Such a foody de­light to be in the Pud­ding Club

David Clay­ton loves his pud­dings … and his cus­tard. But, for once, he did man­age to bite off more than he could chew, as he ex­plains.

Let's Talk - - 112 -

“What do you buy the man who has ev­ery­thing?” asked Pauline from Es­sex. Hus­band Joe smiled: “I love pud­dings.”

It was Joe’s birth­day treat from his wife and they were stay­ing in the Sum­mer Pud­ding themed room at the Three Ways House Ho­tel in Mick­le­ton on the edge of the Cotswolds.

The ho­tel is home to the world­fa­mous Pud­ding Club. They were sit­ting op­po­site me as we paced our­selves for seven dif­fer­ent pud­dings af­ter a main course. There were three birth­day presents be­ing en­joyed on our communal ta­ble among the 70 or so peo­ple who’d made the pil­grim­age from far and wide to ex­pe­ri­ence this cel­e­brated quirk of Bri­tish din­ing.

The Pud­ding Club was launched in 1985 by the then own­ers of the ho­tel who were fed up with half-hearted desserts wheeled around restau­rants on rick­ety old sweet trol­leys. They soon found they weren’t alone and grad­u­ally re­ac­tion to the Pud­ding Club grew.

Jill and Si­mon Coombes are the hote­liers who in­her­ited the Pud­ding Club when they bought the place back in the mid-1990s and at first weren’t sure they’d keep it go­ing but were soon con­vinced

as the phone kept on ring­ing re­quest­ing in­for­ma­tion about the next meet­ing. Now it runs ev­ery Fri­day and peo­ple turn up from farflung cor­ners of the coun­try not to men­tion the globe.

I ‘came out’ years ago about my se­ri­ous love of proper pud­dings with cus­tard, so you can imag­ine my ea­ger­ness to sam­ple the Pud­ding Club. I was in the Sticky Tof­fee Pud­ding themed room, akin to be­ing in a Be­douin tent, in recog­ni­tion of the pud­ding’s core in­gre­di­ent - dates.

An even­ing at the Pud­ding Club is prop­erly chore­ographed. You as­sem­ble in the ho­tel’s lounge at about 7.30pm for a glass of el­der­flower fizz where­upon the Pud­ding Mas­ter, or in our case an ex­cel­lent Pud­ding Mis­tress, Lucy, wel­comes you and takes you through the ‘rules’. You have to empty your bowl be­fore go­ing up to try an­other pud­ding and she’ll in­di­cate when, ta­ble by ta­ble. The pud­dings will be pa­raded in one by one to wild applause. “You must pace your­self,” she warns. Lucy’s favourite phrase through­out the wel­come in­tro­duc­tion was “lash­ings of cus­tard”. I rather took this to heart.

There’s a choice of three ‘ap­pe­tis­ers’, a meat, a fish and a vegetarian dish and Lucy sug­gests you might go easy on the veg! Then that all im­por­tant mo­ment when in come the pud­dings, one by one, and that’s af­ter a tureen has been filled with lash­ings of cus­tard. It gets re-filled a few times over the even­ing. The kitchen pro­duces seven gal­lons of the stuff!

I started well with what I was sure was just a sliver of ap­ple and apri­cot layer pud­ding but took two ladles of cus­tard – I do love cus­tard. I then thought I should face up to that one school pud­ding I’d al­ways re­jected so went for a small tri­an­gle of rhubarb pie – and more cus­tard. Hav­ing re­alised it wasn’t as bad as I’d re­mem­bered, I re­warded my­self with sticky tof­fee pud­ding and sauce and more cus­tard! I took a breather and then headed for a mere spoon­ful of mar­malade bread and but­ter pud­ding and some cus­tard.

At this point, I gave in and while peo­ple around me con­tin­ued to re­plen­ish their bowls, I sat there in a pud­ding-in­duced tor­por.

The Pud­ding Mis­tress sym­pa­thised: “I think you over­did the cus­tard.” I con­fessed to hav­ing had a pint and a half of lager in the bar be­fore­hand. She gave me a with­er­ing look, which ba­si­cally said: “You’ve only your­self to blame!”

To be hon­est there are no real rules. If you like one par­tic­u­lar pud­ding you can just keep hav­ing por­tions of that, but the fun is in try­ing dif­fer­ent ones. The menu varies each week and over the years Jill and Si­mon, along with their pud­ding mas­ter chef, Sheila Vin­cent, have been sent or have found all sorts of long-lost pud­ding clas­sics and reg­u­larly re-cre­ate them.

You get to vote on your favourite pud­ding and sticky tof­fee won, quite rightly. Then joy of joys you get a cer­tifi­cate to say you’ve been to The Pud­ding Club – even if you only man­aged four!

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