The village of Bakewell in Derbyshire is famous for a few things. There's the summer wheelbarrow race, where locals push one another around in a wheelbarrow, drinking half a pint of beer at each pub (there are ten) before gathering along the banks of the River Wye to be synchronously sick (one year someone ran a wheelbarrow into the mayor and broke her leg. This did nothing to diminish the event's popularity). Then there's Bakewell Show, the biggest agricultural gathering of its kind in the country, a three-day festival of cattle, cooking, and surprisingly pricey outdoor products.
But more than anything, Bakewell is known for the Bakewell Tart—the almond and jam sweet treat that corporate baking behemoth Mr Kipling shovels onto supermarket shelves across the country.
Only, the Bakewell Tart isn't from Bakewell at all. The Bakewell Pudding is.
Hang on a minute. If the Bakewell Tart isn't from Bakewell, why is it called a "Bakewell Tart?" Well, the tart itself is an American invention—although no one is entirely sure of its origins—and only became associated with Bakewell at a later date.
Even the name, "Bakewell" doesn't originally refer to the town's baking abilities. It's an old English term that means "a well belonging to Badeca" (whoever Badeca was). The fact that the place has since become synonymous with cakes is a classic case of nominative determinism, like when someone called "Law" becomes a lawyer.
OK, so the tart isn't from Bakewell. But what's this pudding thing?
"It was invented by accident in 1859, across the road at what is now the Rutland Arms Hotel, by the chef Mrs Greaves," explains Luke Killgallon, media manager and sometime baker at the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in Bakewell. "She was trying to make a Bakewell Tart for an important guest and she missed the flour out of the mixture."
Unlike when I miss out a key baking ingredient and the whole thing turns into an inedible mess, Mrs Greaves got lucky. The Bakewell Tart's illegitimate child turned out to be very tasty, so much so that local candle maker Mrs Wilson bought the recipe.
"She turned this shop from a candle shop into a pudding parlour and the rest is history," concludes Killgallon.
Well, almost. The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop isn't the only place to claim ownership to the dessert; another origin theory was posted by rival shop Bloomers. While for a long time the so-called "Pudding Wars" were simply a source of local humour (and many puns about accusations being "half-baked"), the case actually went to court a couple of years ago. The fact that the shops are next door to one another made it especially awkward.
Fortunately, Killgallon says, the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop triumphed.
"Although now their [Bloomers'] sign says they make 'the one and only Bakewell pudding' but we can laugh about it now, and we're all friends," he explains.
People come and say, Oh, it's an ugly looking thing. I say, It's not ugly, it's original.
As you have probably guessed, the pudding is very important to the local economy of Bakewell, with several shops specialising in either it, the tart, or both. So what does this pudding have that makes it so special? Well, the recipe itself is surprisingly simple.
"The basic mix is egg, sugar, butter, and ground almonds," says Killgallon. There is also what he rather theatrically calls a "secret ingredient," which, "you can't taste it but adds to the quality of it."
First you beat the mix together, leaving it so it still has a few lumps. Then you get your puff pastry (shop-bought stuff works just as well as homemade) and put a thin layer of seedless strawberry jam on it. Push that into a small foil pie case, stick a good dollop of mix on top, put it in the oven for 25 minutes, and you've got yourself a Bakewell Pudding. The shop sells them in a couple of sizes but, generally speaking, the larger ones are better as you get a greater depth of mixture and a richer texture.
Now, I have a confession to make: I grew up in Bakewell, and spent the first twenty years of my life there, but I've never eaten a Bakewell Pudding. You might think that this crime is so great that I ought to be chased from town by an angry mob of pitchfork-wielding locals (or at least have my leg broken by a wheelbarrow), but speak to Bakewell natives and you'll find that it isn't something they eat very often, much in the same way that people from New York don't visit the Statue of Liberty. It's a tourist thing, really. (This is the only similarity between Bakewell and New York).
But now, with Killgallon having made one especially for me, I give it a try. It actually tastes surprisingly good: an egg custard with almonds and jam doesn't sound like a winning combination but somehow, it works. The mix has different textures throughout and the pastry adds a satisfying crispness.
"Some people only like them when they are cold, some only when they are warm, some with cream, some with custard," comments Killgallon, as I polish off the last of the pudding. "Everyone has their unique way of enjoying it—the variety is one of its best qualities."
It is, however, very sweet, and I can almost feel my teeth dissolving as I eat it. If you're going to make one yourself, I would suggest having it with sharp berries to take the edge off.
While the Bakewell Pudding might taste good, it isn't winning any beauty contests. Its appearance can only be described as cowpat-like.
It actually tastes surprisingly good: an egg custard with almonds and jam doesn't sound like a winning combination but somehow, it works.
"People come and say, Oh, it's an ugly looking thing," says Killgallon, before adding, in his best politician-speak, "And when people say that to me I say, It's not ugly, it's original."
Ugly or original, people can't get enough of it. The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop alone bakes as many as 15,000 puddings every single week, each one handmade. And while I don't think I'm suddenly going to be putting away puddings on a daily basis, it is something I'd like to have again. Not least because making it is so simple.
For Killgallon, though, it's more than just a pudding—it's a piece of history.
"I love it, I absolutely love it. Yes, it is a tourist thing, and yes it is a story, but I enjoy telling people the history, showing them how they're made, taking them on tours," he says. "It's great fun, sharing something with people that is really interesting—and really tasty too."
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in June 2015.