickens, and pigs, so I really knew whence my simple, sustaining food came from. I didn’t realize at the time how important that was, but certainly now I do. This knowledge built in me an incipient respect for the environment and all that grows upon and within it. What a good place to start any culinary training!
As a paean to the Benedictine Mothers of my youth, I give you a recipe for a typical English “pudding” that was healthy and filled our tummies very happily when we were children. This should bring some American joy to all your moms out there!
Sticky Toffee Banana Bread Pudding with Bourbon Crème Fraîche
Let’s be clear: This is not an American pudding. The term pudding derives from the fact that the British made many cakey things in ovenproof metal “pudding basins.” These puddings included Sussex Pond (lemon), Summer (berries), and Spotted Dick (raisins and currants). Here is another simple-to-make, very typical English winter “nursery” pudding—homey, delicious, and satisfying enough for the child in all adults too. This is what’s for after dinner when it’s cold out!
Yield: 16 portions
Special Equipment: Standing electric mixer, wooden skewer, 4- to 6-ounce ramekins
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly scraped nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 ½ cups coarsely chopped ripe bananas
½ # sweet butter
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups toffee bits
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Bourbon Crème Fraîche:
2 cups crème fraîche, whipped
1 tablespoon good quality bourbon
For the pudding, combine all dry ingredients and divide into three containers.
Divide chopped bananas into three containers.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar and mix until smooth. With the mixer running, add the eggs and vanilla extract.
Add flour and bananas in six alternating batches.
Pour the mixture into well-buttered and floured 4- to 6-ounce ramekins
Bake on a sheet tray at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until set.
For the toffee sauce, gently heat the toffee, rum, cream, and vanilla extract till melted and smooth.
Using a wooden skewer, poke holes all the way down into the cooked puddings. In careful stages pour the warm toffee sauce over the puddings till it is all absorbed.
For the crème fraîche, combine the bourbon and crème and whip until softly set. Keep chilled.
To serve, cover and gently re-heat the puddings until they are warmed through. Serve with chilled crème fraîche.