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.
If more people now lived and ate the way your grandmother did, it would be a very different world health-wise! And I agree with her beliefs…if food doesn’t ROT or doesn’t come from any natural source, it’s not worth eating!
These desserts you’ve made look so tasty! Bites of deliciousness.
Thanks Joanne. Too bad I didn’t listen to my grandmother as I got older. Too many trans fats, too much sugar, too much fake stuff – I’m sure it’s taken a toll on my body.
I love this story of your grandmother. 13 kids…. made all her food fresh. She deserves a meddle. I’m a crybaby with two kids and a 5 grocery stores in a 5 miles radius. I love that comment… it does not rot. I try to remind my kids that sometimes. Fresh is best because a food scientist did not make the food in a lab. Even my mother and father ate only fresh food before moving in the early 70’s to the US. I would totally love these beggar’s purses too. I can just imagine digging into it. :0
Growing up, my best friend Anne had 9 brothers and sisters and I couldn’t imagine what it was like. She was 3rd in line so it seemed that her mother was perpetually pregnant and blissfully so. I doubt my grandmother felt the same way 🙂
Fancy looking but not fussy! Love it!
Thanks a lot!
Lizzy (Good Things) says
Maureen, reading this beautiful story has made my day xoxo
Your grandmother sounds like such a trooper my friend with awesome food morals 😀
This recipe looks delicious and simple which makes it dangerous too 😉
We used to tie her apron strings to the chair during dinner. It was one of my brother’s favourite things to do. She went along as if she didn’t know he’d done it. 🙂
Coffee and Crumpets says
So much wisdom in those words and the old ways.
Nothing like homemade dessert…this one looks fabulous.
She was a funny old woman with hands the size of a baseball glove.
Really nice dish! I don’t use enough puff pastry. The brand that’s in every supermarket isn’t that hot (some rather yucky ingredients) but there’s a specialty store nearby where I can buy superb all-butter frozen puff pastry. Loved the stories about your grandmother, and your early years. “It don’t rot” is such a wise and witty observation. In most US supermarkets you can actually eat quite well if you shop the perimeter. In my markets there isn’t quite as much organic produce and free-range or grass-fed meat as I find in Whole Foods, but it’s there if you look for it (although you pay a bit more). I hear people complain about big agribusiness and how they’re destroying our foods. That’s true to an extend, but just because some pretty sketchy stuff is for sale in the center aisles of the supermarket doesn’t mean we have to buy it! I’m with you on taking an extra 10 minutes to wash pots and pans – it’s a small price to pay for superior chow. Anyway, good post – thanks.
I wish we had Whole Foods here 🙂
Rachel Cotterill says
That looks yummy 🙂
I know what you mean about additives – I’ve never much liked salt, and tend not to cook with it, which means that most processed food tastes *weird* to me. Especially when we were briefly living in the US last year. At home (England) we can find some good prepared meals, which are made from real ingredients – I don’t like to rely on that sort of thing but it’s nice to have the option from time to time! I’m also trying to get better at making my own freezer meals, by cooking up extra quantities.
There are shops here that produce good take home meals and those are always good to have. What I’m talking about are the dinners in the box in the freezer section of the grocery store. In the US there would be aisle after aisle of them. WE have one aisle of frozen food in Australia.
What an enjoyable read! I love “It doesn’t rot!” That’s priceless. My grandmother and mother were also the farmer types, grow what you eat and eat what you grow. I used to try follow that practice, but my body now tells me that it’s easier to go to the local market. I sure wish I had a market like yours! I’m quite jealous! Your puff pasty looks absolutely delicious! I’m sure you’ve made your grandma proud with this. YUM!
My grandmother would be proud that I followed her my love of food and cooking 🙂
Lisa the Gourmet Wog says
What a beautiful story Maureen, I wish there were more women like your grandmother out there. It’s so unfortunate how the world has chosen ‘convenience’ over health. What a beautiful recipe, can’t wait to give it a go. Anything with chocolate and custard is a winner in my eyes!
