It's that unpredictable season when the weather literally blows hot and cold and there is a certain unease as we wait expectantly for cooler days and nights. The only consolation is the abundance of fruit, most of which can be made into delicious desserts. Pauline D. Loh shares some recipes.
The first pudding I ever ate was a rice pudding with stewed prunes, the Friday night dessert at my very English boarding school. It was sweet, milky rice served with a preserved fruit my granny made me eat only if my digestive system was out of sorts. It was little wonder then that the kitchen had thought the little Chinese girl was "odd" for not liking "pudding".
Well, the Chinese girl is not so little now and she has learned to appreciate pudding for what it is, something the English do very well. There is still a little truth to those Asterix and Obelix jokes about English cooks boiling everything from boar to chicken to potato and Brussels sprouts. But pudding actually improves with prolonged boiling, witness the classic Christmas pud.
But that was all before a scruffy-haired young man with choir-boy looks burst upon the culinary scene with his reconstructed interpretations of English food via a detour to Italy. Jamie Oliver changed the way the world looked at British cooking, although I heard he had a little less success persuading the English themselves.
Whichever side of the English cooking camp you are on, there are some delicious sweets I learned in my years in the Isles. If sometimes the sun fails to shine through the London fog, there is a taste of sunshine in a self-saucing lemon pudding.
There is spotted dick and roly poly, and there is the satisfying apple pudding with a cake-like layer on top that is just as appealing hot, or cold. The chefs at my old school added apple-pie spices and candied ginger sometimes, but I have adapted that to the five-spice powder that is more common here, together with freshly grated ginger. Why use preserved when there is fresh?
Besides, I find apple-spice a tad overwhelming on the nose and I prefer the lighter, sweeter smelling five-spice.
My third pudding is the classic bread and butter pudding, which I learned in domestic science class. It was both a culinary lesson as well as an education in frugality. It uses stale bread, refreshed with a bath in milk and egg and sweetened with sugar and tiny jewels of raisins. It bakes to a puffy crisp golden-brown with a gooey custard inside - a culinary miracle if there is one.
Finally, I'll like to bookend this week's offerings with a Chinese pudding, a coconut milk dessert that is like the classic blancmange but with decidedly Oriental influences such as the addition of sweetened red bean paste. It's like eating a solid version of that popular Hong Kong caf favorite - iced red beans with crushed ice in chilled coconut milk. It's cooked on the stove and chilled until set - the only pudding on this page that doesn't need any baking.
Whatever the pudding, wherever the cook, the ultimate aim is the same, to provide comforting desserts to end a meal. And in all seasons.