Author: Julia Helene Ibbotson
Paperback: 128 pp.
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
Purchase your copy at AMAZON.
Author Julia Ibbotson and her husband glimpsed the old Victorian rectory on a cold January day. It was in dire need of renovation, in the midst of the English moorlands and a mile from the nearest village, but they determined to embark on a new life in the country, to make the sad neglected house glow again and to settle into the life of the small traditional village. As Julia researches the history of the house and village, supervises the renovations and cooks for family and friends, she records their journey. This real-life, award-winning account focuses on the quest to "live the dream" and, in the end, to find what is important in life. As the book foregrounds the centrality of the kitchen as the pulse of the family and home, each chapter ends with delicious but easy recipes, both current favourites and those from the historic period unfolding within the chapter: Victorian, Edwardian, wartime and present day. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise, including “ enchanting”, “a talented writer”, “charming story”, “delightful”, “a jewel”, “ a great writer”, “inspirational”, “truly engaging”, and “destined to become a classic”.
Winter: A Country Dream
Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint GravyHot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup
Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud
Apple and Blackberry Crumble
We first saw the rectory on a cold day at the end of January. Our carbumped down the rough, broken drive, a long-overgrown farm track.
On either side of the track, wild branches shook themselves angrily in
the wind that howled around the car. It was a bitter Sunday afternoon,
and the old beech trees along the side of the cracked and patched
tarmac stood resolutely against the grey sky. Even the birds had fallen
silent, the only sounds those of branches snapping under the car tyres
and stones flirting from the wheels.
At last, we saw it in front of us, emerging from the tall trees that
surrounded it: the house, white with black timbers, seeming to shiver
before us at the end of the farm track. It had a desolate but imposing
beauty, and it stood proudly behind its big iron gate, a wide and
sweeping gravel drive before its pitched roofed porch and white front
door. The trees that surrounded it were stark and brittle, like witches’
fingers laced cruelly with the hoar frost of winter, a vision before us as
our car jarred into potholes and rocks as we headed towards our
appointment with the vendors.
My husband and I had already sold our current house, where we
had lived for twelve years, in the expectation of being in the best
position to find the place where we wanted to stay for the foreseeable
future. A second marriage for both of us, we had four grown-up
children between us who had flown the nest and were now (relatively)
independent from us. At least, they were all living with
husbands/partners away from home, two of the daughters with little
children, our fabulous grandchildren, and we were free now as a
couple to make decisions about where we wanted to live for the rest of
our lives. We had always wanted a house with character and with land
so that we could extend or make room for a decent-sized vegetable
garden. Or, indeed, whatever we might fancy doing!
We had put our current big “family house” on the market before
Christmas, knowing (we thought confidently) that nobody in England
even started house-hunting until well after the New Year, maybe
February at the earliest. But we would be ready for them. The form
filling would be done, the estate agent and the solicitor briefed and
ready to go.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to plan. We sold our
detached modern home more quickly than we had ever imagined; in
fact, the very first couple who came to view it phoned through an offer
straight away. They were retired farmers from the next village and
knew the house and environs well, so there was no mulling over of
facilities and local services to be had.
Of course, that meant that we were in a position where we needed
to find the right house to buy or risk homelessness.
Our home at the time when we saw the rectory had been improved
over the years we had lived there. We had added a conservatory,
which I loved, as it almost made me feel as if I were in the garden.
The kitchen and laundry room were equipped with quite expensive (it
seemed to us) medium oak units, both attractive and functional for
someone like me who enjoys cooking but, with a demanding full-time
job, had little time to do it. The garden, albeit small, had been
beautifully landscaped, with rockeries, steps, gravel paths, and a stone
waterfall splashing into a fish pond. It was a calming and relaxing
place to potter in, and I loved it. I spent many hours (when I had a
vacation at home, “a staycation” as we now call it after the financial
collapse of 2009) reading or – yes, I admit it – working beside the
pond, soothed by the gentle sounds of the waterfall.
We lived in a large old village. Although it had a long history as a
rural community, the village had been developed over the years and
now had three or four small new housing complexes. The time had
come when we felt that we had done all we could to make the house
the home we wished for, but there were still reservations about the
character of the house and its environs. It was in many respects a
commuter village, located as it was between a market town and a city.
