Title: The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen
Author: Julia Helene Ibbotson
Paperback: 128 pp.
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1909593753
ISBN-13: 978-1909593756

Purchase your copy at AMAZON.

Author Julia Ibbotson and her husband glimpsed the old Victorian rectory on a cold January day. It was in dire need of renovation, in the midst of the English moorlands and a mile from the nearest village, but they determined to embark on a new life in the country, to make the sad neglected house glow again and to settle into the life of the small traditional village. As Julia researches the history of the house and village, supervises the renovations and cooks for family and friends, she records their journey. This real-life, award-winning account focuses on the quest to “live the dream” and, in the end, to find what is important in life. As the book foregrounds the centrality of the kitchen as the pulse of the family and home, each chapter ends with delicious but easy recipes, both current favourites and those from the historic period unfolding within the chapter: Victorian, Edwardian, wartime and present day. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise, including “ enchanting”, “a talented writer”, “charming story”, “delightful”, “a jewel”, “ a great writer”, “inspirational”, “truly engaging”, and  “destined to become a classic”.


Winter: A Country Dream

Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint Gravy

Hot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup

Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud

Apple and Blackberry Crumble


We first saw the rectory on a cold day at the end of January. Our car

bumped down the rough, broken drive, a long-overgrown farm track.

On either side of the track, wild branches shook themselves angrily in

the wind that howled around the car. It was a bitter Sunday afternoon,

and the old beech trees along the side of the cracked and patched

tarmac stood resolutely against the grey sky. Even the birds had fallen

silent, the only sounds those of branches snapping under the car tyres

and stones flirting from the wheels.


At last, we saw it in front of us, emerging from the tall trees that

surrounded it: the house, white with black timbers, seeming to shiver

before us at the end of the farm track. It had a desolate but imposing

beauty, and it stood proudly behind its big iron gate, a wide and

sweeping gravel drive before its pitched roofed porch and white front

door. The trees that surrounded it were stark and brittle, like witches’

fingers laced cruelly with the hoar frost of winter, a vision before us as

our car jarred into potholes and rocks as we headed towards our

appointment with the vendors.


My husband and I had already sold our current house, where we

had lived for twelve years, in the expectation of being in the best

position to find the place where we wanted to stay for the foreseeable

future. A second marriage for both of us, we had four grown-up

children between us who had flown the nest and were now (relatively)

independent from us. At least, they were all living with

husbands/partners away from home, two of the daughters with little

children, our fabulous grandchildren, and we were free now as a

couple to make decisions about where we wanted to live for the rest of

our lives. We had always wanted a house with character and with land

so that we could extend or make room for a decent-sized vegetable

garden. Or, indeed, whatever we might fancy doing!


We had put our current big “family house” on the market before

Christmas, knowing (we thought confidently) that nobody in England

even started house-hunting until well after the New Year, maybe

February at the earliest. But we would be ready for them. The form

filling would be done, the estate agent and the solicitor briefed and

ready to go.


Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to plan. We sold our

detached modern home more quickly than we had ever imagined; in

fact, the very first couple who came to view it phoned through an offer

straight away. They were retired farmers from the next village and

knew the house and environs well, so there was no mulling over of

facilities and local services to be had.


Of course, that meant that we were in a position where we needed

to find the right house to buy or risk homelessness.


Our home at the time when we saw the rectory had been improved

over the years we had lived there. We had added a conservatory,

which I loved, as it almost made me feel as if I were in the garden.

The kitchen and laundry room were equipped with quite expensive (it

seemed to us) medium oak units, both attractive and functional for

someone like me who enjoys cooking but, with a demanding full-time

job, had little time to do it. The garden, albeit small, had been

beautifully landscaped, with rockeries, steps, gravel paths, and a stone

waterfall splashing into a fish pond. It was a calming and relaxing

place to potter in, and I loved it. I spent many hours (when I had a

vacation at home, “a staycation” as we now call it after the financial

collapse of 2009) reading or – yes, I admit it – working beside the

pond, soothed by the gentle sounds of the waterfall.


We lived in a large old village. Although it had a long history as a

rural community, the village had been developed over the years and

now had three or four small new housing complexes. The time had

come when we felt that we had done all we could to make the house

the home we wished for, but there were still reservations about the

character of the house and its environs. It was in many respects a

commuter village, located as it was between a market town and a city.

