The great custard controversy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Don't say I never bring you the important issues. While we were chatting the other night, Mr B started to tell me about the custard his Nan used to make. To hear him tell it, "Nan's custard" was rich, creamy and perfect. She would whip it up for dessert after a Sunday roast, and make it at Christmas to pour over pudding. Mr B's Nan was one of those truly hospitable women that you mostly only read about in old books. She'd be up at 4am on Christmas Day to roast the turkey, preparing a veritable banquet for the family.

I've got to be honest, I've never really thought of custard as a dish in itself. It seems more of... I don't know... a condiment. But he was so passionate about Nan's custard and how good it was and all those memories, that I asked him to get the recipe so I could try to create his happy culinary experience. Here's how the conversation went next.

Mr B: I don't think she had a recipe. She just mixed it up on the stove.

Me: Would she have given your Mum the recipe?

Mr B (ignoring my question and looking all misty-eyed): It was delicious, and fluorescent yellow.

Me (growing suspicious): And she definitely made it from scratch? What ingredients did she use?

Mr B (with a withering look): What all custard is made from. Custard powder!

And just like that, the Great Custard Challenge was born.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three types of custard: the type you buy ready-made and refrigerated, the type you make up with custard powder, and the type you mix up with eggs and milk. I decided I would make all three, then challenge Mr B to a blind tasting to see which one lived up to his memory.

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It took me two goes to make the powder version, because I tackled it first and while I think I got the consistency the way Mr B described it (quite thick), by the time I had subsequently cooked up the 'real deal' version, the powder version had become congealed and gluggy, and I had to throw it out and start again. We will be eating custard in our house for a long time because Mr B bought a two kilogram jug of the refrigerated stuff because it was only a dollar more than the small carton. Sometimes he forgets it's just us and two very small children, and shops like he's back in his childhood home with three adults, five children, and umpteen aunties, uncles, cousins and neighbours visiting at any given time.

If you've never made custard from scratch (actual scratch, rather than with powder), it's incredibly easy. Here's my recipe, a bit of an amalgam of a few I found on the Internet. These are small quantities, and it makes about a cup and a half. I'm going to try it without the sugar next time and see if the kids still like it for a healthy snack.

Ingredients: 


1 egg 1.5 tablespoons cornflour 1.5 cups milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract* 1.5 tablespoons sugar

*We only had vanilla essence in the house for this experiment because I bought it by accident, and it still tasted ok, but I definitely think extract or the scrapings of an actual vanilla pod would be the better way to go

Method:

1. In a small saucepan with the heat off, whisk the egg, cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of the milk together 2. When you have created a smooth paste with no lumps, turn the heat on low, and gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring continually 3. As soon as the custard becomes thick and creamy (which will happen the second you start to think "this is taking too long it won't work"), remove the saucepan from the heat 4. Stir in the sugar and vanilla

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you guess which is which by looking at these? L-R = the powdered stuff, the refrigerated stuff, the homemade stuff

The outcome of this challenge? Much to my surprise, Mr B chose my homemade custard in his blind tasting! I can't claim that it was up to Nan's Magic Custard Powder dessert standard because a) I never got to taste it and b) possibly I just didn't do the powder justice. But it was nice to get the stamp of approval on my very own creation. The best part was that the Custard Challenge led to a longer conversation about Mr B's Nan and their Christmases in Bendigo and about the kind of woman she was. Which was quite lovely, and exactly what food memories are all about, I think.

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This is part of a new regular series exploring food memories from our childhoods. The good, the bad and the bizarre. I explain the whole thing in this post if you're interested. Do you want to join in? Recreate or reinvent some of your best or worst food memories and use the hashtag #naomilovesfoodmemories so I can promote what you're doing. Or ask me to have a go at one of your food memories and I'll see what I can do!

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