Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Time to satisfy your inner Billy Bunter

NOW the clocks have gone back, there’s something in our DNA that hankers for winter food.

NOW the clocks have gone back, there’s something in our DNA that hankers for winter food.

Around Halloween time, a switch flicks in my mind, out comes the casserole, stew pot and pressure cooker from the cupboard under the sink (whatever ingredients you put in a pressure cooker, they all come out tasting the same: hotpot).

Despite the availability of most ingredients flown in at hand, we still have an appetite for distinctly seasonal eating.

Interesting how roquette, panna cotta, sundried tomato and Caesar salad fall out of favour to the stodgefest of puddings, pastry crusts, hotpots, casseroles and stews (casserole in the oven, stew on the hob).

The autumn kitchen is where British cooks excel, preparing nostalgic dishes from our culinary heritage. Recipes from before we had central heating.

How cold it must have been to need this high carb, high fat winter fodder. Fuel to plough the fields, trek miles to work, bolster our being against the elements.

Snag is, I no longer need such high octane energy, but something in my soul craves braised mutton, bay and pearl barley — warm me to the marrow, leave me feeling like a well-lagged boiler.

There are daily steamings of steak and kidney pudding, Monday to Friday luncheon at the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row.

Like the best apple crumble, a pudding is ready when it’s ready — not good reheated. I’ll steam four dozen steak and kidney puds every day — when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Delicious, moreish soft suet pastry. Tender local beef and kidney oozing with heavenly rich cooking gravy. The pastry takes on all the flavours of what’s happening inside — just unbelievable to eat. Unapologetic in its comfort food frugality. A woolly jumper carbohydrate cuddle.

Eliza Acton in her Modern Cookery of 1845 calls a steak and mushroom pudding a John Bull pudding. Another steak and suet pudding was known as Bedfordshire Clanger — and what a clanger it was, it had beef at one end and jam at the other — a complete meal in one.

For the full Billy Bunter experience, I’ll also steam a daily traditional sweet British pudding — spotted dick, Sussex pond, treacle sponge, dead man’s leg.

Slow-cooked suet and flour guaranteed to bring smiles and applause — feel your body temperature rise with the first spoonful of treacle pudding. Very naughty.

To book a table at the Crooked Billet, call (01491) 681048.

• Paul Clerehugh is chef at the Crooket Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch him every week on Food on Friday, 2pm, BBC Radio Berkshire.

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