We wanted to move to the real country, a little village, and live a rural

life, feel more a part of the changing seasons.


We also wanted a home that had a real sense of the past, which

resonated with families of long ago, living and growing in lives very

different from our own – and maybe with more simplicity and spirit

than modern life allows most of us. I wanted to be able to imagine

families of a different era sitting by that same fireside, walking in the

same garden and fields, and sense the continuity of life that represents.

I dreamed of a Georgian or Victorian house, maybe two hundred years

old, with the spirit of a bygone romantic age seeped within its stones.


Duly, we scoured the sale documents of so many totally

inappropriate properties that I lost count and became increasingly

anxious that we might not be able to either find or afford the one we

truly wanted; if we were lucky, a particular property fitted one or two

of our requirements, but it usually had glaring issues, most of them

being price. One was exciting with great potential, but its status as a

Grade 2 listed building would prevent us from making the renovations

we needed just to be able to live there in some kind of comfort. In the

UK, a Grade 2 listed building is one which is of particular historical

interest to the nation, and the owner cannot make any alterations or

even restorations without a long process of gaining permission from

the authorities.


Another property was an excellently restored cottage with beamed

ceilings, inglenook fireplace, and old French doors opening onto a

wonderful garden with mature trees, waterfalls, and a vegetable patch.

The downside was that it was right on a main road, with little or no

frontage and a tiny “drive” on the side for parking off the busy road.

Another had marvellous views of the surrounding hills but was in fact

built into a hill itself and only approached by steep steps up to the

front door.


Yet another property, this one in a lovely village right up on the

moors, allowed our hopes to rise. The village was within a fifteen minute

drive to a market town we knew and loved. Drystone walls

abounded, as did rolling hills and deep precipitous valleys, and a

charming little English village green and inn were at its centre. The

sale documents showed impressive photographs of the front of the

stone-built house, with a sweeping drive and two gates, and of the

garden, woods behind, and a stream running through.


“Wow!” I exclaimed to Husband, waving the estate agent’s sale

listings in my hand. “This one looks great. Hope at last. This could be

The One!”


But Husband seemed strangely unimpressed. He frowned.


“But it’s got a lovely large conservatory!” I cried. “And look at this

photo. There’s a beamed vaulted room that maybe we could make into

a library!”


“Mmmm,” Husband murmured. “I’ll search Google Earth and

investigate that road; I don’t like the look of it. It looks like it runs

immediately in front of the property.”


Of course, it did. And not only that, but the house was on a corner,

surrounded by roads on three sides, busy ones at that.


“Well … the stream and the woods and the garden … It looks so

peaceful,” I pleaded. “Let’s just go and have a look!”


Husband humoured me by going up there one morning and sitting

in the pub across the road from the house, counting and recording all

the traffic that passed. Apparently, there was a quarry farther down the

lane, would you believe, and heavy lorries laden with sandstone

passed at the rate of one every three minutes (he timed them all), most

of them grinding gears at the corner right outside the house before

turning onto the main road through the village. If they turned left, they

then drove past the two other sides of the house and garden. On his

return, Husband searched the Internet for the website for the quarry

and, horrors of horrors, found that there were planning applications to

extend the quarrying even closer to the village, just down the lane

from the house on the corner. Another hope bit the dust, or rather the



Time was running out, and our buyers declared that they wanted to

move in by the end of March. It was now the end of January, and we

had nothing to move into, not even any shortlist of possible properties.

Nothing was right. We wanted a house we could feel was The One

where we could settle. Should we put all our worldly goods into

storage and live in a rented place while we continued our search?

But that could get expensive and leaving us feeling insecure. What

if we never found the right house?


In desperation, I took to scouring the Internet property sites as well

as the brochures sent to me via mail and e-mail from the various local

estate agents. I searched everywhere I could think of. But I just

couldn’t get the picture of that village on the moors out of my mind.


One last try on one last website. And then I found it. Unbelievable.


A Victorian rectory with, the photograph showed, a sweeping drive

and a frontage to die for. What was even more incredible was that it

was located just a mile out of the village, on the moors that I had

fallen in love with …


“Jules,” Husband sighed patiently, “look at the asking price. It’s far

more than we’ve budgeted for.”