And 13 kids, WOW! How many cousins do you have?!
Lisa I have forty bazillion cousins 🙂
Fran@ G'day Souffle' says
Our forefathers probably had fresher food than we do now, however they certainly had to cook in more difficult conditions than we do. My American grandfather was born in 1865 (the year the American Civil War ended) and I have been reading some letters from my grandmother where she complained she had to cook food on a wood-burning stove and continually had to wash the kitchen walls of all the soot!
Wow, I thought I had the oldest grandparents but you win the prize, Fran!
Kari @ bite-sized thoughts says
I loved hearing about your grandmother – what a great character and a wise woman in the kitchen. I had to laugh at her phone answering approach though 😉 I’m sure she’d be proud of you making these desserts!
Unless you were calling home to leave a message that you’d be late or sick or whatever.. We still got “nobuddy home.” So when she picked up the phone I had to scream, “DON’T HANG UP.. IT’S MAUREEN.”
Julia | JuliasAlbum.com says
Your stories from the olden days are hilarious, keep them coming! I was laughing from “I am no spring chicken” all the way to “Nobuddy home”. Your grandmother was French, how cool is that? And that French dessert looks amazing!
I had an interesting childhood 🙂
Eva Taylor says
Well, well, well, part Canuck! No wonder I like you! It’s always surprising how truly connected we are from the different parts of the world.
These pastries look delightful and a far cry better than the chemical counterparts. We never had ‘those treats’ either and are better off for it for sure.
Eva, I thought everyone knew I was ALL Canuck. All 4 of my grandparents moved to Maine from Quebec. Two from Paspébiac and two from Bonaventure. 🙂 My other grandmother rarely spoke French, changed her name to an Americanized one and never looked back. She always looked down on my “French” grandmother. funny. 🙂 They were the same age but my French grandmother always called the other one,”the old lady.”
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says
Your grandmother was a very wise woman and I have to say that she passed on this gene to you Maureen! 😀
Thanks, Lorraine. She was a crafty old bugger. 🙂
What a great post, I couldn’t agree more with your Grandmother. Once I actually started reading food labels I realized just how scary those processed foods are.
I think anything we can’t pronounce shouldn’t be in our food.
You can share as many “olden day” stories as you wish, Maureen. I enjoy them. Your Grandmother and my Grandfather shared the same philosophy about food and he would have loved swapping gardening techniques with your Father. Funny how their words and example come back to us. This beggar’s purse sounds like such a great desert. What a way to end a meal!
Aww, thanks John. We understand each other. 🙂
The Café Sucre Farine says
I grew up so much like you Maureen, my mom made 10 loaves of homemade bread at a time. We’d (my 5 siblings and myself) come home from school and the whole counter would be covered with bread. We’d complain that we didn’t get “Wonder Bread” . Twinkies were such a treat. It seems so funny now when homemade is infinitely beter ……………. so late we get so smart, huh? 🙂
I know. My best friend Anne – the one with the 9 brothers and sisters – got those treats and I was so envious. All I got was, “it don’t rot”. 🙂
Jackie @Syrup and Biscuits says
What an interesting life you have, Maureen! Loved this story.
I never thought of my life as interesting. I’ve just lived a long, long time 🙂
I love your story,Maureen ( whilst doing the quick math in my head!), it is fascinating to see how people were so much healthier even 50 years ago, yet we are blessed with so much restaurant food and the illness that comes with it!
The pastry looks totally indulgent.
I don’t know if they thought they were healthier. When I was a kid I thought it was because they were cheap. 🙂
Laura (Tutti Dolci) says
What a great story! You always make me laugh :). What tempting parcels!
Laura you are always so kind!
