The Proof of the Pudding: Social Progress Measured by Dessert

When the film ‘Nine and a Half Weeks’ came out in 1986 I was very taken with that iconic kitchen scene.

Wow! All that fresh stuff in that clean fridge! A turn-on in itself.

Strawberries and cherries beautifully ripe! Chilled wine and a perfectly set jelly! No wonder Kim Basinger’s mouth was wide open.

I tried to imagine how that scene would play out if, say, my then-boyfriend and I decided to recreate it after a crazy, erotic evening at the Sixth Form Debating Society.

What would happen, I wondered, if he opened the fridge in my family home?

For a start, he’d be lucky not to be knocked out by a falling giant ketchup bottle. Our fridge doors seemed to be loaded with bottles of sauce or pickles – HP, Branston, Piccalilli, Lea and Perrins, Heinz Salad Cream, we had the lot.

And what would he find of an appropriate size to drop into my mouth? No fresh strawberries or cherries but maybe a jar of tiny, silverskin onions?

No runny honey to massage into my thighs, but if he looked in the cupboards he might find some Ice Magic that would do…

Ice Magic was one of those creations we totally fell upon in the ’80s.

Was it magic? No. It was just science around the solidification at higher temperatures of its ingredients. But frankly anything that could liven up the puddings of the time was welcome.

As I look now at the trillion recipes for sweet confections posted to my social media timelines every day, I marvel at how far we have come in the dessert stakes.

Who’d have thought, as we were regarding our Spotted Dick suspiciously in the school canteen that a few decades later words like ‘pannacotta’ would be part of our every day culinary lexicon or that the word ‘salted’ would be followed by ‘caramel’ instead of ‘crisps’.

Surely our socio-economic progress over the past three decades can be measured by what we’re consuming for pudding.

‘Afters’ as it was termed in my 1970s primary school, generally consisted of the following options on rolling rotation:

  1. Semolina (jam dollop optional)
  2. Blancmange
  3. Apple pie and custard
  4. Syrup pudding and custard
  5. Tinned pears or prunes and custard
  6. Jam roly poly and custard (‘and custard’ was a big thing)
  7. Jelly and ice cream
  8. Arctic Roll
  9. Crumble (various, seasonal)
  10. Rice pudding

Things weren’t much better at home, except on Sundays when my mum would steam a  tin of Heinz chocolate pudding and make up a packet of chocolate custard. We were big fans of the industrialised puddings of the era and of all of the innovations that were coming on stream to help stressed, working mothers provide an impressive sweet at the end of the meal.

Angel Delight, Instant Whip, Dream Topping. We couldn’t get enough.

Squirty cream in a can? The future had arrived!

Guests for dinner? Knock ‘em bandy with a slice of Viennetta!

By the time I reached university, our British puds were under attack from across the pond.  Sara Lee was bringing her game (and her chocolate fudge cake and New York cheesecakes) to Delia’s backyard and let’s face it, Delia’s always been associated with the Second Division.

American puds were all the rage.

My friend Birdy had a recipe for Bannoffee  Pie which we all borrowed and wrote down.

Across campus students were boiling cans of Carnation condensed milk for hours. The university itself was like a 700 acre condensed-milk bomb-making factory back in 1989, because what happens if you let your condensed milk can boil dry is that it explodes.

These days, you can buy tins of caramel ready-made. I think Carnation must have been lobbied by university chancellors determined to put an end to pie-based student kitchen destruction.

These days our pudding menu has expanded beyond all recognition. Smashed honeycomb cheesecake, tiramisu, sticky toffee pudding, pavlova, yo-fro, cherry clafoutis… it’s like another language.

If you’d have said ‘fluffernutter’ to me back in 1990 I’d have thought you were making an inappropriate, psycho-sexual reference.

Now, I’m licking my lips with anticipation. I want your fluffernutter in my mouth.

The world has changed since I watched Kim and Mickey get it on with the jelly back in 1986.

If Mickey were to pop in now for a glass of milk and an erotic snack, I could open my fridge with pride, point him at the Dulce de Leche and tell him where to put it.

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1 comment

  1. Your list of school puddings from the 1970 doesn’t seem much different to that of the 60s except I didn’t notice the inclusion of tapioca, aka “frog spawn”.

    Whenever we had stewed prunes – which everybody hated – we would count the discarded stones at the edge of our plate, “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief”.

    At the beginning of each sitting, children would be seen holding their plates up to look at the bottom to see the Pyrex symbol of a crown. Some of them looked more like a boomerang and for some reason, it was better to have a boomerang than a crown.

    When I think of the puddings my mum made, she was the best at making pastry – unfortunately, it’s a skill I don’t apper to have inherited from her. I liked the way she used up the spare pastry to make up a little pattern to put on the top of the pies. Blackberry and apple was my favourite, the fruit having been picked from our own garden, of course. For gooseberry pie or crumble we went to my grandmothers’(yes, there were two of the, Granny and Great Granny) house where there were plenty growing in the back garden.

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