“I know, but, well, let’s just go and look at it,” I said. “There’s no

harm in that.”


“Mmmm, but that could just be our downfall,” he responded, “if

you fall in love with it and we can’t afford it. I know what you’re

like …”


“Yes, but … I have to know,” I said, “for sure … There’s just

something about it that calls out to me. It would be a dreadful mistake

to miss out on it.”


Husband reluctantly agreed to my making an appointment with the

vendors for us to view the property the following weekend.


And so it was that on a cold but crisp Sunday afternoon towards

the last days of January, we turned into the drive and first glimpsed

the rectory ahead of us, amidst tall trees, some way down the

driveway from the road. As we approached the white-walled, black- timbered

house, bumping over the rough farm track, it certainly didn’t

look quite as impressive as the pictures had indicated; the walls were

peeling, and there was a huge dark wooden garage at the side. But

somehow it caught my imagination. There was so much that we could

do to the place to make it the wonderful home we wanted. I could see

myself living here, pottering in the garden, pruning the roses, pulling

the weeds from the rockery. I could imagine sitting in the large bay

window, watching the plants growing and the world going by.


The setting of the rectory was wonderful, the countryside beautiful,

even on such a winter’s day as this. The gardens had awe-inspiring

potential, laid out as they were on two levels, with wide steps and

drystone walls on either side. Large white stone urns, planted with

pruned bay trees, stood sentinel at each side of the steps and at the

front door.


I opened the car window to hear the sounds of the

countryside. Even through the gusts of wind, we could hear the

peaceful sound of running water from the streams that bordered the

property. A paddock that also belonged to the house ran right down to

the road, so there was an unimpeded view from the house to the hills

beyond. There was an intriguing-looking rock outcrop on the hills to

the side of the house beyond the gardens. Woods surrounded it. It felt

as though the whole place were in the middle of nowhere, quietly

standing strong against the wild and beautiful land that surrounded it.


Truth be told, it was not as isolated as this might suggest; there

were a couple of farms in sight of the property and another behind it.

But the feeling the rectory exuded was one of gentle independence, a

haven from the world outside.


As we drove through the large heavy gates and onto the sweeping

gravel drive, the vendors opened the front door to welcome us. They

were a friendly couple in late middle age, and as we followed them

into the hall, I noted the high ceilings, the large imposing light fittings,

the late Victorian or Edwardian carved plaster covings, and the wealth

of wood in the banisters, spindles, and panelling. It was clear from the

first sight that the interior was much in need of renovation and loving

care, but as I gazed around me, I truly felt that the house had a quiet,

contented feel about it. Perhaps this was due to its religious past as the

home of a series of rectors and vicars. Maybe their spirituality had

imprinted itself upon the very bricks and stones. I was already feeling

a desire to get in touch with the history of the house: who had lived

here before … and what were their lives like here many years ago?


The vendors took us into the drawing room with its blazing log

fire. A real fire after the gas imitation we had been living with. There

was no comparison. I wanted to collapse on the couch at the fireside

and doze away my Sunday afternoon after a busy workweek. I

imagined family and friends coming to visit, feeling welcome and

warm by the roaring fire, with happy conversation and laughter, an

antidote to the stresses of a busy professional life.


As the vendors led us round the rest of the house, I glanced at

Husband with raised eyebrows. He smiled back and nodded. Yes, I

knew that we both felt that it was what we had been looking for.


In addition, the vendors had news for us about the quarry beyond

the village. Apparently, when the quarry owners submitted the plans

for the extension right up to the village hall, they had not bargained on

vociferous and passionate opposition. After all, the quarry company

was a well-known and respected national body, the need for the

quarried sandstone was great, and their current land had exhausted

supplies. The extension, they thought, was a foregone conclusion with

all the financing and might of this multinational. But the villagers had

joined forces and embarked on a forceful campaign to prevent the

acceptance of the plans.


Aided by various villagers whose professional expertise could be

brought to bear (solicitors, lawyers, councillors, local historians,

landowners, environmentalists, and so forth; it’s a well-connected

village!), the Opposition to Quarry Extension Group researched to the

point of exhaustion, set out their opposition rationale in a clear and

indisputable fashion, and took their arguments to the local and

regional councils. We were told that the quarry owners, a large

multinational company, imagining that a small village would not be

able to muster any valid opposition to their plans for extension, failed

to even send a representative to the final meeting in the village hall.

