There was no scolding for being late. There was stewed fruit on the kitchen table and a rice pudding in the oven, of which those who felt hungry partook, and glasses of milk all round. And, even then, they did not have to go to bed…
(Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford)
If we are honest most of us are ‘guilty’ of looking back on our past – or parts of it – through rose-tinted spectacles. Between the ages of 8 and 10 I lived in a huge, Victorian vicarage in rural North Devon. I remember the fun of having attic rooms to play in, the open fires over which we toasted crumpets in the winter, the huge garden boasting three massive horse chestnut trees, the conkers from which all the village children wanted to come and collect for conker fights in the school playground.
What I don’t remember (or at least not with such immediacy) is the coldness of the house in winter – there was no heating; the chilblains that we were all afflicted with; the mice that were only beaten into submission when we got our first cat. With the passing of time the painful and horrible memories have been buried under the fun and pleasant ones.
A similar tendency to romanticize the past is found at times in Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford (1945) – also the subject of my last post – though on the whole Thompson does not shy away from writing about the difficulties and tragedies of rural Oxfordshire life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In Volume 2 of the book – Over to Candleford – Thompson describes how one summer Laura, then aged eleven, and her nine year-old brother, Edmund, go to stay with their cousins who live in Candleford, the neighbouring town. Candleford is eight miles from Lark Rise and the children walk there (with their luggage sent on ahead by parcel post). The journey to Candleford is a mixture of the romantic and the realistic. Initially it is an adventure for the children: ‘They were out on their first independent adventure and their hearts thrilled to the new sense of freedom.’ However, the delight they take is soon tempered by the reality of walking so far on a hot summer’s day: ‘the sun scorched their backs and the dust made their eyes smart and their feet ached and their tempers became uncertain.’
The holiday presents Laura and Edmund with a host of new experiences. On one particularly memorable day they go harvesting which involves little exertion: having dragged a few hay sheaves onto the wagon, the children then lie in the shade and keep watch over the workers’ beer, or play hide and seek, or catch a ride on the hay wagon.
And food plays a central role in this holiday – and in the nostalgic meanderings of Thompson. On the harvesting day, having eaten their lunch in the field, the children go to the farmhouse for their tea, ‘such a tea as Laura had never dreamed of. There were fried ham and eggs, cakes and scones and stewed plums and cream, jam and jelly and junket..’ Then Laura and Edmund – and their cousins – take a leisurely walk home where they are faced with yet more food: ‘stewed fruit on the kitchen table and a rice pudding in the oven.’
Rice pudding seems to me an ideal dish for a post on childhood nostalgia: it’s old-fashioned ‘nursery’ food that provokes comforting memories for many of us. In Thompson’s account it’s served up with undefined stewed fruit: I chose plums, stewed with vanilla and cinnamon for a touch of sophistication.
CHILDHOOD RICE PUDDING AND STEWED PLUMS
Ingredients (for 4):
50g pudding rice
25g caster sugar
100g caster sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
Begin by making the rice pudding.
Preheat the oven to 150C / 130C fan oven / Gas mark 3. Butter an ovenproof dish of 900ml capacity. Place the rice, caster sugar and milk in the dish and stir. Sprinkle grated nutmeg on the top and add a few knobs of butter. Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake for 2 hours, stirring the mixture after 30 minutes.
20 minutes before the rice pudding has finished cooking turn your attention to the fruit. Cut the plums into quarters and remove the stones.
Heat the sugar with 110 ml water, the cinnamon stick and vanilla in a large saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add the fruit and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft.
Serve a generous portion of rice pudding with a spoonful or two of the fruit.