Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vanilla Fudge, Christmas

good cateress, newsletter.
This was the new Folly in mid 70's When I started to write the newsletters I knew the November and December would be the hardest to write, as they are my busiest months. So I have decided to combine them. As a caterer any sense of joy for the Christmas season is lost, but in my teen years I still had it. I need to write a little explanation here, about where I am writing about. For the most part it will be the Isle of Wight, and in particular the River Medina area from Cowes up the river to Newport. My cousin Diana, an archivist, has traced my mothers family back to the 14th Century; we are all christened, married and buried in the four parishes along the river, Cowes, East Cowes, Northwood and Whippingham. It is still for the most part a beautiful river valley although Cowes and East Cowes continue to grow along it, but much of it is unchanged for centuries. Pastoral farm land the most part, with a public footpath that runs along the East bank. As I write this in my office in Harlem I can look up at the wall above my desk filled with Victorian prints of the river, Whippingham Church, Uncles house in Cowes, but mostly the river from different angles and I am transported back to my roots. My parents, my aunt Janette and uncle Murray in a variety of partnerships and singly had the pub called The Folly Inn on the river. Originally, The Polly, a working barge in the 17th Century which had been swept aground in one of our notorious sou’westers, presumably during the equinox high tides and it had never been able to float again. At some point it had become an Inn and so it remains. When Murray and Janette had the Folly in the 60’s, while doing some renovations they had discovered that the original hull was still fairly intact and had installed Plexiglas in the floor so you could see it. Further renovations had removed all that, but in the attic there were still parts of the original deck. Also living on the river were the Cundall family. Pam and Allan with their sons, Robert, Colin and Philip, they ran sailing holidays on their boat the Rene Phillippe. The Rene was a large wooden motor boat, I thought she went to Dunkirk, but everybody tells me I am wrong. People came from around the world for the sailing holidays and Pam's amazing cooking. It was a wonderful life for all of us, particularly the children. We lived on a tidal river, played around on boats, Simon fished and so dug for rag worms for bait in the river silts at low tide he was always being rescued from the gooey sucking mud. There was a copse behind the Folly for us to play in, during the Spring there were primroses and wild daffodils, Blue bells in May. We went to sleep at night with the Halyards beating tunes on the masts and the night wading birds chirping to each other as our lullabies. Come early December their would be an invitation from Pam to help her make sweets/candy as Christmas presents. Some years the Rene would be tied up along the jetty, but one year I do remember rowing out to the Rene. Pam and Lucy, my mother would have worked out all the ingredients ahead of time, and of course, what I would be doing, my job was to show up. I always showed up I loved this day. One of my favorite things, was candy making.Fudge, coconut ice, truffles, marzipan fruits, chocolate corn flakes. Anything with sugar and butter.
Me standing by the river We started with fudge. As the sugar melted into the condensed milk, the tangy air of the river faded as the sweet smell of sugar, butter, vanilla pervaded the boat. I had to stir almost continuously to stop the sugar from burning on the bottom of the pan; something that with Pam's gentle reminders never happened, but when I was alone frequently did. This was a job that called for patience, something I didn't have much of, as I stirred and watched, stirred and waited for ‘soft ball’ phase to be reached. Pam would talk to me, distracting me from my impatience with a small chore here and there that could be done during the stirring. Then without warning we were there. The smell would change. It was exciting pouring the molten mixture into trays to cool, ready to be cut into squares. Of course, I wanted to try it hot from the pan, burnt fingers and certainly scalded tongue followed. My next sweet was coconut ice. I enjoyed making it but I could never quite get my mind around laying the pink and white on top of each other, I wanted them to be side by side. Chocolate and cream turning into ganache for truffle, with each year a different flavor. Sometimes chopped apricots, always some liquor. It was put away in the fridge to solidify ready to be scooped with a melon baller and rolled in cocoa. By now the portholes were running with condensation from the steam.The water lapped against the boat as the tide turned. Time to row back across the river.
Simon and I on the old Folly swings. Old Folly in background The following week we would get together again. Pam was very creative and had found small trays to pack our sweets on, with colored doilies as a liner and sprigs of holly with berries from the copse. It looked and felt like Christmas. I really enjoyed these times, but one year I stopped helping Pam, I forget why, I was a teenager and it probably seemed unimportant. ButI never stopped making sweets. For a brief moment in my early twenties I decided that was what I would be a sweet maker. After all I would make fudge, coconut ice and sell it to my friends. My then boyfriend, older and wiser than me, said the words that I have subsequently used on many occasions. “You will have to make an awful lot of sweets to make any money,” Its true but homemade sweets, jam, cookies and cakes are really the nicest gift to give and receive Old fashioned Vanilla fudge 1lb Sugar 2oz butter 300 ml Magnolia vanilla essence Grease a tin 6inch x 6inch Put the sugar, butter and magnolia in a large heavy based pan, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and butter melted. Bring to boil and boil steadily to 240 F or soft boil stage, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from heat to cool surface, add the essence and beat until mixture becomes thick and creamy and grains form - minute crystals. Pour into tin. Leave until nearly cold and mark into squares with sharp knife. When it is firm cut into squares Merry Christmas Happy Hanukkah Beautiful New Year

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

A beautiful early Fall Day in CT.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Sleepy Bee's and a Dragonfly

I have noticed that the various Bee's are vacillating between extra beesiness to sleeping on the Rudbeckia. Fall is in the air...