Sadly for them, they faced defeat, as the council found for the

villagers. This was a true David and Goliath situation.


So the quarry was to close down, having exhausted the riches of

the land around it, and the owners had to be true to their original

declaration that when they had exhausted the land for quarrying, they

would redo the landscaping and make good the site as a woodland

reservation with a lake and walking trails. Inevitably, however, there

were some villagers who had welcomed the extension plans, as they

worked at the quarry. Their livelihoods were now damaged.


Much of this we learned later, when we came to know the tensions

and infighting that rose to the surface. At the time, as we looked round

the rectory, however, we were cheered by the news, and although we

would not have been personally affected by any quarry extension, as

the house was a mile out of the village, our spirits rose with the hope

that this could only improve the village environment and its

desirability. We did feel strongly about the landscape of the village; it

was certainly an area of beauty, which we wanted to be preserved.


However, nothing in the world is ever perfect, and I guess we

wouldn’t want it to be, for where would our challenges be then? As

we looked carefully and thoughtfully around the house, trying to

surreptitiously peer into what perhaps the vendors didn’t want us to

notice – the dark corners (was that dampness on the wall there? was

that mould?) … the suggestion of rotting timber (could that be

repaired without too much expense?) – I realised that Husband and I

were murmuring to each other in the register of those planning work

rather than dismissing the prospect. So many features of the house

needed work. It was going to be an enormous project.


The décor was, although chosen in a desire for authenticity to the

Victorian origins of the house, hideously dark. The rooms were

smallish, certainly compared with our current bright and spacious

modern house, and dark walls worsened the effect. Dark crimson

seemed to be the favourite in the drawing room and the hall and stairs.

There was a sickly deep yellow in the room the vendors called the

sitting room and dull beige in the room they called the dining room.

The bedrooms were jazzy, with wildly flowered wallpaper.


A rickety cupboard probably hid a multitude of sins in the corner

of the drawing room, its doors hanging off despondently. The internal

doors of the entire house, probably once a rich walnut, were now

thoroughly dried out and splitting from neglect. The galleried

staircase, which was once probably magnificent, was the same: dried

out, uncared for, and sad.


The house needed love; it cried out for care and attention. It cried

out to shine and glow again.


But it was the atmosphere of the house that drew us. The vendors

had loads of “stuff” everywhere. But in the midst of the chaos were

Victorian gems. There was a stone fireplace with a cast iron woodburning

stove, a farmhouse kitchen range in the brick chimney. There

were steps on the landing to the front bedrooms, and a step down to

the bedroom at the back of the house. This was a lovely cottagey room

with its low ceiling, its tiled open fireplace and old ceiling beams, and

its window seat set into the thick stone walls. There was a little

dressing room off the main bedroom and a Juliet window and balcony

off another bedroom. The vendors had a passion for Victorian articles,

and there were delightful Victorian bisque dolls in velvet coats, hats

and muffs, and wooden handcrafted dolls houses. Potted palms and

bell cloches covered dusty plants in the parlour.


At the front of the house, at each side of the hall, in the drawing

room and the sitting room, there was a large square bay window, and

the view from there was magnificent. The house looked out onto an

upper and lower lawn with somewhat overgrown shrubberies and

borders. A farm gate at the end of the lower lawn opened out onto the

extensive paddock with huge chestnut, oak, and beech trees. All you

could see from the windows were trees, fields, hills, and a couple of

farmhouses a quarter of a mile apart across the lane. The land was

bordered with the drystone walls characteristic of the moorlands, and

there was a fast-flowing stream running over the rocks, between low

walls, along what seemed to have once been a small railway.


I have to admit that something about the house and the area

brought to mind the Lakeland fells of my youth, where we took our

holidays in the family’s seventeenth-century farmhouse and garth. We

enjoyed long, satisfying walks in the fells and round the becks of

Cumbria, drying out walking jackets by a roaring log fire in the

evening and toasting thick hunks of bread and crumpets or fruity

buttery teacakes in its heat. We’d doze into blissfully cosy sleep by

the comforting gently lapping flames, just letting the world go by at its

own pace. It seemed that all anyone needed was a healthy body, a full

stomach, and warm toes.


