With this intense cold spell sweeping all across Europe my heart yearns for a good old sponge pudding.I know I have been banging on about nursery food of late but sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered, a small dollop of comfort.
Pudding is important for our well-being,as well as our soul. It is not a treat but a necessity. It is there to heal and comfort, to cosset and hug. Pudding is not food, it is medicine.
There is an inextricable link between stress and pudding. At least there is in my mind. It is not silver that lines my cloudy days but butter, sugar, jam and cream.
The puds we turn to for comfort are inevitably those that remind us of our childhood, or more likely, an imaginary one - those dream-like sugar-and-spice-filled early years that never really existed. A mother in an apron brandishing a rolling pin; a cupboard lined with home-made plum jam; a kitchen filled with the smell of baking and warm spice.
The English quite rightly think their puddings rule the world. Steamed, baked or boiled; no other nation comes close to such a delectable excess of sugar-stuffed delight. But try to define exactly what a pudding is and things get a little more difficult.One could describe them as sweet dishes, yet steak and kidney pudding and fish pudding puts paid to this.These are savoury suet and bread puddings,and very much deserve a place in the scheme of things.In Britain,there are as many soft warm sweet puddings as there are Portuguese recipes for salt cod, one for every day of the year and perhaps more.So many in fact that a resourceful mum could easily turn out a different one every day of the week,light up childhood mealtimes and linger reassuringly decades later in the memories of us 50-somethings and 60-somethings.They are the quintessential nursery food, comforting to both body and spirit, and you will find them on menus of proletarian pubs and Michelin starred restaurants alike
Blessed be he that inventeth pudding,'
wrote the 18th-century French traveller Monsieur Mission.
'For it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people... Ah, what an excellent thing is an English pudding!'