Custard: A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook.

AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1914)


Talking Custard

The word ‘custard’ comes from crustade – a tart with a crust. In the Middle Ages custard was widely used as a filling for tarts and flans.

Despite the fact that it is a vital ingredient in both quiche lorraine and éclairs, French has no single word for custard (and claims not even to have such a concept). For custard on its own, they call it creme Anglaise; for custard as an ingredient of other dishes, they say creme, which is also used for other things like creme brulee, creme caramel, creme de tomates etc.

The smelly durian fruit tastes of custard.

Birds’s Custard

Sir Alfred Bird was born in Birmingham in 1811 and invented his eggless custard powder in 1837, the year Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Originally intended purely for home use, it was made of cornflour, sugar, flavourings and colourings and needed only the addition of hot milk to make the ‘custard’. It had no eggs in it because his wife was allergic to them.

Lady Bird was also allergic to yeast, so, in 1843, Bird also developed baking powder, which was later used to provide British troops with palatable bread during the Crimean War.

A fellow of the Chemical Society, after Bird’s death in 1878, his obituary in the Journal of the Chemical Society noted his interests in chemistry, physics and meteorology but made no mention of custard or baking powder.
Bird’s Custard accounts for almost half the custard consumed in the UK. British consumers get through 235 million pints a year.

The brand became American-owned from 1947, when it was bought by General Foods. Kraft acquired it in 1989 and then sold it back to the British company Premier Foods for £70 million.

Today, Bird’s original custard factory in Birmingham is an arts centre called The Custard Factory. 

Walking on Custard

Custard powder in water is a non-Newtonian 'dilatant' fluid, which means that it becomes more solid the more you agitate it - if you poke it gently your finger slips in smoothly, but if you slap it hard or stir it, it resists. Similarly, if you run over custard, stamping your feet hard, it'll support your weight, but if you slow down or stop you'll sink in.

Research is currently being carried out on a way to use dilatant fluids in bullet-proof vests. They would be useful because they are fluid (and therefore flexible) at low speeds, but very hard at the high speeds that bullets reach.

The platypus and the echidna produce eggs and milk, so theoretically could make their own custard.

ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

You eat, in dreams, the custard of the day.

Custard powder is explosive, and used in tricks such as fire-eating.

SPIKE MILLIGAN (1918-2002)

Chopsticks are one of the reasons the Chinese never invented custard.