Flooding my mind as I gazed out the windows were memories of

making warm, soothing suppers after a long fell walk. Mmmm …

Lakeland lamb shanks in hot fresh mint gravy, one of my favourite

recipes and a staple of the Langdale area of the Lakes. Oh … and

baking hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup (scrumptious and simple)

or sticky toffee pud, again a dish of choice in the Lakes. Relaxing my

aching muscles over a hot stove in the farmhouse kitchen as Husband

made a roaring fire in the inglenook fireplace in the parlour, ready for

us to eat and rest … bliss!


So maybe it was because I was reminded of those days in the Lake

District at the farmhouse, and of holidays, fresh air, and feeling at

peace with the world, that I yearned to live in this rectory. Maybe that

was what I wanted to re-create, a purposeful but simple life, where

satisfaction and fulfilment comes from simple pleasures and not from

hectic pressures of other people’s forceful demands in an increasingly

competitive and technically complex business world.


And as I looked through those large bay windows out at the

neglected but somehow, in my mind, magnificent gardens, I felt at

home and at peace. At the time, it would have been hard to explain

why I felt that this was The One that we had been looking for. It was

all about feelings and emotions – and a million miles away from

common sense.


On that Sunday, the day of our first viewing with the vendors, we

knew little about the history of the house, except that it had been “the

big house” of the land estate at one time, with many acres of land,

now mainly sold off. It had then fallen somehow into the hands of the

Anglican church when it functioned as the rectory for the benefice of

local parishes, of which there were five, representing the four tiny

nearby villages, each with its own little church, plus the larger village

with its much larger, rather splendid, church.


It seemed to us that day that the house must have been blessed; we

could feel the gently happy and contented atmosphere in the very air

of the house. It was truly, we felt, a happy family home.


As we drove back down the track to the road and to home, we

looked at each other and both said together, “Yes! This is it! We’ve

found it!”


For an hour, we couldn’t stop talking about what we could do with

the property; we had such plans. My head was full of pictures of how

the house, and the life it represented, could be for us.


Then we lapsed into quietness as we collected our thoughts, and it

was only after a quiet and thoughtful final stretch of the drive home

that Husband gently turned to me and said, “The problem is … there is

so much work to do to it. Could we undertake all that, and could we

afford to do it?”


He was right, sensible and practical as ever, and I knew it. Oh dear.


So near, yet maybe so far. That night I sought solace in the kitchen,

making a warming and comforting pheasant casserole in rich red wine

in the slow oven of my gas range at gas mark 4. It had been

marinading since the morning in 600 ml. (20 fl oz.) of red wine,

freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, a tablespoon of virgin cold -pressed

olive oil (the one with white truffle is lovely), and a handful of

selected fresh herbs (marjoram, thyme, basil, fennel, and oregano). As

I chopped an onion and winter vegetables (a couple of peeled carrots

and parsnips along with sliced leeks) on the wooden board and lifted

the pheasant and its marinade into the pot, I wondered how we could

possibly manage to buy the rectory. As I waited for the gentle twohour

cooking of the pheasant, I thought that we surely could not let the

rectory go.


Comfort food on a cold winter’s night when you are troubled is a

wonderful soother of the spirit. I threw into the oven some crusty

bread wrapped in silver foil, which had been made overnight in the

bread making machine, for convenience on our busy day, so that we

could tear off warm chunks to eat with our pheasant casserole. I had

taken some apple slices and blackberries from the freezer earlier in the

day, and I began making a fruit crumble and fresh custard. We lit the

candles at the table and sat there in the glow, sporadically voicing our

thoughts, and, I suppose, beginning to plan. How could we make this

dream a reality?


Over the following days, we churned over in our minds how we

could possibly do it. How could we manage to buy the rectory and

renovate it to its former glory? We needed to know how much work

was required on the house to make it fit for purpose and how much

this might cost. We needed to hire a surveyor and get estimates. We

knew the loss this would entail – financially, practically, and otherwise

- if we found that it would not be possible for us to buy it in the end.


