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  • I grew up in camp kitchens and gospel halls.

    I am one of nine children though my family is larger than that; I was raised by the community of women in those kitchens. I sat on their knees, studied their clothing, got under their feet. As soon as we were old enough, we were usually given a job to keep us out of mischief - sweeping floors or stacking chairs, washing dishes, putting things away.

    Holidays were spent at holiday camps (we lived at one for a number of years), where there were always pots to be washed, potatoes to be peeled, floors to sweep, bread to be toasted or tables to be set.

    Feeding people was calculated in the hundreds of meals rather than in twos or threes. Pots were big, the kitchen was big. Everything was big.

    These places were always warm; busy. I remember them as much for the laughter and sense of community as much as I do for the food that was prepared. Nothing fancy, simple fare, always more than enough for everyone.

    A couple of years ago, on a trip home to New Zealand, I found myself in a familiar place where everyone felt like family, even though most of them I was meeting for the very first time. It was a pot-luck lunch at the gospel hall. It all seemed so comforting. And gravitating towards the mighty pile of dishes in the kitchen sink seemed the most natural thing in the world to do.

    Nothing reminds me more of community or my upbringing more than being in that space. Amongst the women, preparing food, clearing up afterwards. Where doing dishes becomes a way of giving thanks, for the countless numbers of women who have raised me, and for the bounty in my life.

    One dish, that seems to always be present at every gathering, is steamed pudding. My father, when we were living at a camp where my parents were the cooks, used to make this in large tins - each one enough to feed 20 people - served in generously thick wedges with freshly made custard.

    -- Steamed Pudding --
    Ingredients
    * 1 cup dates
    * 1 cup whole milk
    * 1/2 cup sugar
    * 2 tbsp butter
    * 1 tsp baking soda
    * 7 oz. flour
    * 1 tsp baking powder

    Directions
    1. Grease a large pudding basin or tin (if using a tin, line with baking paper)
    2. Bring dates, milk, sugar and butter to the boil
    3. Cool, then add the remaining ingredients.
    4. Mix gently until combined, then spoon into prepared basin
    5. Cover with baking paper and secure with string
    6. Steam 1.5 hours or until pudding feels firm to the touch
    7. Remove from the pan and let it stand for a while until it shrinks so it's easy to get out of the tin
    8. Serve hot with custard

    -- Custard --
    Ingredients
    * 2 cups whole milk or cream
    * 3 egg yolks
    * 1/4 cup sugar
    * 3 tablespoons corn flour (corn starch)
    * 1 teaspoon vanilla
    * 1 tablespoon butter

    Directions
    1. Heat the milk to boiling.
    2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flour together.
    3. Whisk in a little warm milk, then a little more, gradually.
    4. Whisk well then pour into the boiled milk.
    5. Turn the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened – about 3 or 4 minutes.
    6. Whisk in the butter and vanilla.
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