A few summers ago I was the art equivalent of a football widow. Matt disappeared for days on end; he wasn’t working on some big international exhibition, but rather was crewing a 72 foot-long narrow boat, affectionately known as Slow Boat, for Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. A team of artists and gallery staff (including my beloved) souped the boat up with fresh paint and a new interior, then sailed it to London as part of a project with IYP, Ikon’s youth group. Long story short: canal boats travel at about 4mph and so it took about three weeks to get there.
That project ended, but the canal lingered in the consciousness of all who were involved. Not least for our friend and colleague Kate Self, who still volunteers with the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society (BCNS) and has become an expert on all things narrow boat.
And so on Saturday, Matt insisted that we go to Swethwick for the BCNS’ annual firework and bonfire display. This is a proper, big bonfire party, on the canal towpath, in the deepest Black Country. Matt entertained himself in the beer tent (real ale, obviously) whilst I was pleased to see a proper tea and cake stall manned by, you guessed it, Kate! Plus, this being Smethwick, we were never far away from a packet of fresh pork scratchings.
The bonfire rally marks the end of the canal season. Come November, the narrow boats moor up for the winter, allowing time for repairs to be made and the waterways to be cleaned up.
The BCNS were blessed with clear skies for their bonfire rally. Fog has now descended over both city and country, but in Malvern yesterday the sky was a glorious blue. The sun is low in the sky now, creating evocative streams of light through the trees.
Foggy days call for proper puds. Another friend of ours, Robin, had a vile accident last week – he came of his bike at about 30mph, fractured a few bones in his face and lost a couple of teeth. Chewing is currently not an option for Robin, but a man can’t live on soup alone. So I made up a cauldron of rice pudding at the weekend, mostly for Robin, but also because I wanted to try a new-fangled method that eschews the oven in favour of the hob.
Old-fashioned rice pudding involves baking round-grain pudding rice in the oven with milk, sugar, nutmeg and vanilla. It’s great, but it’s takes a really long time – about two hours. This method is more labour intensive but is quicker. I think it also turns out creamier too.
All you do is warm milk in a pan with vanilla, nutmeg and sugar, then slosh in your pudding rice. I actually used arborio risotto rice as that’s what I had, and it works just fine – though I think it takes a little longer to cook than traditional pudding rice.
Then you just leave it to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring as you go, until you get a creamy risotto-like mass. Stir in double cream, and that’s it. I actually had to add lots more milk than my various recipes suggested, so have some extra on hand just in case.
I also whipped up a quick compote with allotment fruit from the freezer, to dollop on top.
Once the pudding is cooked, you can either eat it right away, or leave it to go cold – but if you do this it will solidify, and will need loosening with more milk and cream before eating. It’s rich and creamy, but actually is quite an economical dish. I like it with fruit or jam, but Matt goes for Nutella.
Serves at least 6
1 litre whole milk, plus extra, just-in-case
200g pudding rice (or arborio)
1 vanilla pod, split with a sharp knife OR vanilla paste OR vanilla extract
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Scraping of nutmeg
100ml or more double cream, to taste
Warm the milk in a large pan then add the vanilla pod, if using, or a dollop of vanilla paste or 2 tsp vanilla extract. Scrape in fresh nutmeg and add the sugar. Once the milk is near simmering point, slide in the rice. Bring to a slow simmer and allow it to cook until the rice is very soft, stirring regularly. This can take 45 minutes – keep tasting until it is done to your liking. Add more sugar or vanilla extract, as needed. When the rice is near cooked, stir in 100ml or so (or more!) double cream. Serve immediately, or allow to cool. If eating cold, you may wish to add more milk or cream to bring the pudding back to creaminess.
Allotment fruit compote
For the compote, simmer a few handfuls of mixed fruit with a tiny splash of water and a tablespoon of sugar until the fruit splits, about 5 minutes. There is no need to defrost frozen fruit, just use a slow flame. Add more sugar to taste.