It wasn’t until we had debated and decided all this that we found an



Not necessarily the answer we sought …




In case my readers would like comfort

food to soothe the spirit and care to

make some of the foods I mention in

this chapter, here are the recipes. Bake

and enjoy together with friends and



Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint Gravy

serves 4

Best slow cooked for four hours in the Crock-Pot so that the deep

flavour of the mint seeps into the meat. Large shanks from lambs bred

free on the fells are even more delicious if coated with mint jelly and

marinated in mint and red wine for a few hours before cooking. The

marinade can be used as the stock base for the braising. Succulent

from the slow cooking, these shanks are so tender that the meat

literally falls off the bone. Heaven!


You’ll need:

4 lamb shanks, as large as possible

3 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced

1 Spanish onion, chopped finely and sautéed in butter until


2 parsnips, peeled and finely sliced

600 ml. (10 fl. oz.) fresh gravy, can be made from the meat juices with

gravy thickening

Sweet mint jelly


Marinade the lamb shanks for 2–3 hours before cooking, in seasoned

red wine mixed with sweet mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. Drain

off the liquid but use for the braising juice. Lightly brown the lamb

shanks in a pan, then place them in a slow cooker (Crock-Pot) and

coat them with more sweet mint jelly. Add the vegetables and about 3

cups of the marinade liquid. Add more when necessary but avoid

drowning the meat. Cook (braise) slowly on low for about 3–4 hours,

depending on the size of the shanks. If using an oven, cook on a low

setting (180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). When the meat is beginning to fall

off the bone (but not disintegrated into the liquid), it is ready. It’s a bit

of a trial and error strategy the first time. Make the gravy using the

wine and mint liquid from the pot. Delicious!


I like to accompany them with fresh green vegetables from the garden

and, oh so English, a handful of homemade thick-cut farmhouse

chipped potatoes, fried in good vegetable fat, crispy on the outside and

soft on the inside. Or maybe big chunks of potatoes roasted in the

oven in goose fat (graissed’oie): the brand La TruffeCendree, which

is simply goose fat and a little salt, is excellent. A good thing about

this is that you can store any leftover liquid fat in an airtight Kilner or

Le Parfait jar in the refrigerator for up to two months, not that it lasts

so long in my household! I like to parboil the potatoes first, drain, and

then gently shake the pan (with the lid on) to “rough up” the outside

surfaces, which, when they are roasted in goose fat, become

deliciously crispy and crunchy with a soft centre. Bliss!


And to finish the meal and evoke memories of Lakeland spicy fruity

puddings, we like hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup:


Hot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup

serves 4

You’ll need:

4–5 large oranges

150 g. (6 oz.) caster sugar

3 tbsp. water

250 ml. (8 fl. oz.) fresh orange juice

1 vanilla pod

Optional orange liqueur such as Cointreau


Heat the oven to 150ºC, 275ºF/gas mark 2. Peel the oranges,

removing all pith and cores, and arrange in a shallow dish. Dissolve

the sugar with the water gently in a pan over low heat. When it

becomes clear, turn up the heat and cook until the liquid is a light

caramel. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and

stir in orange juice. To avoid splashing yourself as the hot caramel

burns, use a long-handled wooden spoon. Split or gently slice open

the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds out into the pan of syrup with the

tip of a sharp knife. Pour the syrup over the oranges and bake for

about 15–20 minutes, until the fruit is soft. You will need to spoon the

syrup several times over the oranges during the baking. Add a dash of

Cointreau if desired. Leave to cool a little so that it doesn’t burn

mouths. It’s also lovely chilled.


So simple, so gorgeous! It needs nothing else to accompany it,

although I have seen certain members of my family top it with a little

freshly whipped thick cream. Extremely sinful, but who am I to

argue? I have said that this recipe serves four, but the portions would

be generous, so if you were serving a cheese board afterwards, for

instance, you could use the same quantities for six. Quantities are

always difficult to generalise upon, and I have myself followed

recipes for four, which have been barely enough for healthy appetites,

especially after a long, healthy walk in the hills.


Another Lakeland recipe I love to make is what we call scrumptious

sticky toffee pud, which is as easy as it is sinfully rich and gooey. The

full recipe, which is the traditional one from the Lakes, is a family

secret, with a secret ingredient I put in my puds. But here is the basic



Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud

serves 6–8 (But if there are fewer, be sure that none will be

wasted! You can gently heat it up the next day too.)