We wanted to move to the real country, a little village, and live a rural
life, feel more a part of the changing seasons.
We also wanted a home that had a real sense of the past, which
resonated with families of long ago, living and growing in lives very
different from our own – and maybe with more simplicity and spirit
than modern life allows most of us. I wanted to be able to imagine
families of a different era sitting by that same fireside, walking in the
same garden and fields, and sense the continuity of life that represents.
I dreamed of a Georgian or Victorian house, maybe two hundred years
old, with the spirit of a bygone romantic age seeped within its stones.
Duly, we scoured the sale documents of so many totally
inappropriate properties that I lost count and became increasingly
anxious that we might not be able to either find or afford the one we
truly wanted; if we were lucky, a particular property fitted one or two
of our requirements, but it usually had glaring issues, most of them
being price. One was exciting with great potential, but its status as a
Grade 2 listed building would prevent us from making the renovations
we needed just to be able to live there in some kind of comfort. In the
UK, a Grade 2 listed building is one which is of particular historical
interest to the nation, and the owner cannot make any alterations or
even restorations without a long process of gaining permission from
Another property was an excellently restored cottage with beamed
ceilings, inglenook fireplace, and old French doors opening onto a
wonderful garden with mature trees, waterfalls, and a vegetable patch.
The downside was that it was right on a main road, with little or no
frontage and a tiny “drive” on the side for parking off the busy road.
Another had marvelous views of the surrounding hills but was in fact
built into a hill itself and only approached by steep steps up to the
Yet another property, this one in a lovely village right up on the
moors, allowed our hopes to rise. The village was within a fifteen minute
drive to a market town we knew and loved. Drystone walls
abounded, as did rolling hills and deep precipitous valleys, and a
charming little English village green and inn were at its centre. The
sale documents showed impressive photographs of the front of the
stone-built house, with a sweeping drive and two gates, and of the
garden, woods behind, and a stream running through.
“Wow!” I exclaimed to Husband, waving the estate agent’s sale
listings in my hand. “This one looks great. Hope at last. This could be
But Husband seemed strangely unimpressed. He frowned.
“But it’s got a lovely large conservatory!” I cried. “And look at this
photo. There’s a beamed vaulted room that maybe we could make into
“Mmmm,” Husband murmured. “I’ll search Google Earth and
investigate that road; I don’t like the look of it. It looks like it runs
immediately in front of the property.”
Of course, it did. And not only that, but the house was on a corner,
surrounded by roads on three sides, busy ones at that.
“Well … the stream and the woods and the garden … It looks so
peaceful,” I pleaded. “Let’s just go and have a look!”
Husband humoured me by going up there one morning and sitting
in the pub across the road from the house, counting and recording all
the traffic that passed. Apparently, there was a quarry farther down the
lane, would you believe, and heavy lorries laden with sandstone
passed at the rate of one every three minutes (he timed them all), most
of them grinding gears at the corner right outside the house before
turning onto the main road through the village. If they turned left, they
then drove past the two other sides of the house and garden. On his
return, Husband searched the Internet for the website for the quarry
and, horrors of horrors, found that there were planning applications to
extend the quarrying even closer to the village, just down the lane
from the house on the corner. Another hope bit the dust, or rather the
Time was running out, and our buyers declared that they wanted to
move in by the end of March. It was now the end of January, and we
had nothing to move into, not even any shortlist of possible properties.
Nothing was right. We wanted a house we could feel was The One
where we could settle. Should we put all our worldly goods into
storage and live in a rented place while we continued our search?
But that could get expensive and leaving us feeling insecure. What
if we never found the right house?
In desperation, I took to scouring the Internet property sites as well
as the brochures sent to me via mail and e-mail from the various local
estate agents. I searched everywhere I could think of. But I just
couldn’t get the picture of that village on the moors out of my mind.
One last try on one last website. And then I found it. Unbelievable.
A Victorian rectory with, the photograph showed, a sweeping drive
and a frontage to die for. What was even more incredible was that it
was located just a mile out of the village, on the moors that I had
fallen in love with …
“Jules,” Husband sighed patiently, “look at the asking price. It’s far
more than we’ve budgeted for.”
