Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Persistence of Memory and a Dream Deferred
Browsing through Facebook a few days ago, I came across a picture of baked custard and was at once transported back to 1960 and Winchester, Tennessee.
I had gone home for the weekend with a college friend whose parents lived in Sewanee where her father was a professor at The University of the South. Suffice it to say that I have many warm memories of the weekend -- but one that has recurred over the years is the visit we paid to her grandmother -- a little lady who lived in an old-fashioned frame house with what I would call cabbage roses twining over the front door.
In my memory, the grandmother seemed a little surprised to see us but invited us in. I remember nothing of the interior except for a snapshot memory of standing in the big farmhouse type kitchen and there -- on a counter or sideboard over to my left -- were a number of little baked custards cooling on a rack, their scent of nutmeg filling the air.
I remember wondering if we were going to be offered one and my disappointment when we weren't. I mean, they smelled heavenly!
And that memory has persisted, surfacing now and again for the past fifty four years. You'd think I would have done something about it before now. But better late, etc. On SundayI finally got around to making some baked custards. And, if I say it myself, they were every bit as good as I'd dreamed of -- warm and silky, redolent of vanilla and nutmeg.
Perhaps it's time to try two other desserts I've read of but never tasted -- Blancmange (as eaten in Little Women) and Floating Island...
My Fannie Farmer Cookbook calls Baked Custard "a kindly old dessert that still nourishes and comforts." Amen.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups very hot milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a one quart baking dish or 8 small ramekins (my ramekins were large and I only used 5.) Set a shallow pan, large enough to hold the ramekins or baking dish, in the oven and fill with one inch of hot water.
Beat yolks and eggs together just enough to blend. Stir in sugar and salt then slowly add the hot milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla and strain into the baking dish (es) and sprinkle with nutmeg. Put in water-filled pan and bake about 45 minutes till a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Good warm or cold.