The letter “C” is wasted on custard…


The letter C has many good connotations, some of which Nigella has allegedly tried, but this normally optimistic initial is wasted on such a lumpen sauce as traditional custard. There is an element of the English psyche that is firmly linked to “nursery” food together with “bottom” and “knob” jokes. In our class ridden society, “nursery” food acts as an unlikely unifier demanding that Marmite, bacon, P.G Tips and custard should always be available to help wash the taste of “foreign muck” from the peripatetic English palate during conquest or holiday alike. Throughout the blogosphere, newspapers, magazines and book stores hourly trumpet the arrival of yet another vaunted volume of creative ingredient mixing which will be greedily gobbled up a public ceaselessly on the qui vive for new tastes and recipes . There lies beneath this thin veneer of sophistication a heart that beats like a whisk, pumping custard through the veins and arteries of British Everyman, whilst insidiously filling the mind with sensual dreams of steamed puddings with custard following a roast leg of something or other with all the trimmings.

Custard and I were never good bedfellows: I’m glad of that as I wouldn’t like to be known as easy or even as someone who welcomed custard into his bed. From the first time my spoon forced an opening in its thick, jaundiced skin to reveal the gelatinous, sweetish mess beneath I was torn between whether I should believe that my parents had no idea what was being fed to me or that they disliked me enough to pay people to feed me with this dreadfulness. Custard was my Little Big Horn…I sat alone before it, knowing that if I did not consume it, it would consume me….which translates as I had to sit there until I had eaten it. That was no way to start a loving relationship and so it has proved. Yet in the back of my mind I was sure that the amalgamation of sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and milk  must be able to produce something delicious.

My epiphany occurred in exalted company. It should have been the best of times, but it was the worst of times  as it was a time of looking gift horses directly in mouth and telling them to fuck off. This was 1973, and as luck would have it I had been taking pictures in Prue Leith’s country house for Terence Conran’s “House Book”, and she had very kindly prepared lunch for us all. The main constituents of the lunch were no doubt delicious but their exact natures are lost in the mists of time and failing memory, save for the dessert which she announced as the plates were being cleared from the previous course. “Jelly and custard” were the exact words and I took it badly. A sharp kick to my shins prevented the mocking words, that were already half formed, from escaping my lips. “Try it, Roger, you’ll be surprised” was Terence the Kicker’s sage advice. It was love at first mouthful. I had found a C word worthy of the letter; Creme Anglaise, and it was paired with the most delicious, home made, bitter orange jelly. This was pudding and certainly not as I had known it.

There will be those amongst you who say “Ah, but you haven’t tried my custard” or “someone’s custard” and you’d be right: I haven’t …..and that’s how it will remain. I will stay faithful to my French mistress  and you must stay faithful to your English Bird…and never the twain shall meet.

The picture shows a simple, but delicious, apple crumble with creme anglaise.

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
This entry was posted in 2013, apples, Baking, Childhood, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Eggs, Emotion, Excellence, Expectation, family, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Memory, Photography, Prue Leith, Uncategorized, Writing, yolks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to The letter “C” is wasted on custard…

  1. Mad Dog says:

    I had a girlfriend called Custard 😉

  2. Oh boy, I like all those “English” things. Wonder what that says? But I’ve had excellent custard and seen some that makes me wonder why they are allowed to call it custard. I think I put those mentioned ingredients in my comfort food category.

  3. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography) says:

    It’s probably a stupid question….but do the English make custard with store bought custard powder OR eggs, vanilla & milk?

    My Mother used to make it both ways, but the velvety soft creamy liquid she made from eggs & milk was like a dream come true. I’ve made it both ways (or should I say all three ways, as I have also heated the milk too quickly and ended up with scrambled eggs as a third variation).

    Your dessert looks delicious, but I mustn’t look too long as my Dr told me today I need to loose weight.

  4. Really great post…to lick one’s chops, as we usually say.

  5. Hmm…so that’s how a good creme anglais looks. Mine always lookings way too “pudding” than sauce.

  6. “Custard and I were never good bedfellows: I’m glad of that as I wouldn’t like to be known as easy or even as someone who welcomed custard into his bed.”

    Absolutely fantastic line. Now here’s the shocking truth: I like custard. I also like Marmite, which stuns every single person out here in the fields.

  7. margaret21 says:

    Crème anglaise is ok. But horribly sweet usually. Give me crème fraîche any day of the week

  8. Fig & Quince says:

    “A heart that beats like a whisk”? I so want to steal this line … or embroider it on a pillow! & ha ha re the timely Nigella (the goddess) allusion

  9. Brilliantly written Roger – loved it!! Also have to confess to being a great fan of custard – Birds or Creme Anglaise. What a heathen I am, but I wear my heathenness with pride (is that a word?!). In Italy they have Zuppa Inglese which translates as English Soup and is made with a custard dessert and a sponge cake which they further confuse us with by calling it Pan di Spagna (Spanish Bread). Hey ho.

  10. Bernadette says:

    I love your writing! I love custard, but only home made!

  11. I was surprised–no, shocked–to learn that apple pie is served with ice cream or custard in England. Pie with custard? That is just wrong. 🙂

  12. mrsugarbears says:

    Creme brulee? I love this version with the hard sugary top to break into. It originated in France, too. I know it is still custard under the beautiful hat of candy, but I thought I would throw it out there.

  13. This was a jolly romp! Might I say with a bit of an accent that of course the English needed the French to teach them how to cook! and might I be forgiven for saying so by adding that I make a wondrous English Trifle which includes a lovely custard!

  14. EllaDee says:

    Timely post, as Christmas, another C word… looms and for sweets, deconstructed trifle in whatever form amuses me at the time, I make a lovely old fashioned cornflour custard, very thin, served warm, as my mother and grandmother before me did but having Googled creme anglaise, I may never make it again.
    Your aversion to custard reminds me of my long time favourite riddle…
    Q.What’s black and yellow and dangerous?
    A. Shark infested custard.
    In your case, the black and the sharks could be omitted.

  15. I will be stuffing my face with frozen custard (a Midwestern specialty) in a few weeks. It is divine.

  16. Uhhh, custard, not my friend, at least as they make it here in the US. But a vanilla sauce as we Germans make, made from scratch of course, which is light pouring sauce, with lots of pure vanilla and vanilla sugar, yet not too sweet, poured over homemade chocolate pudding, is really good.

  17. MELewis says:

    OMG – custard is crème anglaise? I never put the two together…not a big fan of either, but it does sound more appetizing in French.

  18. Amanda says:

    Hilarious. I’m glad you found a custard you like!

  19. ChgoJohn says:

    Great post, Roger. Chica stole my comment re: Zuppa Inglese but that’s about as close to crème anglaise that I’ve made. Looking at that photo and reading yor description, maybe I should try again — or buy a half dozen cannoli and call it a day. 🙂

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