“I know, but, well, let’s just go and look at it,” I said. “There’s no
harm in that.”
“Mmmm, but that could just be our downfall,” he responded, “if
you fall in love with it and we can’t afford it. I know what you’re
“Yes, but … I have to know,” I said, “for sure … There’s just
something about it that calls out to me. It would be a dreadful mistake
to miss out on it.”
Husband reluctantly agreed to my making an appointment with the
vendors for us to view the property the following weekend.
And so it was that on a cold but crisp Sunday afternoon towards
the last days of January, we turned into the drive and first glimpsed
the rectory ahead of us, amidst tall trees, some way down the
driveway from the road. As we approached the white-walled, black- timbered
house, bumping over the rough farm track, it certainly didn’t
look quite as impressive as the pictures had indicated; the walls were
peeling, and there was a huge dark wooden garage at the side. But
somehow it caught my imagination. There was so much that we could
do to the place to make it the wonderful home we wanted. I could see
myself living here, pottering in the garden, pruning the roses, pulling
the weeds from the rockery. I could imagine sitting in the large bay
window, watching the plants growing and the world going by.
The setting of the rectory was wonderful, the countryside beautiful,
even on such a winter’s day as this. The gardens had awe-inspiring
potential, laid out as they were on two levels, with wide steps and
drystone walls on either side. Large white stone urns, planted with
pruned bay trees, stood sentinel at each side of the steps and at the
I opened the car window to hear the sounds of the
countryside. Even through the gusts of wind, we could hear the
peaceful sound of running water from the streams that bordered the
property. A paddock that also belonged to the house ran right down to
the road, so there was an unimpeded view from the house to the hills
beyond. There was an intriguing-looking rock outcrop on the hills to
the side of the house beyond the gardens. Woods surrounded it. It felt
as though the whole place were in the middle of nowhere, quietly
standing strong against the wild and beautiful land that surrounded it.
Truth be told, it was not as isolated as this might suggest; there
were a couple of farms in sight of the property and another behind it.
But the feeling the rectory exuded was one of gentle independence, a
haven from the world outside.
As we drove through the large heavy gates and onto the sweeping
gravel drive, the vendors opened the front door to welcome us. They
were a friendly couple in late middle age, and as we followed them
into the hall, I noted the high ceilings, the large imposing light fittings,
the late Victorian or Edwardian carved plaster covings, and the wealth
of wood in the banisters, spindles, and panelling. It was clear from the
first sight that the interior was much in need of renovation and loving
care, but as I gazed around me, I truly felt that the house had a quiet,
contented feel about it. Perhaps this was due to its religious past as the
home of a series of rectors and vicars. Maybe their spirituality had
imprinted itself upon the very bricks and stones. I was already feeling
a desire to get in touch with the history of the house: who had lived
here before … and what were their lives like here many years ago?
The vendors took us into the drawing room with its blazing log
fire. A real fire after the gas imitation we had been living with. There
was no comparison. I wanted to collapse on the couch at the fireside
and doze away my Sunday afternoon after a busy workweek. I
imagined family and friends coming to visit, feeling welcome and
warm by the roaring fire, with happy conversation and laughter, an
antidote to the stresses of a busy professional life.
As the vendors led us round the rest of the house, I glanced at
Husband with raised eyebrows. He smiled back and nodded. Yes, I
knew that we both felt that it was what we had been looking for.
In addition, the vendors had news for us about the quarry beyond
the village. Apparently, when the quarry owners submitted the plans
for the extension right up to the village hall, they had not bargained on
vociferous and passionate opposition. After all, the quarry company
was a well-known and respected national body, the need for the
quarried sandstone was great, and their current land had exhausted
supplies. The extension, they thought, was a foregone conclusion with
all the financing and might of this multinational. But the villagers had
joined forces and embarked on a forceful campaign to prevent the
acceptance of the plans.
Aided by various villagers whose professional expertise could be
brought to bear (solicitors, lawyers, councillors, local historians,
landowners, environmentalists, and so forth; it’s a well-connected
village!), the Opposition to Quarry Extension Group researched to the
point of exhaustion, set out their opposition rationale in a clear and
indisputable fashion, and took their arguments to the local and
regional councils. We were told that the quarry owners, a large
multinational company, imagining that a small village would not be
able to muster any valid opposition to their plans for extension, failed
to even send a representative to the final meeting in the village hall.
