This Side of the Pond – Feb. 22

By Sarah Pridgeon

Two homes are better than one in many different ways, particularly for those of us who like to claim more than one culture as our own. But a downside for the displaced is always the fact you can never be in two places at once.

One way in which this manifests, at least for me, is when I finding myself pining for the creature comforts I grew up with. Fish and chips, BBC programming on a Saturday evening, a proper cup of tea…and the kind of desserts my grandmother brought me up to crave.

Nanny was an excellent cook, though a firm believer in sticking to “proper” British recipes. She was suspicious of any and all imported ingredients right up until the day she died – this is a woman who accompanied me to an Italian restaurant for my ninth birthday and primly demanded the waiter bring her a plain chicken breast and mashed potato.

This is also a woman who banned my grandfather from eaten spices, even though he’d grown to love them during World War II, when he served in countries such as India and Java. His next door neighbor, a Malaysian lady who was sympathetic to his cause, left egg rolls and curry dishes on the back doorstep every evening, which he’d wolf down when he thought my grandmother wasn’t looking.

I think you get the idea: the food my grandmother raised me on was as traditional to my culture as it gets. Roast dinners, Yorkshire puddings, fried breakfasts and stew were the staples of my childhood.

I particularly enjoyed her Sunday roasts. It was only later in life that I realized she boiled her vegetables to the point of disintegration (probably to be sure they didn’t retain too powerful a flavor), but her roast potatoes were beyond reproach and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth good.

And then there were her desserts, which were marvels of sweet and sticky goodness. Lemon meringues with frothed white toppings, strawberry flans with the fruit slices laid out in perfect pattern, apple pies with a golden flaking crust.

Her specialty, though, was steamed puddings. Heavy, hearty and sticky, these concoctions were created in a double boiler and served with lashings of custard, tipping her guests from, “satisfied and full” to, “likely to nap for most of the afternoon”.

I miss those puddings. I should clarify that, in Britain, we use the word “pudding” in the same way you would use “dessert”; Nanny’s specialties were a cake rather than the thickened sauce you’re thinking of.

She – and my mum – spoiled us with several different versions. My grandfather leaned towards treacle sponge, lavished with golden syrup, while my dad’s favorite is the “spotted dick”, filled with dried fruits.

(I should note that, yes, I am aware the name sounds rather dodgy and, yes, it has caused sniggers from behind the hands of younger audiences for many a year – not to mentioned some embarrassment for my poor father, who once asked a Canadian waitress if the restaurant had it on the dessert list and couldn’t understand why she looked so shocked. Nobody knows where the name comes from, but one county council moved in 2009 to rename it the “spotted Richard”, just to put an end to the jokes.)

The version that can be easily made on American shores, it turns out, is the sticky toffee pudding, because it doesn’t use suet (a fat we still use liberally in Britain, but I can never find over here). Perhaps that’s why a fellow expat chose the sticky toffee pudding to introduce her new neighbors to British cuisine.

A lady by the name of Tracy Claros, who had recently moved to Austin, Texas had been a baker since childhood and couldn’t see any reason why America would enjoy sticky pud any less than the Brits do. She began selling sticky toffee puds on a foldout table at a farmers’ market, she told the BBC, then launched the Sticky Toffee Pudding Company from her basement.

I am unsurprised to report that she was quite right. Her desserts were a hit with all who tried them and it wasn’t long before even Oprah Winfrey’s magazine was gushing about them.

As you can imagine, my interest was well and truly piqued when I heard this – even more so when I found out that her sticky toffee, lemon and chocolate puds are now stocked all round the country.

The closest was apparently Walmart in Gillette and the husband happened to be heading that way the next day. It is a wife’s prerogative to occasionally send her spouse on quests to give him the opportunity to prove his love, and so I did.

Several hours of searching later (because, it turns out, as an American, it didn’t occur to him to look for a dessert in the chilled aisle), he finally came home with two chocolate lava cakes. He claims that’s the only type they currently sell, but it’s difficult for me to confirm that because he might have just been fed up of having to search.

I can vouch for that pud as both delicious and authentic and I thoroughly recommend giving it a try if you happen to be passing through Gillette. Alternatively, a quick search of the internet for the company name and you’ll find the website, where you can order Tracy’s whole range of deliciousness.

I’ll be putting in a bulk order myself any minute now – purely to support my countrywoman, you understand, and absolutely not because I plan to gorge myself on sponge cake and sticky syrup.