I know, another story from the olden days but I promise this one is very relevant to our lives today. My grandmother was born in 1879. Yeah, scary. She was over 50 when my mother, her 13th child, was born and although my mother didn’t start having babies early, I’m no spring chicken. When you’re a kid, you don’t realize that your grandmother is ancient until you’re in your teens and by then it’s too late to worry about.
Before she got married she was a personal cook for a rich family in Canada then she met this crazy Canuck who swept her off her feet and moved her across the border to the US where she began having babies left right and center. When my parents got married, my gran moved in too. It must have been difficult but neither of my parents complained. It’s just what was done in those days.
Everything was home made. My father grew a big garden as soon as the last frost was over. He’d get home from work and head for the garden where there wasn’t a weed who wasn’t on the lookout for Walt’s hoe. His garden looked like one of those magazine gardens. I don’t have room to grow things but we have wonderful farmer’s markets. I went to this one today.
When I was young though, dad would bring the garden’s bounty into the kitchen and my mother and grandmother would slice and chop and “put things up” and store it all in the big pantry in the basement that was always called “the cellar.”
In my teens, as kids do, we asked for store bought treats and every once in a while we’d be rewarded with a bottle of Coke or maybe even a creme horn from the local bakery. Never did my mother buy those boxed treats that my friends’ mothers bought.
One day as my mother and grandmother were busy in the kitchen I asked why we couldn’t ever have a Ring Ding or a Twinkie or the other things “normal” people had. My grandmother looked at me and muttered something in French that I couldn’t quite understand so my mother translated.
“It doesn’t rot.”
I was a teenager, did I care? It was sweet, my friends all had some and I wanted it. Alas, it was not to be unless I spent my allowance on it and I was much too tight for that.
Fast forward a gazillion years and it turns out that my grandmother was right. Not only didn’t we have those snack cakes, we didn’t have non-dairy creamer either. I sort of knew the answer to that but one day there was an ad on TV for it and she said, “No cow,” in English and that was a special occasion because she always pretended she couldn’t speak English. If the phone rang when she was home alone she’d answer it and say, “Nobuddy home,” and hang up.
“No cow?” I asked.
Then she went off in French and to the best of my meager ability to understand she said not to buy that because it was all chemicals with no contribution from any cow. Right again, my grand-mère.
It’s possibly easier to go to the frozen food section of the local grocery store and get dinner in a box but I doubt it’s real food. Real food comes from the perimeter of the grocery store and it’s all fresh, tastes better and it really doesn’t take a lot longer to prepare. I’ll agree with anyone who says the processed food tastes great because it’s filled with the salt and sugar we crave. I can tell you from personal experience, after a while you don’t miss the salt and sugar. It’s a habit I learned. Australians eat about half the amount of salt and sugar that Americans eat and at first I had a tough time. Now it’s the reverse when I visit the states.
I can hear someone say, “what about the cleanup when you cook for yourself?” Yeah, so what about it? They can’t tell me that their health and the health of those they love isn’t more important than spending 10 minutes washing a few pots because it’s not true.
Here’s a homemade dessert we had growing up. My grandmother called it aumonière and my mother called it a beggar’s purse. It didn’t matter to me what it was called because it was one of my favorite desserts. It’s a small puff pastry parcel shaped like a draw string bag and filled with a chocolate mixture and then set in a small dish of vanilla custard. My gran made her own puff pastry or she often made this using a wonderful crepe but I’ll confess this is one area I’m not so good at and I normally buy really good puff pastry made with butter but somehow there was some butter puff in the freezer so I used that.
- 2 sheets puff pastry
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chopped
- ¼ cup coconut flakes, lightly toasted
- ¼ cup flaked almonds, lightly toasted
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash
- Icing sugar for dusting
- 250ml (1 cup) cream
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 200C/400F
- Mix the chocolate, coconut and almonds in a bowl
- Roll out each sheet of puff pastry to a rectangle 20cm x 40cm (8" x 16")
- Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut 2 equal squares
- Place 3 tablespoon of chocolate mixture in the center of each square
- Brush the edges of the parcels with the egg wash and bring up all four corners and squeeze the dough together, leaving the corners free.
- Fan out the corners and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.
- Place in a serving dish with a shallow layer of creme anglais. (custard sauce)
- Over medium heat, combine the cream and ¼ cup of sugar and the split vanilla bean.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs and ¼ cup of sugar until well combined and smooth
- As soon as boiling bubbles begin to show in the cream, remove from heat and take out the vanilla bean. (you can wash it and place it in a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar)
- While whisking the egg yolks, add a little of the hot cream, whisking so you don't cook the yolks.
- Pour the mixture into the cream and return to the heat and cook until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Remove from the heat and add the butter.
- Serve warm or cold but we always ate our purses in warm or room temperature creme anglais.