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Little Ffynches

When we were very young, not only did we read A. A. Milne’s book of poetry but we would go back to England to visit my grandmother and mum’s sister June. June owned a flint stone, thatched cottage called Little Ffynches in Rustington on the South Coast of England. The cottage as though it belonged on a chocolate box lid. In fact when I first lived in London, my room mate received a post card from someone and I was surprised to see that it was in fact Little Ffynches. Little Ffynches was on The Street and sat in a cluster of similar thatched cottages with a more modern (19th century?) big house called Ffynches to the right. Everyone knew each other, and now when I think back I realize that they were all single women; divorced, widowed, and of a certain age. Mahala in Front of Little Ffynches Little Ffynches had a very large kitchen, walls lined with glass fronted cabinets filled with assorted dinner services, glasses. I want to say it had an aga, but actually think it was a big old gas stove. A stable door at the front, on warm days the top open to let the air in. The cottage itself really did sit right on The Street, but in the early 60’s there was very little traffic. The back door leading out to the walled garden. The kitchen sink ran out into the gutter drain at the back of the house; I remember being fascinated about the tea leaves coming down and washing along the gutter. A low 6 inch wall ran along the drain and various old flower pots sat on it. Flowerpot men, Bill and Ben the flower pot men with Little Weed, we sang as we played with them. The walled garden was a traditional English cottage garden; Roses, Hollyhocks, Delphiniums, sweet peas, espaliered fruit trees. An old fashioned floral swing seat that creaked as we swang gently back and forth. Tucked into a back corner the garden shed. Fascinating garden shed. Filled with cushions for garden chairs, the garden chairs, old paint cans, flower pots, cans filed with nails and screws. Jam jars with liquid, high up out of reach of curious childish hands and eyes. Cobwebs in window frames, high up in the eaves. Daddy long legs scurrying out of our way. We were not allowed in without a grown up being present. We went back and stayed many times, although it was never the same once my granma passed. Christmas in 1964 was a favorite. Danish Christmas Eve, with an almond dessert in which trinkets were hidden. Christmas Day, lots of entertaining. Dad and Johan in velvet smoking jackets; June and mum in glamorous frocks. Visits to the pantomine in Brighton. In the mid sixties we moved back to England and for a month or so lived and went to school here. But by then the chicken coop was gone, the lady with the geese had moved. It was no longer a small enclave of a english seaside town ala E F Bentons Mapp and Lucia novels. When I read the Lucia books years later, I gave all the characters the faces of our Rustington friends. There was always a large low bowl of Lemon Barley water steeping on the kitchen counter. 3/4 cup of pearl barley Use a potato peeler to remove zest and then juice 2 lemons 1/2 cup of sugar - or honey 6 cups of water Place the barley in a sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Place barley in a saucepan with lemon peel and 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil over medium heat. Once boiling, simmer for 10 minutes then strain mixture into a heatproof bowl. Discard the barley.Add sugar to bowl and stir to dissolve. Stir in lemon juice and then let mixture cool to room temperature. Just now the lilac is in bloom, 
All before my little room;
 And in my flower-beds, I think, 
Smile the carnation and the pink; 
And down the borders, well I know, 
The poppy and the pansy blow...
 Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through, 
Beside the river make for you 
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep 
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
 Green as a dream and deep as death.
-- Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet, 
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe... Rupert Brooke “The Old Vicarage Grantchaster”

