A Great Day for Aunt Bessie

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Christopher Hirst finds that size matters when it comes to Yorkshire pudding

You might not have known that 3 February this year was Yorkshire Pudding Day though, since it was a Sunday, there’s a strong chance that you may have participated in an unconscious celebration. Simultaneously crunchy and absorbent, Yorkshire Pudding is an essential part of the Sunday roast. Chances are that the crisp, brown castle on your plate came from the Hull factory of Auntie Bessie. According to a press release trumpeting the great day, Auntie Bessie produces over 639 million Yorkshire puddings each year. The release does not reveal if each pud has been churned by Bessie herself but if so the chef de cuisine must have developed whopping muscles after stirring half a million eggs and 40 tonnes of flour into submission every day.
Hailing from the terroir (West Yorkshire, I’m a lifelong devotee of the Yorkshire pud. In general, I’d say that Auntie Bessie’s version is OK. I eat them myself, having failed to inherit my mother’s miraculous skill. The company (I doubt if it’s really an individual) asserts that its ‘classic recipe uses just 5 ingredients  – flour, egg, milk, salt and oil – so are as close to homemade as you can get’. This may be true as far as the constituent elements are concerned (though my mother used dripping rather than oil). My cavil with Auntie Bessie concerns shape rather than taste.
The little Auntie Bessie pudding that has cornered 65 per cent of the UK market is usually consumed with beef and veg on a cluttered plate. But this is not how you should eat Yorkshire pud. We dyed-in-the-wool Yorkies insist that it should be consumed alone with gravy as a starter. This requires a sizeable pud. Peter Brears gets it right in his authoritative study Traditional Food in Yorkshire (Prospect Books).
‘Just as the Cornish pasty is instantly recognised by its shape, so is the Yorkshire pudding. For over 200 years it was baked in a large rectangular dripping tray, the batter rising to a high crisp rim, with a shallower, deeply rippled centre.’ Though he concedes that individual puds cooked in specially-made tins gained sway in the 20th century, Brears insists, ‘the true Yorkshire pudding is always made in a rectangular tray and cut into squares just before it reaches the plate.’ This is exactly the pudding that my mother used to make. (The really important thing is that it should be cooked in very hot fat. preferably dripping from the roast. Don’t forget the half-hour standing time.)
In my view, a good Yorkshire pudding generously accompanied by beef gravy is one of the world’s greatest gastronomic marriages. The commonly held belief that diners were encouraged to have seconds and even thirds of Yorkshire pudding in order to eke out the subsequent beef strikes me as nonsense. Yorkshiremen (and some women) came back for more because it is utterly delicious. Since my father and I were both insatiable, dashing back from the pub at the stroke of one because Yorkshire pudding ‘doesn’t keep’, our consumption got increasingly out of hand. At the peak of our addiction, I once counted the number of puddings my mother made to satisfy demand: 23.
Lacking my mother’s superlative rendition, I now settle for Auntie Bessie’s (they do a ‘Giant Yorkshire’ but, being intended for stuffing, it’s flat in the centre). I still have it before the main meal. A little Yorkshire pudding fighting for its corner alongside the beef is a hopeless idea. Even if it starts with a bit of crunch, it rapidly turns cold and flaccid. And there is never enough gravy to give it a satisfactory dunking.
Some like Yorkshire pudding as a dessert. Possible additions include brown sugar and butter, blackberry vinegar, raspberry jam and golden syrup. But not for me. There’s only one place for Yorkshire pudding and that’s at the start. And only one acceptable accompaniment. But you know what that is.

Yorkshire Pudding

2 eggs
100g flour
35g dripping
300ml milk and water
Pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 230C. Mix the flour and salt in a basin, and make a hole in the centre. Break in the eggs and gradually add the milk and water, beating the mixture continually to obtain a smooth batter and set aside for half an hour. Put the dripping (hot from the roast if possible) into a dripping pan and pre-heat in the oven until smoking hot. Pour in the batter, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until crisp and brown, the cut into squares and serve immediately.

Yorkshire Pudding recipe from Traditional Food in Yorkshire by Peter Brears