Surprise! A lemon pudding – with no lemons
My salute to a pioneer food writer who wasn’t afraid to put her recipes to the restaurant test
did feel like it was describing a brave new world. Just reading her words on sorrel and how it is a huge source of flavour to the cook in our climate is interesting – but then she urges the reader to go out and find some, having picked some herself from Hampstead Heath. Foraging, when it was just called “picking”, was part of her cooking.
I was fascinated to discover that in the same year that the book was originally released, the author opened a restaurant in London. She had married a chef called Bill Lacy and they set up Lacy’s, in Whitfield Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. This seems such a brave thing to do, because most food writers are happy to dispense wisdom from the page but reluctant to put it into practice publicly. This suggests to me a hint of evangelism, as they were serving many of the dishes that appeared in the book. I would love to see this happen more nowadays as I think a few writers and critics might find it humbling. In the days of TripAdvisor, Twitter and Instagram, restaurants are under constant scrutiny and I wonder how many would cut the mustard.
This week’s recipe is an adaptation of Costa’s famous lemon surprise pudding, which I have made many times over the years, but I tried it with some clementines that needed using up. I like the slight spiciness that the clementines bring.
Although we remember Costa mainly for her book, she was also the cookery writer for The Sunday Times, an original contributor to The Good Food Guide and had a column in Gourmet magazine in America. I would love to read these, as I am sure they would reveal so much about the food in England in the Sixties.
I wish somebody would collect together her writings in a compendium, as she remains relevant today. I think Costa, who died in 1999, would look at today’s food scene and see that she made an important contribution, even if there is a danger of seeing her as a one-hit wonder.
Stephen Harris is chef-patron of The Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent, whose many award include the top spot at the 2018 Estrella Damm Best Gastropub Awards
100g butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1 level tsp citric acid
Zest and juice of 2 clementines 150g caster sugar
A pinch of ground star anise (optional, though you can whizz up your own in a coffee grinder, discarding the coarser rubble) 3 eggs, separated
50g self-raising flour
150ml double cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas 3½. Butter a 2-litre baking dish.
Stir the citric acid into the clementine juice. Set aside.
Cream together the butter, sugar, zest and star anise (if using) for two minutes.
With the mixer running on medium, add the egg yolks one at a time. Keep the mixer running and add the flour gradually, followed by the clementine juice.
Add the milk and stir until you have a batter.
In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Very carefully fold the egg whites into the batter, taking care not to knock all the air out.
Pour the mixture into the buttered baking dish and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. When the pudding is done, the top should be golden brown but the bottom should still be a bit runny.
Serve up, making sure each person gets some crust and sauce, and offer double cream on the side.