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Friday, November 30, 2012

good cateress nesletter Dec '12 Beechcroft Christmas

In the early 1970’s when we lived at what I think of as the “Old Folly” it felt as though it had been unchanged for centuries, the front still had the haunted Bow window. Rather than the new Folly that we returned to in 1975 which was modernized, extended, repaired. Murray (mum’s brother) and Janette with Diana had been running it since the early 60’s. Dad left the army to join them in this venture. We all lived together as one big happy family! For mum it was returning home to her roots. I think I have mentioned before that Diana, became an archivist, traced our family tree back to the 16th Century, we were all born, married, died between four parishes along the River Medina; Cowes, East Cowes, Whippingham and Northwood. I do tell everyone that what saved us, was the men were seafarers, whalers etc and so bought new women to the Island. Needless to say we all considered the Island home, I have memories of many trips from Germany, and we all had a need to see, smell and hear the sea. The pub and river became our way of life. School was totally different, Simon and I had been at Boarding School in Germany, and now we were at the local schools. We had been used to moving regularly, our friends were as transient as we were, but now we were among people that had lived in the same place all their lives. It was hard to start with but we had this ready made community on the river. Pam and Allan Cundall with their family, Robert, Colin and Philip lived on the Rene Phillipe a wooden boat that could sleep 12 or so, from which they ran sailing holidays. We were all good friends, having regular Sunday lunches on the “Rene”. Simon, Diana and I got to go out on the day out trips,also Firework nights at the end of Cowes Week. I think Pam’s parents, Nan and Pop, moved to the Island in 1971, I know I will be corrected on this point. They bought a large Victorian house in Wootton called Beechcroft. I did a little research on google and it says it had been a women’s and children’s hospital until 1936 and during the war, I thought it had been a private residence for a wealthy industrialist of some sort. Anyway, a large red brick house with high ceilings, many fireplaces, five main bedrooms, a separate flat, and many large rooms downstairs
Nan and Pop ran a dolls hospital, so the side entrance and back rooms were the Dolls Hospital. It was always fascinating and eerie to see rows of dolls eyes and heads on shelves. Beechcroft, like the Rene, it became our home away from home, we were often there for dinners, parties, and it was always a lot of fun. Christmas Day! We got up early for Christmas Day Mass at 8am, we all went. Then home for Breakfast in front of the aga, The sausages and bacon had been put in the medium oven of the aga as we left for church and would be ready upon our return. Opening our presents and then opening the pub for 2 hours 12 - 2. Christmas opening was never like regular opening hours. We would all be wearing something new from our Christmas presents; me in a new jumper and maxi skirt; Mum a new piece of jewelry from Dad, Simon and Dad shirts and ties The locals all came, friends and family too. If the weather was good people sailed up the river from Cowes. The first drink was on the house, boxes of chocolates were on the counter. It usually got quite raucous but in a good way. Allan and my father enjoyed many a Whisky Mac that morning. We would eventually get rid of everyone, close the pub, bank up the fire upstairs so there would be some warmth when we got home - no central heating in those days. Finally, we would be in the car, up Folly Lane, cross the main road, and on through Whippingham and Brocks Copse to Wootton and Beechcroft. We drove the roads to and fro so often, I can see it all. Some years there would be a deep frost and the fields would all be white, sparkling in the sunshine. Entering Beechcroft into the Hallway, there would be the tallest Christmas tree, covered in lights and decorations, in the crook of the curved staircase. The dining room was straight ahead and the table would be set. Usually we were 14, some years Peter (Pam and Allan’s oldest son who lived off the Island with his family would come) and then we were 18, and any other people that were invited. So the table was large and beautifully laid. We all sat, Philip, Simon and I usually sat together as the youngest. We started by pulling our Christmas Crackers and of course, wore our silly hats and read the bad jokes out load. Allan carved the turkey and ham; bacon rolls filled with the turkey liver, stuffing. Vegetable dishes filled the center of the table: roast and mashed potatoes, roast parsnip, carrot and swede, brussel sprouts, peas, gravy, bread sauce. Conversation and laughter filled the room. Good wines flowed. Christmas Pudding was presented afire. We all wished on the first bite and my father quipped “Jane you are still here..” Warm mince pies, Brandy Butter was aplenty. Cheeses and Port followed. Simon, Philip and I would hope the After Eight tray would land and stay in front of our small group. Then if we had had crackers filed with indoor fireworks we would let these off. Sparklers sizzled. We all helped clear the table. Now the fun began. We would play games. One I barely remember that my Grandfather had invented called Family Coach, which involved different carriages: Phaetons, gigs etc. Charades and so on. In the evening very often more guests arrived, fellow members of the elite group, The Folly Squadron. And now we played Sardines; Murder in the dark, through the house. What made Beechcroft so great for these games were the number of rooms and that some of the windows were so deep we could hide on the sills behind the curtains, I always hoped to be partners with Colin and Robert for these, they had often thought out where to hide ahead of time. It would be so funny to hear people go past our hiding places, the trick was not to make a sound and give yourselves away, something I was not always so good at. And then there was Nan and Pop’s speciality game, that they would set up while we were all running around playing sardines. I do not remember it’s name but the game never left me. The premise was there was a serious accident outside your house, in the dark we tried assess the damages. You had to feel what was on the table, and guess what it was. Peeled grapes for eyes; plastic glove filled with warm water a decomposing hand, cold spaghetti for intestines, cold chiplata’s (thin sausages) for cut off digits and so on, I just don’t remember it all. Gruesome and fun at the same time Lot’s of squeals as each person was led in, and let out a different way so as not to spoil the shock for the others. This was how we spent Christmas for many years, mum, dad and Simon still went long after I came to America. Spouses and children were added as we all got older, nan and Pop passed, but their tradition continued with Pam. I do remember as I got older thinking we could do something else, but now I am much older I look back and think these were the best of days, filled with joy and goodness. . "Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom?  There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."
-   Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas "I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
 And wild and sweet the words repeat
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 
-   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Pam on Noy

