Culture: Soulful sustenance by food writer Nicola Miller
‘Brymbyl’ is the old English word for brambles; I do love a word that sounds like a Roald Dahl outtake. Its fruit, the blackberry, has long been foraged by wave after wave of settlers and invaders across both hemispheres because, apparently, it has the most widespread geography of any fruit. We know that in England, the Anglo Saxons baked these berries (although they are actually drupelets) into pies to celebrate Lughnasadh, the first feast of fruit at the start of August and ale brewed from blackberries, hops and malt was commonly drunk in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mauldon’s Black Adder Brewery in Sudbury has a seasonally available blackberry porter if you’d like to try this.
In the Pardoner’s Prologue, Chaucer saw blackberrying as a carefree activity, writing: “I rekke nevere, whan that they been beryed, Though that hir soules goon a-blakeberyed!’ although the Pardoner is actually trying to prevent souls from wandering off carelessly because of this. He’s right, blackberrying is fun although too much carefree inattention can result in entrapment by the plants lethally-thorned stems which ancient Britons used as a barrier, much in the manner we now use barbed wire.
I’m not a massive fan of autumn in general because it has too much of what the Welsh refer to as ‘skirrid’ – the natural deterioration and breaking down of things and people. I find this quite a sad season despite its bounty, and even though this autumn has been wonderful for fruit, I am not looking forward to the cold and grey months ahead. One way I cope is by baking the old nursery classics such as this bread and butter pudding, which is a marvellous use of leftover bread although anyone with teenagers will laugh hollowly at the idea of ‘leftover’ bread. I had to buy a white tin loaf which I left out for a day in order to make this because fresh bread will be too soft and therefore at risk of total collapse during the sogging process.
The predecessor to our modern-day bread and butter pudding is the Devonian ‘whitepot’, named after the creamy paleness of its ingredients before they were baked in the oven and acquired a puffy, golden top. Whitepot once contained bone marrow, and it was also scattered with what John Nott pleasingly called ‘ raisins of the Sun, or what Sweet-meats you please’ from his 1723 book, The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. Nott’s version sounds pretty luxurious with mace, eight egg yolks, cream, nutmeg, sugar, dates, marrow, and fresh butter; I have forgone his raisins of the sun which I would normally scatter between the slices of buttered bread and instead I serve the pudding with a jammy, blackberry-dark sauce flavoured with hazelnut Frangelico liqueur. This is a much-needed antidote to the recent grey skies and works as well for an (admittedly) indulgent breakfast as it does for pudding.
Bread and butter pudding with a blackberry, honey and, Frangelico sauce
Unsliced white bread, enough for 8-10 slices
Butter (enough to spread on the bread, and butter the dish)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10½floz/300ml single cream
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1.5-2 tablespoons demerara sugar
Blackberry, honey and Frangelico sauce:
3 tablespoons honey (I use a gentle clover honey)
juice of ½ lemon
3 capfuls of Frangelico
Butter a shallow 1.5l baking dish, making sure you grease the sides well.
Slice the bread but don’t make the slices too thick or too thin. I leave the crusts on, but you might prefer to remove them. Spread the bread with butter then slice the buttered pieces into halves or quarters depending on how you think they might best fit in your baking dish. Lay them in the dish like tiles, slotting them together neatly.
Mix the milk, vanilla, cream, eggs and caster sugar. Pour over the bread and butter and leave to sog for at least 15 minutes. The slices of bread will drink up (sog in) the cream and egg mixture, becoming soft and puffy.
Preheat the oven to 150oC/300oF/gas mark 2.
Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the pudding, place the baking dish on an oven tray, put in the oven and
bake for around 40 minutes or until golden and softly set. Your pudding should wobble a little when you remove
it from the oven.
Leave it to stand for ten minutes before serving with the sauce.
To make the sauce:
Start making the sauce whilst your pudding is baking in the oven. Place all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and cook until the berries completely collapse into a soft sauce. Keep an eye on it as
you don’t want it to get too thick. This should take around 15 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding a little more honey if you prefer it sweeter, although I like some sharpness as a contrast.
Follow Nicola on Twitter: @Nicmillerstale