At Home with the Darwins

Recipes offer an intimate glimpse into the life of Charles Darwin and his family

Nesselrode pudding. (MRS. DARWIN'S RECIPE BOOK: Revived and Illustrated, by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway (Glitterati Inc., November 2008))

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The Result: A well-set custard with no hint of flour and possibly a lighter texture than one made only with cream and yolks. All that remains is to “salamander” it. The salamander, an iron disc with a long handle, must have been a fearsome instrument when in use. The disc is heated redhot, then passed to-and-fro over and close to the dish.

Fortunately, today, there are other solutions, the most recent being the culinary blowtorch. Simply sprinkle an even layer of superfine (castes) sugar over the custard and direct the flame over the surface until the desired effect is obtained. Lacking one of these gadgets, the usual instruction is to place the dish, complete with its sugar, under a grill preheated to its maximum temperature. An even, glassy smoothness will result. It is not as easy at it sounds. It takes a long time for the sugar to melt—while you worry that the dish, if it is not metal, will crack or the custard begin to bubble. Then there is the problem of evenness as the sugar develops “hot spots,” where it starts to burn locally and you have to turn the dish about. All this quite possibly while you are on your knees, if your grill is not at eye level! Far simpler is to put the superfine (castes) sugar in a small heavy saucepan and heat it gently until it melts. Do not stir. When it starts to color and bubble, tip the pan in a circular motion so the sugar is well mixed and dissolves completely. Watch it carefully—it can burn very quickly. What you want is a deep auburn color with that wonderful caramel smell. Then, holding the custard dish in one hand, pour the molten sugar onto the top, tipping the dish so it covers evenly. The sugar will bubble up, but do not worry, it will soon subside. With this method, a beautiful thin layer is achieved. Do this a couple of hours before you want to eat. As soon as the sugar has cooled, chill until needed.


The most famous batter pudding is Yorkshire pudding, traditionally served with roast beef. Jane Grigson tells of her grandfather’s family, where the Yorkshire pudding, having done its duty by the beef, was then finished up with sweetened condensed milk! The Victorians had many recipes for sweet puddings with batter, so there is nothing particularly strange about this dish. Today, apples are usually baked without peeling them—the skins help them to keep their shape, so you finish up with apples still looking like apples, but beautifully soft and fluffy inside. With this dish, where the apples are peeled, they collapse on cooking and the juices and flavor spread into the surrounding batter—very nice, too. Use well-flavored baking apples and serve with a sprinkling of sugar and plenty of cream. Serves four to six.

6 apples

2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon butter

For the batter:

3 ounces (90 g) flour


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