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Essentially England News - Of Lemon Pudding, Strawberry Soap and Cock & Bull Stories
March 24, 2014

Of Lemon Pudding, Strawberry Soap and Cock & Bull Stories

Looks like spring has finally arrived, with trees starting to blossom and even the first green leaves here and there. Much less dreary allround. We took a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary with a trip to Whipsnade Zoo (can't remember the last time I'd been to a zoo!) and a walk along Hunstanton Cliffs to catch a bit of sea air. While it was sunny it really was by no means warm and I have great respect for all the surfers who were out bracing the wind and having fun on the water.

I've had a tremendously busy few weeks with no respite in sight, but the advantage of that - and a major perk in my book - is that I get to meet some really amazing people and hear funny or uplifting stories. Today's falls more into the funny category, seeing that I finallly learned the origins of a very popular saying.

Cock & Bull Stories

In English a Cock and Bull Story is a tall tale told to impress strangers, and it dates all the way back to the age of the mailcoaches, when travelling across England acquired a timetable. The Mail or Stagecoach connected London to other English towns. They travelled in stages (hence the name), stopping every so often to change horses. Coaching inns sprang up along the routes, priding themselves on the speed with which they could change horses and provide food and drink to a bunch of well-shaken passengers before the coach moved on again.

The Cock and Bull Hotels in Stony Stratford ©

The town of Stony Stratford was situated on the busy London to Manchester post road and boasted two coaching inns, predictably named The Cock and The Bull. Legend has it that while the coaches stopped for refreshments and new horses the passengers - one lot from Manchester, the other from London - would entertain each other with tall stories of what to expect at their destinations.

Hence Cock & Bull stories.

The thing that amuses me is that both inns have survived to this day. My meeting actually took place at The Cock Hotel, and it looks very old world inside, full of beams and dark wood and tiles and open fires. Lovely coffee, too. I haven't been to The Bull Hotel yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time...

How about a Little Treat?

If you've followed Essentially England for a while, you'll know that I champion all things made in England. And in one of my many recent meetings I've met a wonderful lady who really deserves a spot in my newsletter. Her name is Elaine and she spent part of her life as a TV producer before moving to rural Buckinghamshire. Finding herself with a field out back she started to grow herbs, then began making all natural soap, and bath bombs, and hand cream. And over time the kitchen experiments grew into The Littlecote Soap Company.

Hippy Rose cosmetics from Littlecote Soap Company If you love handmade cosmetics, this is a fun place. I got the workshop tour AND got to sniff my way around the many different ranges like English Bluebell, Hippy Rose, Strawberries & Cream, Red Wine & Cassis and Gin & Tonic, and try some out. The whole operation speaks of passion. Passion for getting things just right - you should see the detail that goes into designing the packaging for each item! - passion for all natural ingredients, passion for scents and colours and flavours...

Suffice it to say that I loved the afternoon I spent there and I highly recommend the products - especially the Tree-mend-us handcream, it's just wonderful! You'll be in good company if you buy any, too. The Littlecote Soap Company supplies the gift shops at Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace and have just gone into the Crown Estate Shop at Saville Garden in Windsor. So if you're in the vicinity, why not pop in. But don't worry if you're not. The Littlecote Soap Company has a website and they are currently getting ready to ship overseas, too. So that's something to look forward to if you like all things made in England!

Let's Go for the Lemon (Pudding)!

This gorgeous lemon pudding is perfect for the time when spring is starting but winter hasn't quite left yet. There's the warm comforting scent of vanilla tempering rainy days and winds that are sharp rather than balmy. And then there's zingy lemon custard that hints of teatime out in the garden. It's also a doddle to make, feeds 4-6 and takes less than an hour from start to finish.

Here's what you need:

  • 175g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250ml whole milk

And Here's How You Make It

Heat your oven to gas 4, 180°C and grease a baking dish.

Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolks together, then add the vanilla extract, lemon peel, lemon juice and the flour. Whisk until smooth. (This will only take a minute with an electric whisk and only a little longer by hand. Make sure your butter is soft, or it won't blend.)

Then mix in the milk.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Then carefully fold them into the pudding mixture before pouring the whole into your greased baking dish.

Sit the dish into a roasting tin and pour in hot water until it comes half-way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 40-45mins until the sponge top is dark,the pudding is just set and a fragrant lemon custard fills the bottom of the dish.

I can literally just stick a spoon in the dish when it comes out of the oven, but you could be civilised and wait a few minutes before serving your pudding dusted with icing sugar and maybe cream or ice cream on the side.


And Next Month …

We've enjoyed our days out so much, we've decided to plan in a few more long weekends just going out to explore as the weather gets nicer. So even when I'm crazy busy, there's that to look forward to. And until then, thanks for sticking with me. Keep warm, keep well and think of England…

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