Utterly gorgeous! And if you want, you can freeze the pud after

baking and cooling, so you can make the most complicated bit in

advance and just do the sauce just before you serve. SSTP reminds me

so much of the Lakes that it transports my mind back to those

wonderful holidays in an instant: healthy rambles, glowing cheeks,

roaring fire, family laughter round the table. However, often, in the

Lakes, we compare the SSTP on offer at different restaurants: is it as

good as our homemade one? The answer is always “no”. Try for



You’ll need:

150 g. (6 oz.) dates, stones removed and chopped

1 level tsp. of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

50 g. (2 oz.) butter

150 g. (6oz.) caster sugar

2 medium eggs (free range), beaten

150 g. (6 oz.) self-raising flour

0.5 tsp. vanilla extract, Madagascan if possible

For the sauce:

175 g. (7 oz.) soft brown sugar

6 tbsp. double cream (naughty but yummy)

100 g. (4 oz.) butter

0.5 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). Grease a 7-in. square

loose-bottomed cake tin. Pour about half a pint of water over the

dates and bring them to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and leave the pan to stand while you

prepare the pud. Cream the butter and sugar together, add the beaten

eggs a little at a time, and beat well. Fold in the flour and stir in the

dates, the liquid, and the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into the

prepared cake tin. Bake for 30–40 minutes.


For the sauce: Mix the sugar, cream, butter, and vanilla extract in a

pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. Pour a little of

the sauce over the cooked pud, then pop it back into the oven for a few

minutes to help the sauce soak into the sponge. I usually prick the top

of the pud to expedite matters. Cut the pud into squares and serve it

with the rest of the sauce. Absolutely divine!


If by any remote chance it is not all devoured in one go and you want

to heat it up the next day, just wrap silver foil around it and heat it

gently in a warmed oven. The sauce also heats through very well in a

pan on top of the stove. Or you could freeze part of it. I personally

have never had occasion to do this!


Another pud we like is fruit crumble. Even Husband, who has to be

gently persuaded to eat fruit, will drool at the sight and smell of a rich

aromatic crumble, hot from the oven, especially if served with custard.

Men seem to love what I call “nursery puds”, those gloriously filling

puddings of childhood that Mother or Grandma used to make.


Crumbles are a great and easy way to use fruit in season, whether

from your garden or the market. In the spring, I love to make rhubarb

crumble because I grow it in the garden, and I just adore its

mouthwatering sharpness. But I also freeze suitable surplus fruit like

blackberries, which will defrost and bake excellently in a crumble

pudding. I try to freeze suitable fruit in 450 g. (16 oz. /1 lb.)

quantities, which is the basic amount to pop straight into a dish (after

defrosting) for a crumble.


Country Apple and Blackberry Crumble and Homemade Custard

serves 4

You’ll need:

450 g. (1 lb.) mixed, peeled, and sliced cooking apples and


150 g. (6 oz.) Demerara or soft brown sugar

75 g. (3 oz.) butter

175 g. (6 oz.) plain white flour

Juice of one lemon


Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4. Sprinkle the fresh

lemon juice over the apple slices. Wash the blackberries. Mix the fruit

together carefully and spoon into the bottom of a 900 ml. (1.5 pint)

baking dish, ovenproof or the old-fashioned enamel kind. Sprinkle half

the sugar over the top of the fruit. To make the crumble, crumble the

flour and butter together between your fingers, until the mixture

resembles fine breadcrumbs, and then stir in the other half of the

sugar to sweeten it. Spread the crumble over the top of the fruit. Bake

in the oven for about 35–40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden.

Test with a sharp knife to ensure that the fruit is soft and well cooked



Even better is to use half flour and half oats for the topping.

This is delicious eaten with homemade custard. This is the real

thing, not from a tin or packet but made with milk, egg, and a little

sugar to taste, beaten over a low heat until thickened – even more

gorgeous with vanilla (the real McCoy from the pod or, failing that,

Madagascan vanilla extract).


For the custard:

600 ml. (20 fl. oz.) milk

50 g. (2 oz.) sugar

4 egg yolks

A few drops of Madagascan vanilla extract (or soak a vanilla pod in

the milk after heating; remove and scrape out the seeds to add to the



Heat the milk gently over low heat until warm to the touch. Beat in the

sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Heat gently again to thicken. Serve





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