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.
“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!