Sitting at the Buttery Bar while my spoon hovered over a gorgeous Trifle Pudding, I had a sudden attack of Phineas Fogg.
Those who have watched the remake of Jules Verne’s classic “Around the World in 80 days” will know that it centers around a bet made by Phineas Fogg in a Gentleman’s Club on October 2nd 1872 to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.
The original film made in 1956 with David Niven, epitomized the gentleman adventurer. His pencil thin moustache, the stiff upper lip in the face of adversity and the neatly waved brilliantined hair was imitated by actors everywhere. In puddings, as with adventure, the Raj ruled the world.
As everyone must know by now, on June 5th the winning entry of the Queen’s Jubilee pudding contest will be presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11.
I was hoping to take bets on what the winning entry might be. Even though, let it be noted, I am not a betting person. My knowledge of puddings however is extensive. I have an appetite for custards, creams, meringues, Victoria sponges and all things nice and can be eaten with a spoon.
Now there are people who will crush just about anything – Marie Biscuits, meringues, marshmallows, berries that they have just picked off a bush, or boiled rhubarb, pumpkin or chunks of pineapple – cover the mess up with dollops of cream and call it a pudding. You have heard of Eton Mess. I will however confess to a fondness for this variation on the theme of crushed meringues and cream with a bit of fruit thrown in for effect. At its finest it is named a Pavlova after the famous ballerina.
Some of the yummiest puddings do indeed have a Russian connection. The Charlotte Russe for instance that consists of a ring of sponge fingers lining a circular container and filled with a delicious custard concoction that is chilled and served like an imperial crown was named after Tzar Alexander I. Even more astonishing is the Baked Alaska, so American, so audaciously in having a swiftly burnished exterior of whipped meringue barely baked with a firm yet-ready-to-melt interior of ice cream, was invented by a Chef named Antoine in New Orleans in 1867 when Alaska was ceded to America by Russia.
Do we include Peach Melba in the same dizzying breath? A combination of ice-cream, raspberry compote and peaches that was put together to celebrate the Australian singer Nellie Melba by the equally celebrated French Chef Escoffier.
If Queen Victoria popularised the sponge cake by insisting that a slice be kept on a plate for teatime, it’s rumoured that Queen Elizabeth’s tastes lean towards the simple. Not for her the rich Christmas puddings steamed for hours and served on a plate with brandy butter or custard. So that would rule out the Cabinet puddings and all those nouveau puddings wherein Indian sweets like gulam jamuns, jelabis and crystallised pumpkins are baked with a custard blanket. It has to be pointed out however, that anything with milk would be acceptable and semolina or Basmati rice have already been incorporated seamlessly into the Victorian era repertoire and re-invented as “rice puddings”.
This is however not to deny that there is a strong contender in the baking department from Kannur in North Kerala, invented in 2018. Though not given an official sanction, the Kannur Bubble Cake is a wonder to behold and could easily be adapted into a pudding fit for a Queen. Even more astonishing, it uses native flavours such as Boost, Ovaltine and Milo. This will surely appeal to the Queen’s frugal tastes. She is after all going to be 95!
My bet however and here I return to my original claim- is that the winning entry will be a creation that will not use butter, eggs, refined flour or sugar, the baking powder invented by Alfred Bird in 1843, but be entirely made of seaweed and pearls.It will be called the Queen’s Vegan Jubilee Cake.