Sunday, 28 June 2015

Mardle Pudding

Mark Rasdall

I'm thinking about food today. I know there are a lot of blogs which think about little else, and I know that weekends are the time when thousands of Brits set aside hours to think about it, read about it and paw over virtually pornographic photographs of it, but last night I dusted some meat with a blend of spices from Araby, the results were marvellous for the effort involved.

Also, there has just been a radio program about catering in the Houses of Parliament which listed the hundreds of animals, birds, fish and obscure parts thereof, served to the guests at Coronation banquets. I have been cynically wondering if this particular program was deliberately timed to taunt all devout Moslems in G.B. who are currently denying themselves even water between sunrise and sunset - a rather petty form of revenge for not being lax Christians?

Our pub has just started serving home-made and outdoor-cooked burgers on Saturday afternoons, beginning at 2.00 pm - just after lunchtime. This is so Bell, and I think that the main reason that they are not offered earlier is that the chef cannot be bothered to get out of bed in time to make them for lunch. This sounds a harsh thing to accuse him of, but really it is said with fond affection. The Bell would not be The Bell if it was staffed with efficient early risers, and I much prefer going in there when the bar staff are more pissed than I am.

The burger menu consists of a meat and a vegetarian option. The meat is described as having 'scorched' coriander with it. I can't think of how you cook a burger on a griddle without scorching the coriander, so maybe this is the cook putting a positive spin on an inevitable outcome. "That coriander looks a bit burnt. I know, I'll call it 'scorched coriander'!"

Restaurants have all but stopped using silly descriptions of food presentation these days - a few years ago, an egg could not simply sit on top of a pile of spinach, it had to be 'nestled on a bed' of it. Meat could not be just grilled, it had to be 'seared'. You could not pour olive oil on anything, it had to be 'drizzled'.

Somewhere, out there on the Cambridgeshire fens, a restaurant will forever exist (if you can find it) called 'Warwick's'. Staffed by a highly dysfunctional and disparate group of people, this family-run business serves every type of local produce except eel. There is a curse on eels associated with the area which precludes them from the menu.

The last I heard of them was that they had just discovered the recipe for the legendary Mardle Pudding, written on an old bit of paper stuffed behind the frame of an ancient painting hanging on the wall over the fireplace of a lonely and isolated pub.

Mardle Pudding is the culinary equivalent of The Funniest Joke in the World - once tasted, never forgotten. Whole lives have been changed and even ruined in the eating of it.

I often consider driving all the way to the fens to try and find Warwick's, but I am not sure if I would have the courage to order the Mardle Pudding - assuming that they have been foolhardy enough to actually make it.


  1. When I was at school we drank a pub dry at Stuntney Bridge near Soham (remember Soham?). The area could well have been the influence for Mardle; real six-finger country!

    1. Oh yes, Soham. Nobody can visit the little market town of Hungerford without thinking about that either. There is a great line in On Mardle Fen when the narrator says that the distance between one place and another is counted on one hand by the locals - 6 miles.

    2. P.S. - I briefly lived on the fens after I left Farnham. There was an old woman living nearby who everyone avoided - because she was supposed to be a witch. This was 1971.

    3. Drinking this pub dry was no big deal, they had one cask of bitter, and maybe 20-ish bottles of beer. Spirits were non-existent. It took 20 of us about an hour.... their usual clientèle consisted of 2 old boys who'd make a half-pint last all night.

  2. But of what does Mardle pudding consist???

  3. In Germany we get very suspicious if the three-star chefs (and those who are ambitious to become one) start to get lyrical - the worst thing is when they add the diminuitive "-chen" - as in "Süppchen" -- errrgss, berrgs, grrr- barf!