I grew up in Harrow, in northwest London, far enough out of the city to not be London really, but officially London nonetheless. Mum had cookbooks everywhere, and I did not understand why. She didn’t need books to make my beloved tagliatelle with cheese sauce, or toad in the hole, or shepherd’s pie, so what did she need them for? Once, when I was about fifteen, she actually stroked the pages of Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess while she told me, “I love this one. I just like to sit and look at it.” Reading a recipe book in a leisurely way! Where would this woman’s weirdness end? Why couldn’t she be like the other mums and take me to Bond Street to buy expensive jeans?
The books I understood from a young age were splattery, cakey, M&S ones. In January, I’d start browsing, readying my March birthday order. I’d need caramel cakes—that was standard. I’d require a cake in the shape of a carousel. No, wait. Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Nah. A pink castle. I’d order my brothers’ cakes, too. You couldn’t trust boys to be on top of stuff.
We weren’t allowed Kickers, Push Pops, or chewing gum, but she would make us any birthday cake we wanted? Life was crazy.
It turns out that the cookbooks I didn’t understand taught my mum how to be the best at baking. And they taught me something else: I love to eat all the food. I like Sichuan-style aubergines and spanakopita and French cheese and tagliatelle. But the thing I like to do is bake. And that’s because it’s quite the spectacle to put my mum’s great big saucy pudding in the middle of a table after Sunday lunch. A pudding that just can’t be bad. Because it’s sugar and butter and sticky dates and vanilla, and you’re going to urge your dining pals in the strongest possible terms to pour custard or cream, or both, on top. This sticky toffee pudding (originally based on one of Nigella’s) is exactly what I’m talking about.
I used to sneak down to join my parents’ dinner parties to witness the grand unveiling of this pudding. To look at everyone’s faces when they ate what Mum had made. Now that I’m thirty, I get to do it myself! Life is still crazy. —Laura Goodman
When and where were you born?
I was born in Kilburn (northwest London), in 1961, to Irish parents. There was a huge Irish community in Kilburn at the time.
What do you remember about food when you were growing up?
We used to eat really plain food: dinner was always meat, potatoes, and veg. In the winter, we used to have Heinz tomato soup with boiled potatoes in it. We had a lot of boiled carrots, and I hated them; I used to put them in my lap, roll them up in my skirt, take them to the toilet, and flush them away. I don’t think I had garlic until I left home. When I met your dad, I tried smoked salmon for the first time and hated it. Bubbe [Dad’s grandmother] said I didn’t know what was good for me.
What was your favorite thing to eat?
Roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, followed by my mum’s sponge finger pudding with cream and strawberries. The pudding was a real treat at the time, which seems ridiculous now. We all thought we were getting something indulgent! It was layers of tinned strawberries, whipped cream, and sponge fingers from a packet, dipped in the tinned strawberry juice. You couldn’t just pop to the grocer for fresh berries!
How did you learn to cook?
I started to enjoy food properly when you lot arrived. It was about the same time that food got more interesting. The international food aisles appeared in supermarkets and I started cooking Italian food and curries for dinner. I bought my first cookbooks and got really into baking for your birthday parties. From novelty birthday cakes, I made the leap to profiteroles, pies, crumbles, steamed puddings.
I remember in the eighties I made my first Pavlova at home for a dinner party. Months later, when we went to my friend Clare’s, I offered to make dessert and she requested the Pavlova. She still does!
When did you start making this pudding?
About eight years ago, after our Sunday roast. I wrote it down from Nigella Bites. It’s quicker and easier to make than a steamed sticky toffee pudding, but it’s denser, darker, and sweeter, too. Everyone I’ve made it for has loved it, and it’s really easy to take to people’s houses: you just put it all in the dish and cook it there. It makes its own sauce.
Elaine Goodman is a mum, wife, and busy woman. Laura Goodman is a writer, who isn’t as good at baking as her mum, but blogs about it anyway.