ten years ago, when we were still living in the uk, i was asked to contribute to a book – one filled with stories and recipes contributed by women around the globe. its intention: to feed creative women.
as the proposal was being written, and talks were happening with a publisher, it was discovered that there was some serious work to do to bring this book to life and some big questions to answer. for starters, the book was originally seen as something sitting happily on both the bedside table as well as in the kitchen since it reads as both stories and recipes. turns out, that from a marketing standpoint, publishers don’t want an either here or there option, they want to know exactly where the book will be located and what subject to list it under. so, the book was never made.
today, when looking through some old files on my computer, i came across the story i wrote and the photos i shared. since the original format is never likely to see the light of day, i am going to share it here.
I grew up in camp kitchens and gospel halls.
I am one of nine children though my family is larger than that; I was raised by the community of women in those kitchens. I sat on their knees, studied their clothing, got under their feet. As soon as we were old enough, we were usually given a job to keep us out of mischief – sweeping floors or stacking chairs, washing dishes, putting things away.
Holidays were spent at holiday camps (we lived at one for a number of years), where there were always pots to be washed, potatoes to be peeled, floors to sweep, bread to be toasted or tables to be set.
Feeding people was calculated in the hundreds of meals rather than in twos or threes. Pots were big. The kitchen was big. Everything was big.
These places were always warm … busy. I remember them as much for the laughter and sense of community as much as I do for the food that was prepared. Nothing fancy, simple fare, always more than enough for everyone.
Recently, on a trip home to New Zealand, I found myself in a familiar place where everyone felt like family, even though most of them I was meeting for the very first time. It was a pot-luck lunch at the gospel hall. It all seemed so comforting. And gravitating towards the mighty pile of dishes in the kitchen sink seemed the most natural thing in the world to do.
Nothing reminds me more of community or my upbringing more than being in that space. Amongst the women, preparing food, clearing up afterwards. Where doing dishes becomes a way of giving thanks, for the countless numbers of women who have raised me, and for the bounty in my life.
One dish, that seemed to always be present at every gathering, is steamed pudding. My father, when we were living at camps where my parents were the cooks, used to make this in large tins – each one enough to feed 20 people – served in generously thick wedges with freshly made custard.
- 1 cup dates
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 7 oz. flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Grease a large pudding basin or tin (if using a tin, line with baking paper)
- Bring dates, milk, sugar and butter to the boil
- Cool, then add the remaining ingredients.
- Mix gently until combined, then spoon into prepared basin
- Cover with baking paper and secure with string
- Steam 1.5 hours or until pudding feels firm to the touch
- Remove from the pan and let it stand for a while until it shrinks so it’s easy to get out of the tin
- Serve hot with custard
- 2 cups whole milk or cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons corn flour (corn starch)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Heat the milk to boiling.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flour together.
- Whisk in a little warm milk, then a little more, gradually.
- Whisk well then pour into the boiled milk.
- Turn the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened – about 3 or 4 minutes.
- Whisk in the butter and vanilla.