11 APR 2019: From Michelin-starred restaurants and gastro pubs, to purveyors of fine foods at farmers markets, I’ve been having an on-going love-affair with British food since I moved here 20 years ago. On a recent foodie assignment in Cumbria’s Lake District I discovered a scandal as to who made the first Sticky Toffee Pudding.

I’ve decided that Chefs are like magpies. They travel the world picking up ideas they love, then bring them home, give the idea a twist, then call it their own. On trend now is doing something similar to traditional dishes. A chef will take an old favourite, deconstruct it, add some finesse, a little je ne sais quoi if you will, and deliver a dish full of honesty and freshness, ingredients that comes from places that haven’t been messed with. Then there are those that borrow a recipe from a neighbouring county, who got it from Canada, then call it British.

I’m at the Cartmel Village Shop - an artisan handmade pudding company and home of Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. A hoard of shoppers just left with their stash of puddings. I position myself at the cashier’s desk, my basket brimming with Sticky Toffee Puddings. I strike up a conversation with the buxom lady behind the till.

“We started baking Sticky Toffee puddings in the back kitchen of our Village Shop a good 25 years ago. Word soon got out and it seemed as if everyone wanted some, so we moved to a bigger kitchen. But no matter how busy we get, we’ll always make them by hand, using natural ingredients.” She looked at the queue forming behind me, “There’s simply nothing to match it. And the sheer beauty of our pudding requires it to be eaten unadorned. No nuts, no slivers of peel, no shavings of chocolate, no splashes of brandy – just lavish amounts of sauce. Our puddings need no embellishments.” www.cartmelvillageshop.co.uk

From one restaurant to the next, I’m certain I’ve eaten my own body weight in Sticky Toffee Pudding, including that served at the celebrated Le Gavroche in London. That night, I dine at Sharrow Bay in Ullswater - yet another Cumbrian hotel in the Lake District with a raft of awards for food and hospitality, all much deserved. On the menu I see Icky-Sticky Toffee Sponge and ask to speak with the chef. Moments later I’m guided to the kitchen where I meet Head Chef Colin Akrigg

The story goes that the hotel’s former chef, the late Francis Coulson, developed and served sticky toffee pudding at the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the 1970s. He tweaked and updated the recipe he’d borrowed from Mrs. Patricia Martin of Claughton in Lancashire. He renamed his version Icky-Sticky Toffee Sponge, which in turn created a Sharrow Bay following, drawing visitors from around the world.

Apparently, Mrs. Coulson published the recipe in a compilation that later became The Good Food Guide Dinner Party Book, and first served the dish at her own country hotel. Chef Colin claims Francis Coulson’s tweaked recipe differs only from the original in its sauce, and contains double cream, salted butter, and molasses.

Years later Mrs. Martin’s son, Piers, claims that his mother originally got the recipe from two Canadian air-force officers who had lodged at her hotel during WW2. Which makes sense, as the pudding uses a batter more akin to that of an American muffin, rather than an English sponge.

Cumbrian cuisine is synonymous with the ultimate fine dining dream, with timeless excellence and chefs who stand head and shoulders above the rest in their sheer brilliance - even if it’s been nicked.

With its lakeside location, vast gardens, 17 bedrooms, numerous suites and an Edwardian lodge, Sharrow Bay is one of those country house hotels that must be visited at least once in a lifetime. The degree of unbridled luxury and comfort in the individually created bedrooms is astounding. You’ll soon see why Paul McCartney choice this as his engagement location. It’s sumptuous, filled with priceless antiques and may be considered a little old fashioned by some as it has a few too many cushions and pieces of china adorning the tables, but this is all part of its period charm. Ask for the Silver room, with a big bay window overlooking the lake, and of course the Icky-Sticky Toffee Sponge. www.sharrowbay.co.uk

For further information about Cumbria and the Lake District see www.golakes.co.uk

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Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a professional editor, writer and photographer, specializing in high-end travel, luxury motoring and affluent lifestyles. She also writes compellingly of current affairs, African politics and introduces her readers to new-age philanthropy.

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