Pride and Puddings, Regula Ysewijn’s gorgeous debut cookbook, is out today. It may not actually be about seafood, but we still can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s why…
It’s a bit of a departure for us, not actually being about seafood, but we can’t help but mention Regula Ysewijn’s new book, Pride and Puddings, out today. Partly because Regula is a Fish on Friday contributor, partly because it’s such a special book (what a title!), but also because it’s such a fascinating exploration of Britishness and the history of our food culture, which seems curiously relevant.
“Pudding cuts right to the heart of Britishness,” writes Dr Annie Gray, food historian, in the foreword. “In the 18th century, when British cuisine was growing up and developing an identity, pudding was central to British gastronomy… It appeared in satires as a symbol of the Empire, and in illustrations as a symbol of family… The decline of the pudding, in some ways, echoes a confusion over what nationality and national identity means in the modern world, and whether they are useful ideas at all.”
Reading this, it’s not hard to see why Regula is also drawn to write about fish and fishing, its traditions and its importance to the culture of this island nation. (And it was lovely to see that Stephen Perham, the last fishermen in Clovelly still using wooden boats, and his “fishwife” Joy, who Regula has written about for us a couple of times, were at the launch last night.)
Although full of useful and beautifully presented recipes, Pride and Puddings is just as much a book about social history, showing how the pudding evolved from the times of the Roman occupation to the present day – and to explain, writes Regula, “why British food went from being the lauded subject of diarists and letter writers to a subject of ridicule”. It’s fundamentally, and delightfully, a love letter to a much-maligned cuisine by someone who has been an “Anglophile since I was a little girl” and who has become something of an expert after blogging about British food and culture for five years as Miss Foodwise.
The book kicks off by explaining that it is only since the 20th century that pudding has come to be considered the sweet course concluding a meal – “it started out as a savoury dish which was mostly meat-based, such as a haggis or sausage” – and takes us on a romp through the eras of British culinary history, celebrating its various writers (many of them, she points out, women) along the way. There are chapters for each kind of pudding; boiled and steamed puddings (“the first and true pudding in the world”); baked puddings; batter puddings; bread puddings; jellies, milk puddings and ices.
There are recipes for such forgotten delights as quaking, or shaking, pudding, enjoyed by Samuel Pepys. “It was usually served in a pond of melted butter, sugar and sack (a kind of sherry) or rosewater. It was then often spiked with sliced almonds or candied peel, which made it look like a hedgehog.” But there is plenty here that is recognisable and irresistible to the modern foodie too, with something for every season: trifles, syllabubs, ice creams, chestnut and bakewell tarts, and beef pudding and toad in the hole too. There are 80 recipes in all, each with its own story; all carefully recreated from historical texts and updated for the modern cook.
It’s also irresistible to the eye. This is truly a gorgeous, and utterly original, work, produced entirely by Regula and her husband Bruno: she wrote it and took the glorious photos, so often reminiscent of Flemish still lifes, he did the dreamlike illustrations, and they worked on the design together. It took two years to create, with plenty of ups and downs along the way, as they both cheerfully now admit. Well, Regula and Bruno, it was well worth it. As Jamie Oliver puts it rather neatly in the quote on the cover, it’s “a very tasty masterpiece”.