Me: [Ending a telephone conversation]: It will be so good to see you. I thought I’d make fish pie.”
Prospective visitor: “Yes. You made that the last time we came.”
Me: I did?
PV: Uh-huh. It was good. (vaguely) It was good.
A storage of memories
Keeping a journal will prevent YOU from having such a conversation. I never thought of doing so until good friends presented me with a “Guest Book”, padded and elegant, a ribbon bookmark, and even a diagram page for a seating plan for eighteen guests – a crowd I’d never seat at once, because I learned early in life that any number over 8 becomes a buffet dinner. That was in 1985, and it’s fascinating to read today, revelling in the length of time we’ve been friends with some of them. Thank you, Anne and Hugh.
At the point of invitation, I always encourage people to tell me what their food preferences are. From this I have learned a lot about allergies, and even what lurks in perfectly innocent foods – eg yeast in stock cubes. I don’t care how lengthy the list of banned substances is, as long as I know in advance. Stravinsky said that the more limited you are the more creative you can become. Some guests are reluctant to tell me, thinking that they are being a nuisance, but with a little persuasion they will say. This has worked well in the years we have had guests, except for….
Two notable exceptions.
Guest One watched me make a Salmon en Croute with mushroom stuffing in honour of her (absent) partner’s birthday, only to divulge at serving time that she was allergic to seafood.
Guest two. Direct Quote. “I’m quite omnivorous and easy to please. I can eat anything.” Apparently, “anything” did NOT include chicken, coffee, tomatoes, wheat, cow dairy, alcohol, fizzy drinks, gluten, and only a teensy smattering of beef, pork, pasta, bread, and butter. That took some hippity-hopping of menu change, but we eventually settled on lots of vegetables, beans and fish – also a penchant for eating leftovers for breakfast. We had a good time together.
Doesn’t Always come out as expected.
If you do keep a journal, write down how the food turned out and how it was received. I recently came across an entry from 1987 when our girls were in their early teens, and Robin (of the brownies – see November 2014 blog) and her daughter Alexandra came to visit. Looking back, the chosen menu was ambitious, but set together well because nearly all could be prepared ahead of time. These days I wouldn’t have included three items using lemon AND tomatoes on the same menu but hey, I was young then and had to learn. We ate: tuna pate and crackers, Chicken Frances, French peas in a rice ring, swede (rutabaga) with lemon, baked tomatoes, and lemon meringue pie.
I will always cherish the notes from it. “A million visitors arrived just as we were serving up! Robin mentioned that the lettuce in the peas was the height of nouvelle cuisine. Unfortunately, the effect was somewhat marred by the pink tinge on the rice ring, indicating traces of the jelly that had occupied the mould previous to the rice – an observation commented upon loudly by the rest of the family.”
This is a magically quick do-ahead dessert served warm or, if you must, cold, but the almond flavour is rich when warm. The only difficulty is in its name. Bakewell is a place in Derbyshire, England. The dessert is called Bakewell Pudding there. But others call it a tart because of its crusty bottom. The Dairy Book of British Food reports that the original recipe is still a secret. This one is definitely not – see tweaks and additions.
(Reminder: in England, desserts are sometimes referred as “puddings” unless they’re talking about “Yorkshires” of course – see Sept 2016 blog. )
Roll out thawed puff pastry on a floured surface and use it to line a pie pan.
Trim and design the edges of the crust so that it doesn’t slither downwards while it bakes. Some people make a fancy frill. Some fiercely fork the crust to the pan’s edge.
Brush the base of the pan with 4 large spoons of red jam.*
Now make a filling. In a medium sized bowl, beat three eggs. Add and beat into them 4 oz (100 grams, 1 cup packed) of ground almonds, 4 ozs (100 grams, ½ cup) of caster (fine) sugar, 2 oz (50 grams 2 fat tablespoons) soft butter, and ½ teaspoon almond essence or flavouring.
Pour the filling over the jam. Spread evenly. Bake on a lower shelf in the oven at 180 degrees C (350 F) for 30 minutes or until filling is set. If it wobbles in the middle, pop it into the oven for five more minutes. Serve warm or cold with fresh cream, or if you must, custard.
*Tweaks and Additions. Jam has a high sugar content for some of our guests,, so we used orange and cranberry curd instead. And – because it’s February, George Washington’s birthday, I threw in a handful of dried cherries as well.
Leftover pastry? Why not make cheese straws? ( See October 2014 blog.)