I want to talk about the pleasure of communal food. Eating with others infinitely improves food. Perhaps it was because I grew up one of four siblings who conspired, argued and bonded over the dinner table. Shivers slithered down three spines when we heard that there was apple snow for dinner, and we begged our sister, who quite liked the pudding, to eat three more bowls of stuff, artfully thrown into her dish when Mum’s back was turned. We watched our eldest brother swallow every single vegetable whole, small trees of broccoli included, in an act of defiance towards greens. My twin spent considerable portions of her evening eating in the utility room in solitary confinement because she refused to eat her meals. How I love to go back over these memories.
Cooking for others is another aspect of communal food which is immensely satisfying (although perhaps less so for my Mum when she cooked for the four brats you just read about). Creating something that everybody else can share in is heart-warming.
A few people came to our house the other night and Mum cooked the main meal while I took the reins on the dessert. I looked online for something light that I could shake it up slightly. Ile flottante seemed to fit my needs well. This dessert consists of poached meringues floating on crème anglaise, often accompanied by a caramel drizzle. I wanted to incorporate summer berries (‘tis the season, after all) and to experiment with rosewater. I’ve never used it before but I love the smell of roses, so I thought it would be exciting to have meringues perfumed with rose, drizzled with a summer berry coulis.
I used a combination of recipes, from the BBC and elsewhere, but I winged it a bit. I added the seeds of one vanilla pod and about 40g of sugar to 600ml of semi-skimmed milk and heated in a deep frying pan. I whisked 7 egg whites (for 8 people) until stiff peaks formed, added sugar gradually and then added rosewater. I formed rustic (read messy) quenelles with two spoons and poached them for 9 minutes, turning halfway through, making sure to put the lid on top. Leaving them to cool on a wire rack, I whisked the remaining egg yolks and some cornflour together, then added it to the poaching milk. EONS later I had crème anglaise. Frozen berries plus rosewater thawed, bubbled and boiled then sieved into smooth berry coulis. Fridged it all, then arranged them just before serving.
I made one booboo. Adding the vanilla and sugar before poaching meant the meringues were quite sweet and very vanilla’d. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the rosewater was overpowered and the crème anglaise had few notes of vanilla. The flavours were there but in the wrong places. However, they looked quite pretty and I was happy with all the textures involved: smooth cushions of meringue atop cold, creamy sauce with the tartness of barely sweetened berries. And people sipped and conversation spun webs of sailing memories and stories of children gulping down vegetables and avoiding apple snow.