The Pudding Club, Gloucestershire

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Stephen's tie is pale blue, made of silk and has custard down it from knot to tip. I'm at the Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton and I am about to take on the challenge of a lifetime.

Stephen Milnes is the jovial and enthusiastic host of the Pudding Club, started 27 years ago in an effort to celebrate the great British puddings that were, at that point, off the menu at most restaurants.

"You could only get three puddings in the early 1980s," says Jill Coombe, co-owner of the hotel. "Black forest gateau, sherry trifle and cheesecake. That was it."

"Or rum baba if you got really lucky," chips in Stephen.

And so the Pudding Club took flight – its mission to bring back the wonder of the steamed sponge, with "lashings of custard". Stephen grins broadly, his eyes glaze over. He's in a custard reverie. I can tell.

"We have to serve Bird's custard," chips in Jill."Customers don't want creme anglaise. We tried giving them it but, no." She shakes her head and pulls a face.

The place is packed. The Pudding Club meets every Friday (and occasional Saturdays) and the challenge is to try to eat seven puddings at a sitting. Stephen calls the throng to order by banging a rolling pin on a table.

"There's rules and tactics!" he cries. "You only get one bowl. If you eat all your pudding, you can have another! Puddings will be served every 15 minutes! And only one pudding in your bowl at a time!"

The room is at fever pitch. It's as if celebrities are being announced.

"Squidgy chocolate and nut pudding!" yells Stephen, his voice rising by an octave. Spontaneous applause erupts.

"Apple and mincemeat pudding!" There's a small cheer from a woman near the back.

"Sticky toffee pudding!" Stephen cries, and the room goes wild.

"Now then," he adds, bringing the room to order after announcing all the puddings. "Is there anyone who doesn't like custard?"

A small, querulous voice pipes up to our right.

"There's always one," says Stephen, as if he's been punched in the solar plexus. Everyone turns to stare at the woman who doesn't like custard. Poor, afflicted thing.

This is all terribly jolly. We're ushered through to the Pudding Club room, where we sit at long tables. I'm sitting opposite Sue and Ian Clark. This is their 20th time at the Pudding Club (watch Ian's film about the club at They're from West Yorkshire but they're such fans of the club that they've bought a house in Mickleton.

"We just love puddings," says Sue, smiling. They are both as thin as whippets.

Stephen raps a table with his rolling pin. "And now, the grand entrance of the puddings. Remember, these puddings have feelings!" And one by one, the puddings are carried into the room to a raucous welcome. The last in is the spotted dick. We have to stand up for that one. Quite right too.

I decide, perhaps unwisely, that I'm going to start with the sticky toffee pudding. It's utterly delicious and I give it a 10 on my scorecard. But there's a problem. I'm now full. But I'm here to take the challenge and so back I go for the squidgy chocolate. Sue throws me an anxious look. "I never do the chocolate until round five," she tells me, like some sort of pudding-based battleworn warrior.

I've made a schoolgirl error. I take one spoonful and I'm broken. I'm in a steam sponge haze but I have to plough on to the spotted dick. Round three and my forehead is on the table: I'm trying to force a spoonful of suet-based raisin sponge into my mouth and I'm failing miserably. I wave my napkin in defeat. It's all over.

I look around the room. Everyone has a bloated glow. Stephen bangs the table for the final time and invites people to vote for their favourite pudding: "Hands up for spotted dick!"

Not one vote from the room. Ian sucks in his cheeks. "I've never seen that before," he mutters, eyes wide, "not for spotted dick!"

It's a two-horse race, and there's only one vote in it: the victor's spoils go to the mighty sticky toffee over the apple and mincemeat.

We're given certificates of achievement at the end of evening.

"You've not really earned that have you?" says Sue, fixing me with a stare.

I haven't. I'm like an old asthmatic dog trying to compete with a champion greyhound. I've only managed two and a bit puddings.

Sue, on the other hand, has managed 11 portions of pudding. Eleven. In fact, she went back three times for sticky toffee pudding. Ian had four goes at the apple and mincemeat. I'm in awe.

"I'll stop now," says Sue, staring at her empty bowl. "I'm not full. But I'll start feeling sugary."

"I'm stopping too," says Ian, who has also had 11 portions. "But only because it's embarrassing."

• A night at the Pudding Club ( costs ?36pp. Book in advance. Emma's accommodation was provided by the Three Ways House Hotel (01386 438429,, doubles from ?145 B&B)

Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter @EmmaK67

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