6th October 2010, on the menu today...
Custard (Brands Reviewed: Bird's)
With the last entry on the TGBD menu - the Sunday Roast - now thoroughly digested, I thought it only natural that we turn our attention to this heavenly pudding-related substance. Indeed, I have fond memories of this stuff from the simple but ever-so-tasty dish of bananas and custard to steamed puddings and crumbles where custard features as the perfect accompaniment. Oh and by the way, when I say custard I mean that lusciously thick yellow stuff made from Bird's powdered product. I say this because powder-made custard has a unique consistency and taste that over the years I, like so many others, have come to identify as custard. Consequently, on the odd occasion that so-called traditional custard has passed my lips I have found the taste and, particularly, the consistency rather odd.
The classic Bird's red, yellow and blue colour scheme makes for a relatively colourful display. Also, just to the left of the brand name, we see the little blue and yellow bird graphic still features. Words like "original", "traditional" homemade" pepper the front of the packaging to reinforce the brand's history and place in the kitchen. Overall, it is not as flashy as other packaging but, being simple in presentation, its core message is unconfused and thus communicated well.
When a jug of custard is presented to you, you will first notice a bright yellow skin covering the surface. Growing up, this skin was much sought after and my mother, with surgeon-like precision, would have to divide it so everyone had equal helpings. Taste-wise, custard is fabulously warming, thick and sweet with the skin's almost rubber-like texture contrasting beautifully with the runnier stuff below. Due to the accompanying pudding usually being quite sweet, I tend to put a tad less sugar in my custard than the one described on the back of the Bird's packaging. Moreover, for an extra depth of flavour, I often add a few drops of vanilla extract.
Have you considered...?
Custard made from powder uses a good amount of milk providing the body with a host of vitamins and minerals. Traditional custard recipes have the added benefit of using eggs which provide: high quality protein; selenium; a range of B-vitamins; and vitamins A and D. Moreover, it has a prominent taste so one doesn't need to drench their pudding in the stuff - unless you are greedy like me of course!
History (as per the Wikipedia entry)
Bird's Custard (a brand name) is the original version of what is known generically as custard powder. It is a cornflour-based powder which thickens to form a custard-like sauce when mixed with milk and heated to a sufficient temperature. Bird's Custard was first formulated and first cooked by Alfred Bird in 1837, because his wife was allergic to eggs, the key ingredient used to thicken traditional custard.
After he discovered his custard was popular, Bird formed Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd. in Birmingham. By 1843, the company was also making the newly invented baking powder and, by 1844, was promoting custard powder nationally. By 1895, the company was producing Blancmange powder, jelly powder, and egg substitute. In World War I, Bird's Custard was supplied to the British armed forces.
The company was one of the early users of promotional items and colourful advertising campaigns. The famous 'three bird' logo, however, was relatively late in arriving, only introduced in 1929.
World War II saw rationing and serious production limits. Shortly after the war, Bird's was purchased by the General Foods Corporation, which was itself taken over by Philip Morris in the 1980s and merged into Kraft Foods. Although the Bird's Custard product remains, the company itself is now just a brand. In late 2004, Kraft sold Bird's Custard and some other Kraft brands to Premier Foods, who are the current owners.
The original custard factory has long ceased to exist, but the larger factory Bird's opened in Gibb Street remains (production was relocated to Banbury in 1964, along with the factory gates, featuring the company logo), and has been adapted as the Custard Factory arts centre.
In 1981, a dust explosion occurred at the Banbury factory when corn starch powder mixed with air, forming an explosive mixture.
In some regions, such as some parts of the United Kingdom, the popularity of this type of dessert is such that it is simply known as "custard." In such cases, general usage of the word may be more likely to refer to the "Bird's" custard rather than to the traditional egg-based variety.
In recent years, "instant" versions (containing powdered milk and sugar and requiring only hot water) and ready-made custard in tins and cartons have also become popular.
A food and drink survey carried out in 2000 found 99% of customers recognised the brand, which accounts for 45% of the custard consumed in the UK. Bird's Custard is also exported to several countries around the world, including the United States, where it is popular among several ethnic groups. Many ethnic and specialty stores across the United States sell the product. In Canada, Bird's Custard can often be found in many popular grocery supermarkets.
In addition to the Bird's brand, generic cornflour-based custards are widely available.
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