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Party in Harlem

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Tea in Harlem

It’s a funny thing about the Queen. I don’t pay her much attention and yet she seems to have always been part of our lives. Dad was photographed with her in Berlin when we lived there and she visited. I remember all the Children from Charlottenberg school lining the road waving Union Jack flags for the same visit. Uncle Uffa (Fox) sailed with Prince Philip and taught Charles, Ann and Andrew to sail. When Mum was in hospital waiting to give birth to me; there was a hullabaloo outside her room, as Uffa appeared with beautiful flowers. He had been having lunch at the Palace, and told the Queen he was off to see Lucy in hospital and she gave him the vase of flowers from the lunch table to bring to Mum. And on, there are stories. While I was in London for Dad’s funeral in February. I could hardly fail to notice that the Queen was everywhere. Diamond Jubilee. Sue, my cousin that I stay with, had recorded a documentary about the Queen. I realized as I watched it that there had been no other King or Queen in my lifetime. A memory came to mind of us as a family in Riccione back in the mid 60’s, we had somehow been talking about the Royal family, as you do! I asked Dad how many Kings and Queens had been in Dad’s lifetime. He reeled of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II. Wow, that was a lot! Would I see so many? No, he said you would have Elizabeth II and Charles. Not many! On my last day, Sue and I were flying around Brent Cross, picking up my last bits and chocolate; I saw Union Jack cup cake cases, mini flags and other decorations. I put them in my bag for check out and decided I would have a Diamond Jubilee Party in Harlem. Over the following weeks as I saw and talked to friends and neighbors I told them we would be having a Diamond Jubilee Party, June 2nd and Ladies had to wear Hats. As June drew closer different people reminded me or confirmed the Diamond Jubilee Party. At the same time we got busier with bookings all around June 2nd, but nothing actually on the date. I began to think “ am I really going to have this party?” But I’d told too many people to cancel. The menu and time began to change, from Lunch with Coronation Chicken Salad, a curried chicken salad, that was developed in the 1952 for the Queens Coronation, England was still on rations, so it had to be thrifty and tasty. I have had many versions of it, my recipe will follow. With a pasta salad of some sort, nice green salad all followed by Eton Mess, a delicious concoction of broken meringue, whipped cream and raspberries and/or strawberries. I settled on afternoon tea. Timing was right, the garden would not be too hot. I had had a mental image of sunny kitchen Jane, baking and icing; Coffee Walnut Cake; Lemon Cake; Cheese scones hot from the oven with home made Damson Jam; a beautiful Dundee fruit cake as center piece. The realities of time and just what people would eat set in. Dundee cake was the first thing to go, as I knew I would be the only person to eat it. I asked Suzanne if she would make cupcakes. Suzanne happens to make the best cup cakes ever, unequivocally. That was my genius stroke. Num would make his Mixed Nut Shortbread and Pecan Bars. I would make the rest Tea Sandwiches: yes, yes, of course, Chicken Almond Rounds! Drinks , never changed. Pimms, Elderflower spritzers, Prosecco and Pellegrino. I had thought I had a few bottle of Pimms left, about 20 years ago I had catered a Pimms sponsored party and had Umbrella’s and a case of Pimms left. But apparently we had drunk it or given bottles away. I had thought it would be the easiest thing, but kept forgetting to buy it! So mid day I headed out to pick up a few last minute items (Pimms). The first liquor store I went to, I got to the Pimms as a woman lent in and took the last bottle. I went to 3 other liquor stores before finding a bottle. Apparently every other Brit in NY was doing the same thing. Beautiful ladies in wonderful hats began to arrive, many of whom had not seen each other in 20 years or so; people meeting for the first time. Pimm’s was drunk, tea eaten. Conversation and laughter filled the garden. Num , Hui and John played music, Num doing a spontaneous rap for the Queen. It was a glorious early summer afternoon, no bugs, not too hot Coronation Chicken Salad 4 Chicken breasts cooked, poached, cut into one inch pieces 2 cups Mayonaise 1 cup mango chutney 2 scallions chopped 2 tablespoons dry sherry 2 tablespoons curry powder - I like the Sharwoods Hot Combine last four ingredients in Cuisinart or blender. Mix into chicken pieces. I add various things to this mixture. Cut up fresh mango or chopped dried apricots and cashew nuts. .