Sticky Toffee Pudding – the story of my Lake District love affair

This weekend my son is on a Scout camp, which means I have 48 hours of freedom. If you are lone parenting then you will know what a wonderful prospect this is. I considered staying home and feeling sorry for myself (for about 30 seconds) and then I booked myself a cottage at the gorgeously converted Broadrayne Farm for a weekend of walking, reading and reprieve from conversations about Lego and how to solve the Rubik’s cube.

I was 17 when I first visited this neck of the woods. My college boyfriend, who I was utterly besotted with, came from a wealthy farming background and would visit the Langdale hotel with his family each year for a winter walking holiday before the busy farming season began again. They had a timeshare in a luxurious lodge on the estate and I had never been anywhere so fancy, nor so awe inspiring before. In order to prepare for the trip I had to buy my first pair of walking boots and a proper outdoor jacket. My mother was not impressed by this post-Christmas news. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or if I would like it, but I was willing to give it a go if it meant a few extra snogs with my boyfriend before school re-started. Of course, I loved it. The lodge and hotel facilities were amazing, the scenery was spectacular, and the food was phenomenal. We walked all day, then ate in gorgeous pubs and cafes. It was heaven. I fell in love with the Lake District almost as much as I had fallen in love with him. In the end, sadly, it turned out that my love for the scenery and the food were more enduring.

The best culinary discovery I was introduced to during that first trip was, without a doubt, Sticky Toffee Pudding. Why had I never had this before? To this day, I still cannot understand it. All I know is I was driven to the picturesque tourist trap if Cartmel where we picked up a pudding from the famous shop, then heated it up for dessert that evening back in the lodge. My life changed forever.

After that first trip it seemed Cartmel’s range and popularity grew steadily and its’ puddings began appearing in the odd supermarket. Any time I saw it, I had to buy it. I even found it occasionally in Abu Dhabi (thank you Spinney’s). There was something strangely satisfying and odd about eating a hot pudding, made in a cold, wet English rural idyll in the middle of the glamorously hot and dry UAE desert. The taste of comfort and joy, tinged with nostalgia and irony is hard to beat.

Occasionally I make my own Sticky Toffee pudding, but even though it’s delicious, it still doesn’t match up to the Lake District version. The soft, rich sponge, the gooey sauce (especially if you get a caramelised bit at the edges). I like it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, although custard, cream or creme fraiche are all equally welcome accompaniments.

As I write this, I am feeling replete from a most delicious meal at The Yan (a bistro with rooms which is the latest edition to this wonderful establishment). I had a shepherd’s pie with cheesy, silky smooth mash and slow cooked lamb, followed by the house sticky toffee pudding (pictured), which was everything I could have hoped for after a long afternoon of walking in the hills.

Sticky Toffee Pudding at the Yan

My naivety and youthful exuberance haunt me as I revisit these much loved places with a sense of nostalgia and very creaky knees. The Lake District finds a way to reach into your soul, however old you are. No wonder Wordsworth wrote all that poetry. You wouldn’t be able to help yourself if you lived here.

When I got back to the UK, I read The Shepherd’s Life, after listening to James Rebanks‘ interview on Desert Island Discs. It made me see the area in a new light and I longed to come back in this latest version of myself to re-engage with the landscape and gaze in awe at its beauty from a different perspective then the one formed in my A’level English classroom. In many ways I felt the same today walking in the hills and eating this pudding as I did 22 years ago. In others, I looked on them with a completely different mindset born of time, heartache and experience.

It is wonderful to be young and discovering new things, likes and interests. These experiences stay with you and form who you are. I am very grateful to all the people and places that helped me to become the person I am at the time of writing. Today in particular, I am especially grateful to my first true love, his ever patient and generous mother, and the good people of the Lake District who live and breath its beauty every day. I am grateful for the spectacular country we live in that is open for us to explore and appreciate whenever we want it. It is something truly special that we take for granted and should be constantly fighting to protect. I am grateful for everything I have learnt along the way since that first visit. I am thankful for all the loves, losses, triumphs and failures I have experienced that have led me back here once again. Most of all, I am grateful to Sticky Toffee Pudding. Thank you from the bottom of my ever expanding stomach for all the joy you have brought me.

Lake District Happy Face

Interrupted Family Food For Thought…

  • Where was your first big independent travel or food adventure?
  • Who were the people who introduced you to new places, tastes and ideas as a teenager/young adult? Remember to pay it forward when you can.
  • What are your nostalgia foods/places? How can you use the food you eat to take a trip down memory lane?

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