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.
BAKED CUSTARD

2 egg yolks
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups very hot milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Nutmeg

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.


16 comments:

Ms. A said...

Sure wish I could smell those through the computer... I'm sure it's heavenly!

Juliet Batten said...

Mmmm, so nurturing. My mother made baked custard and the smell of it cooking was always warm and comforting.

Miss_Yves said...


Miam!
Crème brûlée, Blanc-manger(yes, brought by Joesphine to Laurence in Little women, the beginning of their friendship...)Ile fottante...

Thérèse said...

Miss Yves does remember so many details of the books she reads. I would not have remembered this passage in the book if I had not read her comment.
I can smell the creme brulee from here! :-)

Ruth said...

Vicki, we had Floating Island ONCE in my childhood and what child could forget a desert named Floating Island? Getting dinner on the table for five hungry children was enough work already, so we rarely had dessert (or maybe my mother thought it was bad for us). To have something as exotic sounding as Floating Island was truly memorable. I don't even remember the taste as much as the vision of my mother rushing around in the kitchen before dinner and the resulting "islands".

Brian Miller said...

mmm...i love a touch of nutmeg...will print this out to see if T can make it...i am all for trying new things...

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Lovely to imagine that smooth custard on tongue with the great scent of nutmeg. Thanks for recipe too!

Vicki Lane said...

The very name has always intrigued me too, Ruth -- perhaps this is the week I make Floating Island. . .

Frances said...

What delicious memories you've brought back to me, Vicki. Custards baked in little Pyrex glass custard cups. Those cups could be bought at Woolworth's.

I still have one of those custard cups in my cupboard! The ramekins looks much more elegant, but I am sure the custard tastes just the same...I've also got vintage Fannie Farmer, The Joy of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks.

xo

Jim Egerton said...

The only thing I remember about vanilla custard was the Boston creme pies my father use to bring home. Three layers of cake inside was two layers of custard and covered all over with chocolate. OHHH they were so good.

Martin Hodges said...

The power of a good blog post, Vicki. I can smell those custards all the way over here!

NCmountainwoman said...

I have fond memories of my grandmother's baked egg custard. She even had four custard cup racks where six glass cups fit into each rack like cupcakes. So warm and perhaps the ultimate comfort food for me as a child.

Carol Bryner said...

My husband has craved Floating Island ever since he saw Katharine Hepburn making it in one of those black and white movies she was in with either Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy. But he (my husband) has had to make do with the occasional custard cup. I always melt sugar first and pour it into the bottom of those little Pyrex dishes, pour the custard on top, and then, after it's baked, there's a nice brown sugary syrup that mixes with the custard as you scoop it out of the cup.

Lise said...

This post is making my mouth water.

Darla said...

Yum! Now I'm hungry! :-) What a wonderfully Ojas-nourishing dish!

Merisi said...

Mmmmh, delicious! :-)

Floating Islands will forever remind me of Julia Child. I was so awestruck when I watched her make them on TV (or did I just read the recipe and my imagination went wild?).