Cass @foodmyfriend says
I adore grandparent stories. My grandparents have a huge veggie patch – in fact! My Pop has just given me a lovely Jap pumpkin that I’m turning into soup tonight 🙂 Your purses look so mourish. Tyler would love them 🙂
I wish I had a veggie patch. It’s what I miss most up here. We do have plenty of sunshine so I can’t have everything I suppose. Thanks a lot for the comment.
That first para just put everything into context and I truly understand what you mean coz my grandfather was born in 1888 and he went on to have 17 kids from my one, poor grandma 10 boys and 7 girls where my dad is the 8th boy and 13th overall.
It’s funny, in a large family like that it all just seems normal when to me it seems overwhelming. 17 kids? I think I’d have bought a tv 🙂 oh right, they didn’t have any. LOL
Karen (Back Road Journal) says
The beggar’s purse that your grandmother, mother and now you make is way better than a Twinkie that doesn’t rot.
I know you’re right but when I was young, those treats looked SO amazing. So different from the French desserts we had at home. Little did I know that I was enjoying luxurious food. I thought it was same old same old and I wanted a ding dong. 🙂
Claire @ Simply Sweet Justice says
I love this story–and the recipe! I was pretty much the only kid in my class who never had tried a Twinkie or a Ding-Dong–for the same reason: they don’t rot! 😉 Thanks for sharing such a special story and a great recipe.
I was afraid there was another one like me 🙂 When I moved out on my own and eventually did get to buy twinkies, I was less than impressed. 🙂
I love this post and I love your story. An amazing, wise woman, your grandma and how lucky you were to grow up with her in the house. I love the “nobbudy home” Ha. And woowhee what a fabulous dessert! I’ve never made aumonière though I have eaten them (usually in crêpes, not puff pastry). And chocolate cream filled in crème anglaise? Wow. I have to try this! Beautiful, Maureen. Wonderful post!
Yes, we usually had them in crepes too but a friend of mine here made little parcels from puff pastry and I thought I’d try this. She cut up a snickers bar and put it in puff pastry and served it with creme anglais poured over the top.
Nami | Just One Cookbook says
You always tell us great stories and it was nice to learn about your grandma. It’s hard to find “homemade” things these days and how precious to have everything homemade back then! 🙂 I want to make this purse! Really cute and such a nice chocolate & puff pastry dessert!
These purses are simple enough for chidren to make. The custard could be prepared earlier. They’d need help getting all the corners fit. Maybe a crepe would work better for them. 🙂
““what about the cleanup when you cook for yourself?”
… are there really people who think like this? Jeez, I can’t believe it. Well, of course, I can believe it, but it’s a pretty depressing view to have – that you don’t want to have to bother washing up pots and pans so you’d rather just get some nasty little frozen pizza in a box. Sigh!
I like these Maureen – they call them “aumônières” in French – I made some a couple years ago stuffed with apple or pear. They make a lovely dessert don’t they?!
What a true gem your grandmother was. I loved my grandmother but she didn’t cook. What a treasure to have been able to learn lessons about real food from yours. Loved this story and beautiful dessert. 🙂
Veronica (Roni) says
We even grew up similarly, 11 kids, all home grown food, plenty of work & exercise. Good times…great story Maureen, love your writing & your memories. And love all your comments too!! Our grandma wasn’t quite so colourful, but fun memories also…:)) cheers & love Roni
Thanks Roni, you’re kind to visit and leave a comment. I really appreciate it.
I’m also a strong beliver in home-made food.. while growing up in Poland (70’s and 80’s) we knew to preserve all seasonal fruit into fragrant compotes and jams.. to pickle veggies that were best sources of vitamins in winter time.. there was nothing better than to have your own garden.. most of us had 🙂 I remember enjoying fresh milk while visiting my grandparents living in the country, my grandma made butter milk, cream, cheese, and butter .. baked her own bread.. I don’t have to tell you how great it tasted… Surely lots changed since then, I moved to Canada in my early 20’s.. still make most of cooking from scratch… washing few pans and pots is no big deal.. anyhow.. great post!
Shoud try these pockets too…