You guys– I have to admit, I’m addicted to NPR. I guess that’s what reaching my mid-20s is all about. Less driving around listening to Britney Spears, more driving around listening to world news and This American Life.
One of my favorite shows is The Splendid Table, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. (I’m guessing it’s the show that SNL made fun of when they did the Delicious Dish sketch.) One of my favorite parts is when people just call in and ask Lynne about what to cook.
It goes a little something like this:
Caller: Hi Lynne. I have a fig tree that’s just dropping figs all over my yard. What can I do with all these figs?
Lynne: Oh, what CAN’T you do? Have you tried halving them, brushing them with butter and honey, and putting them skin-down on the grill? And for a kick, you could sprinkle on some cayenne pepper… [etc for the next five minutes]
I was particularly intrigued when a British woman called and talked about her mother’s summer pudding. Her mother would gather blackberries, currants, etc, from the British countryside, add sugar, heat the berries, and stack it all into a white bread crust. But when the juices hit the bread… the women couldn’t even describe the flavor. “What was the flavor?!” I yelled at the radio. (Okay, maybe not.)
Of course, Lynne had tasted a summer pudding when she was in England. Lynne has tried it all! (And she often sounds vaguely orgasmic about whatever food she’s describing.) She recommended a Nigella Lawson recipe (the woman was looking for one with less sugar), but I couldn’t find that recipe online. I looked around for one that matched the woman’s description of her mother’s method and found this recipe— and incidentally, it only has one cup of sugar. Nice.
It may sound really weird, but I was SO EXCITED to make this recipe. I think I found it on a Monday or Tuesday and decided I’d wait until the weekend to make it, and I spent my whole week just DREAMING about what that white bread and juice crust might taste like. I was especially intrigued because I’ve never had ANYTHING like this. A lot of British things just never made it across the pond in a big way– for example, Spotted dick.
I mean, I guess when we won the Revolution we freed ourselves not only from oppressive British taxes, but also from funny-name desserts (and regular-name ones, too).
Also: Summer is passing. Certain things you have to do at least once each summer. Go swimming in a pool. Go to the beach. Eat summer-y foods. Go to a BBQ. I wanted to try a summer pudding while it’s still SUMMER.
So Friday night, Sam and I got down to work…
The most expensive part is the blackberries, and I bought about 2 cartons more than I needed. (I thought each carton would be LESS than a cup, but it was slightly MORE than a cup. And one cup is just for garnish. But it’s MADE of blackberries, so the garnish isn’t super necessary.) You can also use Grand Marnier instead of orange juice, but… I didn’t really want to spend the money, for just 1/4 cup of it.
Sam and I never fight about matters of actual importance, but we did exchange a few tense words over the bread-laying-out technique. The recipe said not to leave any gaps, so I got kind of geometric about it– to make one perfect, smooth layer of bread. Sam thought we should just sort of layer the bread… because he noted that method in the picture on the recipe’s website.
So Sam was (probably) right, but he let me win. (Thanks, Sam.) Sam wanted the bread to go to the top of the bowl, which I didn’t think was necessary… but I let him win on that count and left him to finish the task while I rinsed the berries. (That’s the secret to easy fighting, probably. Let each other win.) (And apologize.) (We did.)
Website picture or not, I think our bowl o’ bread turned out snappy.
The next step was simmering the berries in sugar water. They didn’t really seem to cook all that much, but the lady on the radio said her mother just barely heated them. So I was okay with it.
The color leached a bit from some of the blackberries in the process. They went from black/purple to red. And they let off some juice, which we used a few steps later…
But first, we had to spoon the berries into the bowl of white bread.
And then we mixed 3/4 cup blackberry/sugar juice with 1/4 cup orange juice. The concoction looked a bit sinister.
Sam folded down the excess of the bread-bowl wall into a bread-top, and then I spooned the juice over the bread.
It didn’t LOOK super appetizing, but it smelled nice and sweet. I dipped some of the excess bread into some juice, to see if I could taste that indescribable crust flavor… not yet. It needed time to congeal (or whatever… sit).
You may have noticed the plastic wrap lining. We covered the top in plastic wrap, then weighted the pudding down with some plates and a can of soup. Then we put the pudding in the fridge, to sit overnight.
The next day I had a wine and cheese party, just as an excuse to debut the pudding (and have other people around to eat it). Luckily my sister was there and kept pestering me to invert the pudding already, because I’m a lightweight and once I was a bit tipsy I almost forgot the pudding entirely. After all that.
I must admit, I was underwhelmed by the pudding’s initial appearance… it looked like The Blob.
But once Sam cut into it, it looked much more appetizing.
You can see that the color varies a bit based on lighting. As directed, we served it with whipped cream, garnished with blackberries. The recipe said it serves 6, but we served it to 8 people just fine.
You know what? It really was good. I think the sweetness vs. tartness will depend on the blackberries you use, but this one seemed to reach some nice in-between place. And the bread tasted like… it was saturated with sweet berry juice.
Overall, this was a very successful experiment. I will have to have it again when I’m less tipsy. (Whoops.) (Live and learn.) (Although I should say “mission accomplished,” because the party was also an excuse to get rid of some wine and use my new Amish cheese board… all goals were accomplished.) (I’ll try to blog that other stuff soon.)
I just love the idea of these country British people using what they had around the kitchen and their yards– bread, berries, sugar– to whip up something simple and delicious. And I loved trying a dish that I’ve never seen/heard of around these parts! (I’m kind of confused about whether country British people would have an ice box/fridge back in the day, but I guess they didn’t HAVE to let it sit in a fridge overnight.)
So yeah– I hope this inspires you to make a summer food, try some foreign delight, or at least listen to The Splendid Table. (Seriously, you should– then I’ll have somebody to talk with about it!)