Sadly for them, they faced defeat, as the council found for the
villagers. This was a true David and Goliath situation.
So the quarry was to close down, having exhausted the riches of
the land around it, and the owners had to be true to their original
declaration that when they had exhausted the land for quarrying, they
would redo the landscaping and make good the site as a woodland
reservation with a lake and walking trails. Inevitably, however, there
were some villagers who had welcomed the extension plans, as they
worked at the quarry. Their livelihoods were now damaged.
Much of this we learned later, when we came to know the tensions
and infighting that rose to the surface. At the time, as we looked round
the rectory, however, we were cheered by the news, and although we
would not have been personally affected by any quarry extension, as
the house was a mile out of the village, our spirits rose with the hope
that this could only improve the village environment and its
desirability. We did feel strongly about the landscape of the village; it
was certainly an area of beauty, which we wanted to be preserved.
However, nothing in the world is ever perfect, and I guess we
wouldn’t want it to be, for where would our challenges be then? As
we looked carefully and thoughtfully around the house, trying to
surreptitiously peer into what perhaps the vendors didn’t want us to
notice – the dark corners (was that dampness on the wall there? was
that mould?) … the suggestion of rotting timber (could that be
repaired without too much expense?) – I realised that Husband and I
were murmuring to each other in the register of those planning work
rather than dismissing the prospect. So many features of the house
needed work. It was going to be an enormous project.
The décor was, although chosen in a desire for authenticity to the
Victorian origins of the house, hideously dark. The rooms were
smallish, certainly compared with our current bright and spacious
modern house, and dark walls worsened the effect. Dark crimson
seemed to be the favourite in the drawing room and the hall and stairs.
There was a sickly deep yellow in the room the vendors called the
sitting room and dull beige in the room they called the dining room.
The bedrooms were jazzy, with wildly flowered wallpaper.
A rickety cupboard probably hid a multitude of sins in the corner
of the drawing room, its doors hanging off despondently. The internal
doors of the entire house, probably once a rich walnut, were now
thoroughly dried out and splitting from neglect. The galleried
staircase, which was once probably magnificent, was the same: dried
out, uncared for, and sad.
The house needed love; it cried out for care and attention. It cried
out to shine and glow again.
But it was the atmosphere of the house that drew us. The vendors
had loads of “stuff” everywhere. But in the midst of the chaos were
Victorian gems. There was a stone fireplace with a cast iron woodburning
stove, a farmhouse kitchen range in the brick chimney. There
were steps on the landing to the front bedrooms, and a step down to
the bedroom at the back of the house. This was a lovely cottagey room
with its low ceiling, its tiled open fireplace and old ceiling beams, and
its window seat set into the thick stone walls. There was a little
dressing room off the main bedroom and a Juliet window and balcony
off another bedroom. The vendors had a passion for Victorian articles,
and there were delightful Victorian bisque dolls in velvet coats, hats
and muffs, and wooden handcrafted dolls houses. Potted palms and
bell cloches covered dusty plants in the parlour.
At the front of the house, at each side of the hall, in the drawing
room and the sitting room, there was a large square bay window, and
the view from there was magnificent. The house looked out onto an
upper and lower lawn with somewhat overgrown shrubberies and
borders. A farm gate at the end of the lower lawn opened out onto the
extensive paddock with huge chestnut, oak, and beech trees. All you
could see from the windows were trees, fields, hills, and a couple of
farmhouses a quarter of a mile apart across the lane. The land was
bordered with the drystone walls characteristic of the moorlands, and
there was a fast-flowing stream running over the rocks, between low
walls, along what seemed to have once been a small railway.
I have to admit that something about the house and the area
brought to mind the Lakeland fells of my youth, where we took our
holidays in the family’s seventeenth-century farmhouse and garth. We
enjoyed long, satisfying walks in the fells and round the becks of
Cumbria, drying out walking jackets by a roaring log fire in the
evening and toasting thick hunks of bread and crumpets or fruity
buttery teacakes in its heat. We’d doze into blissfully cosy sleep by
the comforting gently lapping flames, just letting the world go by at its
own pace. It seemed that all anyone needed was a healthy body, a full
stomach, and warm toes.
