When I first started blogging one of the first blogs I read regularly was Miss Foodwise. It was just a beautifully written and photographed blog with many, many recipes I wanted to actually eat. So I have been a fan of Regula Ysewijn long before meeting her at a food blogging event and I have enjoyed hearing about and seeing the journey of this book long before it came to be.
When I met her then and every time I’ve met her since, she has been dressed impeccably in red with matching makeup and accessories making her one of the most vibrant people I’ve come across – visually but also creatively. The words artist, fashion designer, graphic designer and photographer don’t somehow seem enough to describe the talent and creative genius that she is. Just take a look..
Despite her Belgian roots, Regula is one of the most British people I have ever met. She has been writing about British food and posting luscious pictures of it for a few years now but her knowledge of its history is unrivalled in my opinion.
Name a dish. Any British dish and I am certain that Regula will be able to give you a detailed account of where it originates from, how it came to be and how to make it. She’ll talk you through the places to eat and where to avoid it. Luckily for us, she has written some of this vast knowledge down in a book published just a few weeks ago. A beautiful book not only written by herself but designed, photographed and illustrated in partnership with her equally talented husband Bruno.
The book starts with a definition of pudding – you’ll learn about boiled, steamed, baked, batter, bread, jellied and milk puddings. Following that is a comprehensive history of puddings starting even before the Romans, who incidentally set out the first black pudding recipe. Where it got interesting for me was around the 14th century when The Forme of Cury was compiled with court cooking – Blank Mange, Baked Custards, Cheesecakes and Fritters were all eaten around the table at the time. She then moves on through medieval, elizabethan and Victorian times before bringing us up to date with modern day influencers such as Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and Le Cordon Bleu.
Regula has spent time adapting these ancient recipes with modern ingredients and in doing so gives good advice about flours, spices and cooking techniques throughout the book. What’s worth noting is that you might not like some of the recipes that you thought you would because the traditional version uses flavours that have been weaned out over the years. For example, I was most disappointed that one of my all time favourite puddings from school – Rice Pudding – was first made with beef broth or the drippings from mutton and served as a savoury dish. Regula does however add suggestions for modernising the recipes to suit today’s tastebuds. With the rice pudding for example she suggests adding almond milk but still no sugar to give a sense of what the pudding would have tasted like. You may want to read her blog post on the Rise of Rice Pudding which goes into more detail about how this dish evolved.
Regula also notes how many of the puddings are not as sweet as we expect them to be today. Sugar, sugar and more sugar has overtaken the simple pleasure of sweetness from fresh or dried fruit.
What I love about this book is the surprises. Well surprises for me anyway. For example Snake Fritters which decorative butter swirls that are made using a butter squirt. Soft dough is pressed though the butter squirt and pushed like a long snake into hot clarified butter for frying. Sound familiar? If I were to say churros would you know what I was referring to? How wonderfully surprising to learn they date back to 1660!
All the way through the book Regula outlines her source material and references and uses crockery and equipment that would have been in keeping with the period.
Finally, and coming back to Regula’s blog that mentioned at the start of this post, there are recipes she has shared that are very much her own preference versus any historical adaptation. Sticky Toffee Pudding for example. Her version uses apple sauce which is something I have only ever eaten in Germany or Holland. It’s readily available over there and is a wonderful natural substitute for sugar – of which there is a LOT in a standard sticky toffee recipe!
To get a flavour of the book her publisher, Murdoch Books, has produced a preview that you can download. You can buy the book and a limited edition bowl and postcards set on Regula’s website or buy the book directly via Amazon where it’s currently on special offer for £13.60. It’s a stunning achievement and a treasure of a book.
All the photographs in this post are courtesy of and used with kind permission from Regula Ysewijn.