When I was a child, summer cooking was bounded by the vegetable garden. In the cool of late afternoon my mother and I would pick our supper of green peas, flat-podded runner beans or prickly artichokes.
This was World War II, when onions sprouted in the rose beds and we lived off what we grew. Memorable were the few short weeks when the berries were ripe--raspberries, red and black currants and gooseberries--all of them gathered to make the very best of summer puddings.
Real summer pudding is made with stale white bread, crusts removed, and layered in a deep bowl with berries cooked with sugar until juicy enough to fall into a coarse puree. With a weight on top, the pudding sits for a day or two, increasing the anticipation. On standing, the bread soaks with rich juice and can be turned out as a firm mold. The pudding slices neatly into wedges for serving.
Yield Not to Temptation
Do not be tempted by modern fancy versions made with cake. This is the incomparable, authentic English summer pudding. The accompaniment is equally straightforward: a chilled vanilla custard, nicely moistening the fruit and complementing its color. However, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is a permissible alternative.
If I hark back to childhood, the first course before such a treat would have been very simple. Soup, perhaps, simmered with some of the garden vegetables, or an omelet flavored with ham from the pig we killed twice a year. Let me leave you to add your own particular happy memory.
SUPPER IN SUMMER FOR 6 Fresh vegetable soup or ham omelet Berry Summer Pudding Vanilla Custard Sauce Suggested drink: Chilled spritzer of half Reisling white wine and half club soda, or ice tea. This menu is for a supper on the idle days of vacation.
Up to two days ahead make summer pudding. Make custard.
About 30 minutes before serving make soup, or prepare omelet ingredients. Unmold pudding.
Just before serving, cook omelet and serve at once. Serve pudding and sauce.
BERRY SUMMER PUDDING
1 1/2 pounds berries
6 tablespoons sugar, about
1 (1/2-pound) loaf stale white bread
Vanilla Custard Sauce
Pick over fruit, rinsing with water. Combine wet fruit and 6 tablespoons sugar in saucepan. Simmer, stirring often, until fruit is soft and releases juices, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on type of fruit. Let cool. Taste, adding more sugar if necessary.
Discard crusts from bread. Line 1 1/2-quart deep bowl with bread, cutting slices to fit tightly and reserving several slices to cover pudding. Add fruit and enough juice to moisten thoroughly. Reserve any remaining juice. Cover with reserved bread. Set plate with 1-pound weight on top. Refrigerate at least 1 day or up to 2 days.
Shortly before serving, unmold pudding onto serving dish. If bread has white patches, baste with reserved juice. Spoon small amount Vanilla Custard Sauce around edge of pudding and serve rest of custard separately. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Any firm berries, including black and red currants, gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries, can be used in this pudding.
Vanilla Custard Sauce
1 3/4 cups milk
Vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Bring milk to boil with vanilla bean. Remove from heat, cover and allow to stand in warm place to infuse, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar with wooden spoon until thick and light, about 2 minutes. Stir in hot milk.
Return custard to pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens slightly. Clear trail should be left when finger is drawn across back of spoon dipped in custard.
Do not boil custard to prevent curdling. Strain custard at once into bowl. Vanilla bean can be rinsed to use again. If using vanilla extract, add at this point. Cover custard, let cool and then chill. Sauce may be refrigerated up to 2 days. Makes 2 cups.
Note: Grated lemon or orange zest can be substituted for vanilla, if desired.