Flooding my mind as I gazed out the windows were memories of
making warm, soothing suppers after a long fell walk. Mmmm …
Lakeland lamb shanks in hot fresh mint gravy, one of my favourite
recipes and a staple of the Langdale area of the Lakes. Oh … and
baking hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup (scrumptious and simple)
or sticky toffee pud, again a dish of choice in the Lakes. Relaxing my
aching muscles over a hot stove in the farmhouse kitchen as Husband
made a roaring fire in the inglenook fireplace in the parlour, ready for
us to eat and rest … bliss!
So maybe it was because I was reminded of those days in the Lake
District at the farmhouse, and of holidays, fresh air, and feeling at
peace with the world, that I yearned to live in this rectory. Maybe that
was what I wanted to re-create, a purposeful but simple life, where
satisfaction and fulfilment comes from simple pleasures and not from
hectic pressures of other people’s forceful demands in an increasingly
competitive and technically complex business world.
And as I looked through those large bay windows out at the
neglected but somehow, in my mind, magnificent gardens, I felt at
home and at peace. At the time, it would have been hard to explain
why I felt that this was The One that we had been looking for. It was
all about feelings and emotions – and a million miles away from
On that Sunday, the day of our first viewing with the vendors, we
knew little about the history of the house, except that it had been “the
big house” of the land estate at one time, with many acres of land,
now mainly sold off. It had then fallen somehow into the hands of the
Anglican church when it functioned as the rectory for the benefice of
local parishes, of which there were five, representing the four tiny
nearby villages, each with its own little church, plus the larger village
with its much larger, rather splendid, church.
It seemed to us that day that the house must have been blessed; we
could feel the gently happy and contented atmosphere in the very air
of the house. It was truly, we felt, a happy family home.
As we drove back down the track to the road and to home, we
looked at each other and both said together, “Yes! This is it! We’ve
For an hour, we couldn’t stop talking about what we could do with
the property; we had such plans. My head was full of pictures of how
the house, and the life it represented, could be for us.
Then we lapsed into quietness as we collected our thoughts, and it
was only after a quiet and thoughtful final stretch of the drive home
that Husband gently turned to me and said, “The problem is … there is
so much work to do to it. Could we undertake all that, and could we
afford to do it?”
He was right, sensible and practical as ever, and I knew it. Oh dear.
So near, yet maybe so far. That night I sought solace in the kitchen,
making a warming and comforting pheasant casserole in rich red wine
in the slow oven of my gas range at gas mark 4. It had been
marinading since the morning in 600 ml. (20 fl oz.) of red wine,
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, a tablespoon of virgin cold -pressed
olive oil (the one with white truffle is lovely), and a handful of
selected fresh herbs (marjoram, thyme, basil, fennel, and oregano). As
I chopped an onion and winter vegetables (a couple of peeled carrots
and parsnips along with sliced leeks) on the wooden board and lifted
the pheasant and its marinade into the pot, I wondered how we could
possibly manage to buy the rectory. As I waited for the gentle twohour
cooking of the pheasant, I thought that we surely could not let the
Comfort food on a cold winter’s night when you are troubled is a
wonderful soother of the spirit. I threw into the oven some crusty
bread wrapped in silver foil, which had been made overnight in the
bread making machine, for convenience on our busy day, so that we
could tear off warm chunks to eat with our pheasant casserole. I had
taken some apple slices and blackberries from the freezer earlier in the
day, and I began making a fruit crumble and fresh custard. We lit the
candles at the table and sat there in the glow, sporadically voicing our
thoughts, and, I suppose, beginning to plan. How could we make this
dream a reality?
Over the following days, we churned over in our minds how we
could possibly do it. How could we manage to buy the rectory and
renovate it to its former glory? We needed to know how much work
was required on the house to make it fit for purpose and how much
this might cost. We needed to hire a surveyor and get estimates. We
knew the loss this would entail - financially, practically, and otherwise
- if we found that it would not be possible for us to buy it in the end.
