In an earlier post I wrote about my early memories of Sunday lunches: how it was an integral part of my childhood, and even though I now wax lyrical about it, I had not continued that tradition for reasons quite complex I think…a combination of external realities and internal, psychological issues related to individuation: maybe at that stage rebellion!! Of almost rejecting previous generations of women’s unquestioning following of what a good mother and wife does: and Sunday lunches for family was very much one of the first rituals to fall by the wayside of that rather immature but maybe necessary way of thinking. Not that it was as clear to me then…
But here I am, almost 50, and able to look back with slightly more wisdom and empathy for myself and other women in my family: particularly my mother and her mother and my father’s mother too: and now I am able to value their unconscious influence more that ever… and I suppose how it is playing out in my own life as a woman, honouring the feminine: as it relates in particular to cooking, creating lovely meals for people I care for..
So, on Sunday past I cooked a first Sunday Lunch in quite a long time, for my father and his girlfriend, my boyfriend and my youngest son.
I decided rather quickly that I wanted to do a leg of lamb roast, with green beans and sweet carrots, and rosemary roasted baby potatoes: a standard combination, very traditional but simple, which I often in the past have cooked for dinner parties. I wasn’t sure which pudding though (‘cause Sunday lunch is simply not complete without a pudding: well, that was how I grew up): I considered making a peach tarte tatin, with vanilla ice cream, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I changed my mind, got into my car and bought ingredients of a pudding which I knew is my father’s favourite: Marie Biscuit Pudding…
Walking through the familiar rows of food and goods in a local grocery store, and finding the Marie biscuits in their familiar packaging, unchanged since my childhood, I was helplessly gripped by nostalgia and sentimentality: I had to gulp back tears, even then, looking for caramelised condensed milk, one tin of that and one tin of normal condensed milk, and a jar of good apricot jam. I had decided like a good cook should, to make custard the creme anglais way: no Ultramel or even custard powder(which my mom used always)went into my shopping basket, but extra milk, and fresh free range eggs, knowing I have vanilla paste in my fridge…
Getting home I made myself a cup of tea and started by making the custard: beating together the egg yolks and sugar, getting the milk and vanilla paste to a slow boil, and then adding the milk to the egg mix, slowly, since curdling is a very real possibility. I did end up curdling the eggs ever so slightly, forgetting to turn the plate down to minimum, but rescued it by adding a bit of corn flour. As soon as the custard was done, I started the lovely, almost long forgotten ritual of assembling the pudding: Marie biscuits,two packets worth, spread with caramelised condensed milk, layered alternatively with biscuits spread with apricot jam, until the biscuits are finished. Then the still warm custard is poured over, and put into the fridge to set.
Just before serving, the plain condensed milk is mixed with the juice of one large lemon, and spread over the top, with lemon zest sprinkled on: the zest is my particular touch: my mom used to put glace cherries on the top, another very sweet addition to this very sweet pudding.
I could not wait to let my dad guess what I had made for pudding: he got it straight off: “Marie Biscuit pudding!” and his eyes glinted too with emotion: it had been his favourite which my mother unstintingly made through the years that they were together.
The rest of the meal was appreciatively enjoyed by all: sitting around a table with good linen, the early afternoon light streaming in through French windows flung open to the world, red roses in a crystal vase stirring in the slight breeze, sipping wine… Light conversation, my dad’s girlfriend whom I love, asking about the gravy which was also very much made without he addition of thickeners like the ubiquitous Bisto which she, like my mom used to, still use…and so a Sunday lunch came to an end.
But it was the pudding, of which some is still left over in my fridge, which connected me to a mother, who when she made the pudding, had to caramelise the condensed milk by steaming it in the pressure cooker: once it even exploded and caramel dripping in sticky stalagtites from the ceiling had to be cleaned up! That story also a tradition in my family…retelling that I knew that my dad felt particularly loved….and that my mom’s memory was honoured..
I think I will have a small bowl of it right now, in the middle of my day, almost on my way to work…. A fitting end to this blog post!!