Eton Mess??

The oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world has just ended and Serena Williams from the U.S. and Novak Djokovic from Serbia are the official champions in the men’s and women’s singles. All of Great Britain, as well as quite a few other countries, are celebrating! And where there is celebrating, there is food!  The classics will all be served ….. from cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, to chicken and leek pies, bacon with brie quiches and, of course, Eton Mess ….. all washed down with a refreshing Pimm’s.  Strawberries and cream are so classically English, Eton Mess is the perfect summer dessert for any Wimbledon celebration.

This pudding of crushed light-as-air meringue cookies mixed with luscious, seasonal strawberries and rich, sweetened cream is thought to have originated from the famous school of the same name, Eton College.  It seems this recipe was not, as legend says, the ‘accidental mess’ created by a dog said to have sat on a picnic basket containing the pavlova which was to be served after the cricket match.  The dessert was actually created by the chef at the elite school in the 1930s to be this ‘messy’ sort of pudding.  Bananas were the original fruit, but it is traditionally made with strawberries now (although any fruit would work beautifully).

This time of year, it’s all about the strawberries, so, let’s give it a go!

Eton Mess
Preparation for meringue cookies:
3 extra large eggs (whites only)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

You can buy meringue cookies at the supermarket which takes a lot of the work out of this recipe (but I just had to make them).  

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Preheat the oven to 250° and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer, in a super clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating and then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated.  Don’t rush this – it should take about ten minutes.  Add the vanilla.  The egg whites should now be very stiff and glossy.

 These meringue cookies are going to be broken up into pieces so there’s no need to be careful about spooning them onto the baking sheets.  If you want to use a pastry bag and pipe them, feel free.  Otherwise, using two spoons drop mounds onto the parchment paper.  They won’t spread out, so you can fit quite a few onto one sheet. Makes approximately 18 cookies. Bake for 1-1/2 hours at 250°.  Then turn OFF the oven and leave the meringues inside the oven to dry out – two hours or more.

For the pudding
2 lbs. washed, hulled strawberries
lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 pint heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

To prepare in advance, whip the cream and keep refrigerated.  About an hour before serving, slice the strawberries and sprinkle with the sugar (more or less to taste) and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Let this mascerate while you whip the cream, if you haven’t already done so.  Add the sugar and vanilla to the cream and whip until it mounds (but before it becomes butter).

To assemble
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATake half the strawberries and mash up with a fork or potato masher and set aside.  Squeeze in a little lemon juice.  Break up the meringue cookies and add them to a large bowl.   Add the whipped cream and the other half of strawberries .  Fold it all together.  You can serve this in one large serving bowl, individual bowls or fancy glasses. Spoon the mixture into the serving dishes and top with the mashed strawberries.  Garnish and serve!

This recipe will easily make 8 to 12 servings, depending upon the size of each serving.  The recipe can be cut in half.  Experiment with different fruits if the strawberries are past season.  Next time I’m going to try blueberries with white chocolate shavings and toasted almonds!  Have fun with it!!

(Tip:  don’t make meringue when the air is very humid.  They’ll never dry out.  I learned the hard way.)
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Resources:  Epicurious, Just Like Mother Used to Make by Tom Norrington-Davies, The Kitchn

SUMMER PUDDING

It’s June.  My most favorite month of the year.  It’s also our wedding anniversary and I wanted to make a very special British dessert.  But when you think of British desserts, heavy, rich pastries, cakes and steamed puddings come to mind.  So, what should it be?  June is the month when strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are plentiful.  Seems like the perfect time to attempt a Summer Pudding!

Of course, I can’t begin to make something without first doing a bit of research.  All recipes, no matter the country or the culture, originated out of necessity …. using what was in season, as well as using up items that might already be in the kitchen (before they go bad).  It seems to me this recipe originated for both those reasons.  The ingredients are very simple, seasonal berries, bread and some sugar for sweetening.

This pudding (dessert) is not from Elizabethan England as I had thought.  It was created in the early 1900s and originally called “Hydropathic Pudding”.  “Hydropathic” because it contained a lot of water and was served to those who couldn’t tolerate the heavier, rich pastry desserts that Great Britain was serving at that time.   Because it was deemed “healthy”, it was routinely served to patients in nursing homes and hospitals, as well as to those staying in “health spas” wanting to shed a few pounds.  Is it healthier than other desserts?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

FIRST EDITION OF LIZZIE HERITAGE’S CASSELL’S NEW UNIVERSAL COOKERY BOOK, 1894,

FIRST EDITION OF LIZZIE HERITAGE’S CASSELL’S NEW UNIVERSAL COOKERY BOOK, 1894,

The recipe seems to have first appeared as “Hydropathic Pudding” in 1894 in one of the essential Victorian cookbooks at the time, Lizzie Heritage’s Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book. But apparently, the name “Hydropathic Pudding” didn’t make peoples’ mouth’s water.  I don’t know who decided to change the name to “Summer Pudding” but it seems to have been established by 1904 when Miss E.S. Poynter, a missionary in of all places, India, used this name in her cookbook, “Cooking in India“.

The traditional recipe calls for a mixture of blackberries, raspberries and black currants. Unfortunately, this is NEW England and I can’t find black currants anywhere.  So, it’s going to be cherries!

SUMMER PUDDING
34 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
5 cups of washed blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries (pitted and halved)
10 slices white bread (I used Pepperidge Farm), with crusts removed
to serve:
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
sprigs of fresh mint

The preparation time for this is about 10 to 15 minutes.  It does, however, have to chill in the refrigerator preferably overnight, but at least 5 to 6 hours.  So, if you are going to be serving this after dinner, be sure to get it in the frig first thing in the morning.

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Wash and prepare all your fruit.  You’ll need at least 5 to 6 cups.  Put the fruit into a saucepan and add 3/4 cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon.  I think the acidity from the lemon juice helps to cut the sweetness of the fruits.

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Bring to a boil and then simmer for about two minutes – just until the sugar is dissolved.  If you cook the fruit too long, it will turn into jam.  Turn off the heat and let cool.

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Find a bowl (glass, plastic, ceramic – it doesn’t matter) which will be the pudding’s mold.  The first cut of bread you want to make is the one that will fit on the bottom of the bowl (which will become the top of the pudding).  Put the bowl on top of the bread and use that as a template.  Cut to fit.

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Dip the trimmed bread into the pan to sop up the sweetened berry juice, then place it juice-side down (which will be facing out after you unmold it).

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Continue dipping the bread into the pan to absorb the berry juice and line the bowl.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Squish the bread together so there aren’t any gaps.  When finished, take a slotted spoon and take the berries out of the pan and put them into the bread-lined mold.

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Then cover the top with more bread dipped in juice.  Make sure the seal is tight.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATop the bowl with a plate that will fit inside. Then place a weight of some sort on the plate. You want to press the pudding together so that it will setup.  Chill til firm – 6 hours or overnight.

It’s time for the unmolding ……. keeping fingers crossed!

 

Run a knife around the edge of the bowl, when ready to serve.  Place a plate on and flip.  It should unmold without any difficulty.  Garnish with whipped cream and enjoy!  Serves 4 to 6 easily.

So light, fruity and refreshing.  This is a dessert which will have your family and friends wondering how you did it.  Absolutely delicious!!


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References:  Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, Household Books, BBC.UK/recipes
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