It wasn’t until we had debated and decided all this that we found an
Not necessarily the answer we sought …
MY WINTER KITCHEN
In case my readers would like comfort
food to soothe the spirit and care to
make some of the foods I mention in
this chapter, here are the recipes. Bake
and enjoy together with friends and
Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint Gravy
Best slow cooked for four hours in the Crock-Pot so that the deep
flavour of the mint seeps into the meat. Large shanks from lambs bred
free on the fells are even more delicious if coated with mint jelly and
marinated in mint and red wine for a few hours before cooking. The
marinade can be used as the stock base for the braising. Succulent
from the slow cooking, these shanks are so tender that the meat
literally falls off the bone. Heaven!
4 lamb shanks, as large as possible3 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced
1 Spanish onion, chopped finely and sautéed in butter until
2 parsnips, peeled and finely sliced
600 ml. (10 fl. oz.) fresh gravy, can be made from the meat juices with
Sweet mint jelly
Marinade the lamb shanks for 2–3 hours before cooking, in seasoned
red wine mixed with sweet mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. Drain
off the liquid but use for the braising juice. Lightly brown the lamb
shanks in a pan, then place them in a slow cooker (Crock-Pot) and
coat them with more sweet mint jelly. Add the vegetables and about 3
cups of the marinade liquid. Add more when necessary but avoid
drowning the meat. Cook (braise) slowly on low for about 3–4 hours,
depending on the size of the shanks. If using an oven, cook on a low
setting (180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). When the meat is beginning to fall
off the bone (but not disintegrated into the liquid), it is ready. It’s a bit
of a trial and error strategy the first time. Make the gravy using the
wine and mint liquid from the pot. Delicious!
I like to accompany them with fresh green vegetables from the garden
and, oh so English, a handful of homemade thick-cut farmhouse
chipped potatoes, fried in good vegetable fat, crispy on the outside and
soft on the inside. Or maybe big chunks of potatoes roasted in the
oven in goose fat (graissed’oie): the brand La TruffeCendree, which
is simply goose fat and a little salt, is excellent. A good thing about
this is that you can store any leftover liquid fat in an airtight Kilner or
Le Parfait jar in the refrigerator for up to two months, not that it lasts
so long in my household! I like to parboil the potatoes first, drain, and
then gently shake the pan (with the lid on) to “rough up” the outside
surfaces, which, when they are roasted in goose fat, become
deliciously crispy and crunchy with a soft centre. Bliss!
And to finish the meal and evoke memories of Lakeland spicy fruity
puddings, we like hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup:
Hot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup
4–5 large oranges
150 g. (6 oz.) caster sugar
3 tbsp. water
250 ml. (8 fl. oz.) fresh orange juice
1 vanilla pod
Optional orange liqueur such as Cointreau
Heat the oven to 150ºC, 275ºF/gas mark 2. Peel the oranges,
removing all pith and cores, and arrange in a shallow dish. Dissolve
the sugar with the water gently in a pan over low heat. When it
becomes clear, turn up the heat and cook until the liquid is a light
caramel. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and
stir in orange juice. To avoid splashing yourself as the hot caramel
burns, use a long-handled wooden spoon. Split or gently slice open
the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds out into the pan of syrup with the
tip of a sharp knife. Pour the syrup over the oranges and bake for
about 15–20 minutes, until the fruit is soft. You will need to spoon the
syrup several times over the oranges during the baking. Add a dash of
Cointreau if desired. Leave to cool a little so that it doesn’t burn
mouths. It’s also lovely chilled.
So simple, so gorgeous! It needs nothing else to accompany it,
although I have seen certain members of my family top it with a little
freshly whipped thick cream. Extremely sinful, but who am I to
argue? I have said that this recipe serves four, but the portions would
be generous, so if you were serving a cheese board afterwards, for
instance, you could use the same quantities for six. Quantities are
always difficult to generalise upon, and I have myself followed
recipes for four, which have been barely enough for healthy appetites,
especially after a long, healthy walk in the hills.
Another Lakeland recipe I love to make is what we call scrumptious
sticky toffee pud, which is as easy as it is sinfully rich and gooey. The
full recipe, which is the traditional one from the Lakes, is a family
secret, with a secret ingredient I put in my puds. But here is the basic
Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud
serves 6–8 (But if there are fewer, be sure that none will be
wasted! You can gently heat it up the next day too.)
