Like all true Englishmen, I like my puddings. Not desserts. Puddings. There’s a big difference. Desserts are for sissies. Puddings are big, steaming affairs, mountains of sweetness constructed for stout-hearted men possessing more appetite than shame and, preferably, wearing trousers equipped with an elasticated waistband.
Imagine my pleasure, therefore, when the wonderful Mrs E took me on a 40th birthday trip to The Pudding Club (I should point out that said birthday took place eight years ago, but I didn’t have a blog then; I can only apologise that it’s taken me this long to get round to telling you about it). The Pudding Club is a mysterious venue tucked away in the heart of England, not far from Stratford-upon-Avon. Did Shakespeare ever indulge his sweet tooth there? If he didn’t, he was a fool.
Our evening at The Pudding Club began with the main course. This is part of the deal. You have to earn your right to sugar-saturated gluttony. Fortunately, our servings of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding were mercifully small. In view of what was to come, this was a Good Thing.
Once we’d got the mucky business of meat and vegetables out of the way, we and our fellow diners were treated to the Parade of the Puddings. Seven puddings were carried ceremoniously into the dining room, each to enthusiastic applause, after which our host regaled us with a rousing speech about both the history and the ethos of The Pudding Club. The presentation included a reflective aside concerning the management’s early attempts to upgrade from powdered custard to a properly prepared egg-and-vanilla recipe. Needless to say, this move was widely condemned and they quickly reverted to the original formula, thus confirming another truth about Englishmen: the only true custard is made by Birds.
With the speechifying over, the pudding courses began. All seven of them. This is the mission you undertake when you spend an evening at The Pudding Club: to eat all that you see. Every diner is expected to sample at least one bowl of every pudding, or else be deemed a weakling. The only concession is that everyone has the right to request a small portion.
But why would you do that?
I’m proud to say I didn’t let the side down. I scoffed down seven full servings of the delicious delights, maintaining a smile on my face throughout (admittedly one that grew slightly more pained as the evening progressed). And let’s be absolutely clear: these were real puddings. Steamed syrup sponge. Jam roly-poly. Bread-and-butter pudding. Toffee-and-date. All served with lashings of Birds Custard. If ever there was an Everest of sweetness, this was it. And, yes, I climbed all the way to the summit.
At the end of the evening, all the diners submitted the scorecards they’d been filling in throughout the meal. The votes were counted. We waited with bated breath. The chairs groaned beneath our collective weight. At last the victorious pudding was announced to yet more applause: on this occasion it was the steamed syrup sponge, my own personal favourite and a worthy winner. After that, we said our farewells to the brave souls who’d accompanied us on this over-stuffed odyssey and staggered up to our pudding-themed bedroom.
By the time I’d eaten all those puddings I certainly felt like I’d turned forty. Forty stone. Yet, despite the mild discomfort, I was content. I’m not sure I could do it again now; my digestion isn’t quite what it used to be.
Hmm, on the other hand, they do serve up those smaller portions …