Bread Pudding And School Dinners
There is a small café in Hunsbury Park, Northampton, which currently produces the world’s finest bread pudding. This delicious product is worth travelling from all round the world to ignite your gastric juices.
Just one Hunsbury Park Northampton café but there are 2,050 shops in the Greg’s Bakers chain which all see the second best bread pudding of the twenty-first century.
Historically my Nan’s bred pudding was the best ever to emerge from a gas oven. Better even than Hunsbury and Greggs. My Nan’s bread pudding was even eaten by King George V. I tell the story in my book The Bridge House. I explain how King George every week sent a uniformed footman from Buckingham Palace to Kingstanding in Birmingham to collect his week’s supply of bread pudding. Some people think Kingstanding takes its name from the Civil War where King Charles I reviewed his troops. No, that is just a legend. The truth is the name comes from George V’s footman standing waiting for my Nan to take the bread pudding out of the oven.
True ? Note please how I have typed the word story in the above paragraph – story. Story means fiction, something from a writer’s imagination. My Nan was real enough and her bread pudding was the finest in the land but the reign of King George never did reach fulfilment as His Royal Highness did not eat even a tiny morsel of my Nan’s bread pudding.
Kingstanding, my Nan’s home and home to the world’s finest bread pudding. Here’s a thought, if King Charles I had nipped down to my Nan before reviewing his troops for a bite of bread pudding perhaps he would have won the civil war so enabling Oliver Cromwell to have his head cut off instead of committing regicide !
What is bread pudding ? It may have been able to set light to a royal palate but it is essentially a working-class dish using up stale bread rather than let it go mouldy. To make a bake of bread pudding you will need: 8 ounces of stale bread soaked in water or milk for half an hour. (Foreigners are not sophisticated to enjoy bread pudding so measurements are given in proper British format. After all we won The Battle of Waterloo and have kicked the European Union into touch. On then with proper imperial quantities.)
To replicate the star quality of my Nan you will also need: 2 ounces of caster sugar, 1 level teaspoon of mixed spice, 6 ounces of mixed fruit, 3 ounces of melted butter, 1 beaten egg. 2 tablespoons of milk and some extra sugar to scatter over the top of the pudding when it comes out of the oven.
It is not difficult to find a recipe for bread pudding on-line but none tell you how t o inject the magic touch my Nan did.
As a kid and as a teenager my Nan would give me a very generous slice of bread pudding each time I visited her. Swinging out of the sixties ever so briefly and into the disco seventies when I was away at college training to be a teacher, my Nan would send me off at the start of each term with a tin of bread pudding.
My Nan left us in 1984, aged 94, since when bread pudding has never been quite the same. When I have finished writing this chapter I am going to have a go myself at a recipe. If I come anywhere near to Nan’s achievement perhaps, just perhaps I will send His Royal Highness Prince Charles a slice. Charlie, I don’t think bread pudding will be quite your Mum’s thing but I am guessing you will like it. After all it was a favourite of your great-grandfather.
School dinners ? Was bread pudding on the menu ? It was but it was steamed and not cooked in an over, not served as a slice of cake but with custard it was served as a soggy, unappetising thing to eat after the main course.
School dinners at Banners Gate County Primary School were a punishment somewhere between the rack and the hangman’s noose. I always went home for dinner, remember I told you it was not called lunch. However, at Boldmere High School For Boys in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield it was too far and so school dinners were mandatory.
Dinners cost five shillings a week, twenty-five pence. That’s five pence in today’s silly decimalised money. What kind of a meal can you buy from McDonald’s for five pence ? Free school meals were available for families who could not afford the five pence a day. Throughout my time at Boldmere I only knew one friend who could not afford to pay, his father was dead and his mother did not work as she looked after her three sons. We, his class mates, never thought much about the situation and never said anything so I hope it never caused him any embarrassment.
School dinners were good. Not every meal but to give them three and a half stars in The School Dinner Michelin Guide would be fair. If only boiled cabbage was not served that could be four stars. Boiled cabbage aka seaweed, when that was on the menu the entire school stank of it. The metal tubs of boiled cabbage were returned unopened for the pig man to take away and recycle into pork chops the following term.
