Her name was Bronwyn ap Tewdwr and she was our guest judge for the annual pudding contest. ‘A pudding contest?’ you ask. And I say, ‘Why not?’ Real pudding, like real ale, is a long way from the packaged puddings that litter grocery stores. And watching a group of talented folk making tasty food is something I always appreciate!
The contest, which covers both sweet and savoury puddings, is held annually in the Fall as a break from the getting-ready-for-Winter tasks all of us are doing. So Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff start planning for this by finding interesting ingredients and picking the judge from among the culinarily inclined people that she knows. That person gets a week here gratis and a generous stipend as well.
(You cannot pitch yourself as a judge, as that gets you disqualified. And Mrs. Ware is quite above being bribed even if she has a weakness for Turkish Delight ever since she was a wee girl and read the Narnia books for the first time.)
Now I’ll admit that my only pudding of interest is a dark chocolate one made with bittersweet chocolate. But then I like a dark chocolate bread pudding as well. Maybe even better. The only thing I’ve ever tasted better than that pudding was a dark chocolate bread pudding infused with Madagascar vanilla and a hint of cardamom. Ymmm!
We Swedes have a long tradition of making puddings from scratch. My momor, my maternal grandmother, every Autumn made an apple and almond pudding using a tart apple variety with just vanilla and cinnamon for spicing. Served with warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was quite wonderful.
Bronwyn decided that though she officially is the arbiter for this contest, anyone interested should have a say. The actual contest took place in what’s called the canning and drying kitchen, as it’s set up exclusively for that purpose. It’s in a building that’s strictly two-season use only as we drain the water before the first real freeze takes place. It’s got two Viking gas stoves, each with eight burners, two sinks for water and cleaning up, and lots of work space.
We started in late morning with sets of four pudding makers, each given ample time to create their pudding from scratch. That group created a pudding using our pear cider; a blackberry and graham cracker pudding, as those bushes were still bearing; a breakfast pudding with bacon, cheddar cheese and mushrooms; and what the Yanks call an Indian pudding which is made with cornmeal and molasses.
Before we wrapped it up many hours later, we’d seen made and had sampled puddings such as black pudding and haggis pudding, groaty pudding (soaked groats, beef, leeks, onion and beef stock), kugel, a Yorkshire pudding, steak and kidney pudding, and several spotted dick and a suet and fruit based concoction. There was even a stellar Christmas pudding that Mrs. Ware said she’d be making for our Christmas eventide meal.
There was a three-way tie for best pudding between the breakfast pudding, the pudding using pear cider and the kugel, which was the work of Rebekah, a Several Annie, one of Iain’s Library Apprentices, from Israel.
All in all everyone was happy with both the food and the comfortable companionship in a contest no one took too seriously. Most of us went for a long walk afterwards to work off the feeling of needing a good nap this engendered.