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Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book – Baked apple pudding

I note that every year, all good intentions aside, I encounter a total failure to blog the moment I get on skis. Apologies – put it down to grotty resort food; the protein-hunger you get with after a day of exercise which kills off any ability to distinguish between the delicious and the simply calorific; and general exhaustion. (Honestly; you’re lucky I’m blogging now. I swear that jetlag only gets worse as you get older.)

I’ve a few more posts from my American odyssey to bring you, but I’ll intersperse them with some recipes and non-US reviews – like today’s. Just in time for the Darwin bicentennial, I was invited to the launch of a new edition of Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated in Cambridge. I cursed a bit about not being able to make it (I was at Disneyland that day – which although fabulous, doesn’t have any food worth writing about besides candy floss, popcorn and California’s greasiest wurst), and was delighted to find a copy of the book on the doorstep when I got back home.

When we consider the lives of the great and the good, it doesn’t usually occur to us to wonder what they ate. I mean – think of Darwin, and what comes to mind? I bet it’ll be a list along the lines of On The Origin of Species, Galapagos finches, the Beagle, beards – we dehumanise our icons and reduce them to a series of cyphers.

Emma Darwin’s little recipe notebook offers a fascinating and humanising glimpse into the family’s domestic life. They’re commonplace, simple Victorian recipes – it’s the notebook of a charmingly ordinary woman. This edition expands the little book into a good-sized, handsome cookbook by reproducing many of her handwritten pages, alongside some great food photography, some very pretty contemporary prints of ingredients like chickens and celery, and detailed notes by the editors on each recipe. There are fascinating peeps into the Darwins’ domestic life here – you may well be aware that Darwin sufferered for much of his life from a mysterious illness he is thought to have picked up in Brazil, but probably didn’t know that his doctors forbade him from eating pork (he ignored them in the case of bacon), or that he blamed rhubarb for some of his stomach problems.

Here’s Emma’s recipe for a baked apple pudding in batter. The editors suggest you use well-flavoured dessert apples, and serve with a sprinkling of sugar and plenty of cream. To serve six, you’ll need:

6 apples
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon butter
3 ounces (75 g) flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk
2 eggs

Grease an ovenproof dish deep enough to hold the apples and batter. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

Peel and core the apples. Place them in the prepared dish. In each hole, put a teaspoon of sugar, a little grated lemon peel, and top with a small piece of butter. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the apples from the oven and raise the temperature to 400°F (200°C).

While the apples are baking, sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the milk, a little at a time, and mix to a smooth batter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Pour the batter over the apples and bake for about 30 minutes, or until well risen and brown on top. Sprinkle with sugar and serve at once with cream.

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