Utterly gorgeous! And if you want, you can freeze the pud after
baking and cooling, so you can make the most complicated bit in
advance and just do the sauce just before you serve. SSTP reminds me
so much of the Lakes that it transports my mind back to those
wonderful holidays in an instant: healthy rambles, glowing cheeks,
roaring fire, family laughter round the table. However, often, in the
Lakes, we compare the SSTP on offer at different restaurants: is it as
good as our homemade one? The answer is always “no”. Try for
150 g. (6 oz.) dates, stones removed and chopped
1 level tsp. of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
50 g. (2 oz.) butter
150 g. (6oz.) caster sugar
2 medium eggs (free range), beaten
150 g. (6 oz.) self-raising flour
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract, Madagascan if possible
For the sauce:
175 g. (7 oz.) soft brown sugar
6 tbsp. double cream (naughty but yummy)
100 g. (4 oz.) butter
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). Grease a 7-in. square
loose-bottomed cake tin. Pour about half a pint of water over the
dates and bring them to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat.
Add the bicarbonate of soda and leave the pan to stand while you
prepare the pud. Cream the butter and sugar together, add the beaten
eggs a little at a time, and beat well. Fold in the flour and stir in the
dates, the liquid, and the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into the
prepared cake tin. Bake for 30–40 minutes.
For the sauce: Mix the sugar, cream, butter, and vanilla extract in a
pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. Pour a little of
the sauce over the cooked pud, then pop it back into the oven for a few
minutes to help the sauce soak into the sponge. I usually prick the top
of the pud to expedite matters. Cut the pud into squares and serve it
with the rest of the sauce. Absolutely divine!
If by any remote chance it is not all devoured in one go and you want
to heat it up the next day, just wrap silver foil around it and heat it
gently in a warmed oven. The sauce also heats through very well in a
pan on top of the stove. Or you could freeze part of it. I personally
have never had occasion to do this!
Another pud we like is fruit crumble. Even Husband, who has to be
gently persuaded to eat fruit, will drool at the sight and smell of a rich
aromatic crumble, hot from the oven, especially if served with custard.
Men seem to love what I call “nursery puds”, those gloriously filling
puddings of childhood that Mother or Grandma used to make.
Crumbles are a great and easy way to use fruit in season, whether
from your garden or the market. In the spring, I love to make rhubarb
crumble because I grow it in the garden, and I just adore its
mouthwatering sharpness. But I also freeze suitable surplus fruit like
blackberries, which will defrost and bake excellently in a crumble
pudding. I try to freeze suitable fruit in 450 g. (16 oz. /1 lb.)
quantities, which is the basic amount to pop straight into a dish (after
defrosting) for a crumble.
Country Apple and Blackberry Crumble and Homemade Custard
450 g. (1 lb.) mixed, peeled, and sliced cooking apples and
150 g. (6 oz.) Demerara or soft brown sugar
75 g. (3 oz.) butter
175 g. (6 oz.) plain white flour
Juice of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4. Sprinkle the fresh
lemon juice over the apple slices. Wash the blackberries. Mix the fruit
together carefully and spoon into the bottom of a 900 ml. (1.5 pint)
baking dish, ovenproof or the old-fashioned enamel kind. Sprinkle halfthe sugar over the top of the fruit. To make the crumble, crumble the
flour and butter together between your fingers, until the mixture
resembles fine breadcrumbs, and then stir in the other half of the
sugar to sweeten it. Spread the crumble over the top of the fruit. Bakein the oven for about 35–40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden.
Test with a sharp knife to ensure that the fruit is soft and well cooked
Even better is to use half flour and half oats for the topping.
This is delicious eaten with homemade custard. This is the realthing, not from a tin or packet but made with milk, egg, and a little
sugar to taste, beaten over a low heat until thickened – even moregorgeous with vanilla (the real McCoy from the pod or, failing that,
Madagascan vanilla extract).
For the custard:
600 ml. (20 fl. oz.) milk
50 g. (2 oz.) sugar
4 egg yolks
A few drops of Madagascan vanilla extract (or soak a vanilla pod in
the milk after heating; remove and scrape out the seeds to add to the
Heat the milk gently over low heat until warm to the touch. Beat in the
sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Heat gently again to thicken. Serve