British cuisine may never have established the greatest of reputations abroad, but good old-fashioned English puddings were once legendary: tables heaved under flummeries, charlottes, fools, fritters, dumplings, pies and tarts. Even the French developed an appetite for custard, or "crème anglaise".
The doyenne of the classic pudding was Mary Nowark, a self-taught, eminently practical Englishwoman who wrote more than 100 books on many dishes but reserved her greatest enthusiasm for those that were sweet. She had a formidable knowledge of the historical provenance of the recipes she cooked and could mark the transition of her favourite, the trifle, from its origins in the "sops in wine" of Norman England through the invention of custard during the reign of Charles II to the glorious feast of sponge and double cream that it eventually became.
She had no patience for modern appellations: there were no "desserts", "sweets" or "afters" in Nowark's books. Her recipes are anachronisms in the modern, leaner age in which diet yoghurts are regarded as a sufficient conclusion to a meal and recall a more indulgent age when every meal ended with a glorious confection of suet, treacle, butter and cream.
Her savoury dishes bore the changes in gastronomic fashion better: the re-appearance of steak and kidney pudding, pease pudding and bread and butter pudding on English menus is due in no small part to her proselytizing on the virtue of simple, traditional and slow-cooked food.
Born in London in 1929, Nowark worked first in fashion journalism in trade magazines, before moving to Vogue magazine, where she wrote about fashion and furnishings. With marriage and children, she turned to writing about cookery. A self-described "writer who cooks" rather than a cookery writer, she published her first piece in The Lady, the staple read of every self-respecting housewife. For 13 years she was the cookery editor for Farmer's Weekly.
Mary Nowark's husband, John, died in 1965. She is survived by their son and two daughters.
Born January 20, 1929. Died October 5, 2010.