What I need is a woman (sorry to be sexist, but there are certain areas in which tradition counts) who is preferably aged between 35 and 55, a little on the corpulent side so as to look correct in an apron, possessed of her own teeth to obviate the possibility that she might have been handling dentures, speaks with a warm and homely West Country accent, and is prepared to call me ‘sir.’ The latter requirement is so that I can instruct her: ‘Please, Mrs Miggins, there’s no need for such formality. Please do address me as Mr JJ.’ And then she can say ‘Very well, sir, if you say so. You’re a very fine and kind gentleman, if you’ll pardon my being so bold, and it is a pleasure to be in your employ.’ And then all will be right with the world and the grandfather clock in the corner will chime its approbation with greater gusto than usual.
As for the repertoire of puddings for which her culinary skill is famed in local parts, it must include jam roly-poly (steamed, not baked, and brought to the table in a cotton sleeve so as to smell of washday only a bit different), oven-baked milk puddings with bits of yellow stuff floating on the top which is probably butter (I’m working from childhood memory here), spotted dick with lots of currants so I can make rude jokes about it when I think nobody is listening (as I did at school once when I was about 8 and got sent to the head for punishment), fruit pies with shortcrust pastry so short that you don’t have to chew it because it melts first, proper trifles with lots of fresh cream and stiff custard and just the right amount of distilled liquor added to the breadcrumbs (not sponge because sponge tends to set off my occasional gluten intolerance), cheese scones made with strong Cheddar cheese, and baked Alaska because I’ve never had it and always wanted to.
(And if she can make Australian apple pie, so much the better. One of my partners made an Australian apple pie once and I remember liking it very much. I don’t remember why I liked it very much, but I do remember that it was nicer than ordinary apple pie.)
And I forgot to mention that she must be able to make excellent custard that is thick, creamy, and has a colour approximating to the yellow of a buttercup or maybe just a little darker. Oh, and she must be prepared to do the washing up afterwards.
That will do for now. Maybe I’d better start scouting around for a second-hand grandfather clock.