There was one pudding, frog spawn, which returned to the kitchen the same was but everything else was Ok (ish). Some knew it as tapioca pudding but no self-respecting frog would ever lay claim to it.
When Moses came down the mountain he had tablets of stone for the cooks at Boldmere High School For Boys, the menu to be served every Wednesday and every Friday. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday the school cooks were allowed to use their own initiative.
Friday was fish, every Friday was fish. Supposedly pseudo religious respecting those of the Roman Catholic faith it was always fish on Friday. Fish served with hard lumpy potatoes. I speak of The Royal Borough Of Sutton Coldfield, it was King Henry VIII who gave the town its royal charter. I think if King Henry VIII learned of fish being served at Boldmere High School For Boys on Fridays the entire kitchen staff would have followed the path of his ill-fated wives Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour !
Wednesday was stew. Pre-Boldmere I did not like stew but there I enjoyed it and secretly looked forward to Wednesday.
The other three days were a mix and match. We were always served a road dinner once a week. Roast meat, potatoes and usually peas which were also known as bullets. No firearm in the British Army ever had such an armour piercing bullet as school peas.
SPAM, on a special day Spam Fritters. Today Spam is a term used for malicious e-mails and other interventions on our computers. Spam, however, means Specially Modified American Meat. Did you know that ? president Trump when you spam out your silly twittering on social media do you know the meaning behind your actions ? Spam today means rubbish and Specially Modified American Meat was rubbish. You can not buy a tin of Spam today, you can if you are foolhardy pick up from the supermarket a tin of Pork Luncheon Meat. Same thing. Originating as food for the fighting troops during the war Specially Modified American Meat was garbage but we lads liked it when it appeared at the serving hatch.
Spam was American. Corned Beef was British ! It was known as Bully Beef, bully somehow meaning British.
Puddings would vary from jelly and blancmange to apple pie. Some pies even had apples in them. Ginger stodge puddings, ginger sponge and fruit sponge puddings were the best. If The Ritz Hotel started serving these it would double its trade overnight.
Liquid refreshment was in the form of water, jugs of water on every table. The cooks did pay us the compliment of keeping the water cool ahead of the jugs appearing on the table.
Prior to entering the dining hall we all had to line up at the washroom and clean our hands. The more petty duty teachers would inspect our hands before we ate. Sad.
The duty teacher had to say grace before we ate. After he had spoken we replied AMEN. Then grace had to be repeated after the meal. The silly little teachers who thought they were clever spoke grace in Latin and would drone on and on and on and on.
There were only two forms of grace which needed to be spoken: For this plateful make us grateful. Then on days when seaweed or frog spawn was to be served: For what we are about to receive may the Lord have mercy upon us.
Dinner tables sat eight boys, two of who were servers. It was their job to collect the trays of food from the serving hatch, dish out the meals to the other six then eat themselves what was left – usually a bigger helping than anyone else. If seconds were available it was their job to put up their hands to secure additional food which was again shared equally. Clearing up after dinner the servers delegated jobs ton the other six then adopted a non-manual supervisory role for themselves.
On our table there were six first-formers and two second year bully servers. Enough was enough. One day, after we had finished eating we withdrew our labour.
“What’s going on here ?” the duty teacher demanded to know.
“We’re on strike,” my mate Jim explained.
No negotiating but the strike was immediately over on the instruction of that duty teacher. That should have been a temporary industrial action but the next day Jim, myself and six carefully selected others took over another dining table, kicking away its original residents. There we established democracy of serving, eating and clearing away. Democratic save for one job Jim insisted keeping for himself. Our table was not far from the serving hatch, very convenient for collecting and returning trays. When the table had been wiped down the cloth had to given to Jim who would throw it over his shoulder into the serving hatch hoping to hit a cook with it. Only once did he actually score a direct hit, the words the lady uttered when she came to our table waving the cloth I do not, to this day, fully understand the meaning of.
Time for bread pudding. I am going to make some ! Off to the kitchen I doubt I will achieve the standard of Nan, somehow I think I will probably fall way short of even that served as part of school dinners !