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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1 cup (250 ml) milk

2 eggs

In Preparation: Grease an ovenproof dish deep enough to hold the apples and batter. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

1. 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).

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

3. 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.


If charts for puddings existed as they do for popular songs, then Black Forest Gateau, Baked Alaska, and Tiramisu would have topped them at different times. Nesselrode Pudding must have been similarly fashionable for several decades in the 19th century. Nesselrode himself was a Russian statesman active during the Napoleonic wars, present at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), and a signatory, in 1856, of the Paris peace agreement after the Crimean War. He was a great survivor. In the course of his long career, he had many dealings with that other wily statesman, Talleyrand.

For a time, the great French chef Antonin Carème worked for Talleyrand and indeed went with him to Vienna in 1814. Perhaps it was there that he created the pudding and paid Nesselrode the compliment of naming it after him. Both Eliza Acton and Mrs. Beeton give a recipe for Nesselrode Pudding in their books and both attribute it to Carème, though neither admits to having made it. Obviously his name gave the recipe a certain cachet. Carème, also chef for a time to the prince regent, was famous for his elaborate and ambitious creations, and, indeed, the pudding described by the English ladies is very demanding. Sweetened and puréed chestnuts, a rich custard, fruit soaked in maraschino, an Italian meringue mixture, all frozen and molded into exotic shapes at different times, meant this pudding was not for the inexperienced or single-handed cook. Fortunately, for present purposes, Emma’s version is a much simplified one. A small quantity of ground almonds is substituted for “forty best Spanish chestnuts” and twelve egg yolks become six. What we have here is a rich ice cream with dried fruit and a glass of brandy to make it special.

Serves six to eight.


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