Custard has reared its head again.
I’d planned to write about the colour yellow. While glorious spring was rampant and the British newly friendly on the street. Daring to go out without umbrellas. And smiling at total strangers.
But that will have to wait. I need to talk about a few things first. Starting with custard.
What do you mean by custard?
To me it’s Bird’s. Made with powder, from a tin. Two rounded tablespoonsful, with one of sugar, mixed to a paste with milk from a pint.
Like cornflour it has that wonderful ‘press it and it’s hard, stir it and it’s soft’, structure.
Ever since I was a child I’ve loved seeing it all turn yellow. And smelling the sweet scent of of vanilla (I add more).
Boiling milk (the rest of the pint) makes it unctuous and thick.
But custard purists only like the ‘real’ thing. Eggs and milk – or cream in these extravagant, obesity-rich times – with sugar and vanilla pod, stirred in a Pyrex bowl over a pan of just-about-simmering water that’s not touching the bowl.
It’s a performance. An art form. A nightmare (depending on your point of view). Making ‘real’ custard.
I’ve never mastered (mistressed?) it.
The stubbornly thin liquid never goes ‘firm’. Even when left in the fridge for hours on end. Unlike the cold Bird’s version, which (bonus) tastes like ice cream as you scoff it out of the jug.
Sneakily. When mum’s not looking.
That great, sensible cook, Delia Smith, has a workable recipe for custard to use in ice cream. She adds … custard powder, to stop the custard curdling.
So, really, it’s posh Bird’s Custard.
But there I must leave custard.
It was just one ingredient planned for this post. Which really concerns a much more important matter.
Bear with me while I meander towards it, from the Wiltshire/Dorset border …
There, for a while, we lived in the tiniest house in which you could imagine someone 6’4” living. Not me, him. He couldn’t stand up straight in the downstairs rooms – either of them.
The two upstairs rooms were conjoined twins. When guests stayed they had to sleep downstairs on our sofa bed.
The bathroom was beyond the back door in a slapdash lean-to extension. And that was in a small, cute, garden surrounded by a large, fat hedge. Beneath it, a septic tank.
Behind the house and garden were watercress beds and the stone ruins of a house where Thomas Hardy’s mistress lived. Locals said.
It was an odd little place, that village.
Next-door-but-two lived a witch. A nice witch. She saw the colour of our auras. And kept dogs, sensitive mongrel creatures, in a house even smaller than ours.
She had a penchant for strays of all kinds. A man with a long beard (or was he a goblin?), comes to mind. He spent his days leaning out of a thick hedgerow, higher up the hill, frightening strangers passing in their cars.
Either side of us, though, were second homes. One as small as ours and always empty. The other a large, thatched beast.
The thatched beast had stolen most of our back garden at some stage in the past, giving it a long grassy expanse leading down to a gurgling brook.
Two gay men belonged to the thatched beast. Frequent weekend visitors in their glamorous E-type Jag, one was a businessman, the other a lighting designer.
We socialised a lot. Cooked for each other a lot. Pretended (this is us) we weren’t jealous of the garden and the stream.
One day I said I would make a trifle.
‘With real custard?’ asked the businessman.
I said yes, without thinking. Because for me, of course, real custard was Bird’s, made from powder, sugar and milk. As opposed to Ambrosia Devon from a tin.
And that really wasn’t the divergence of opinion I’d anticipated when I mentioned ‘trifle’.
Because ‘trifle’ is no trifling matter, unlike ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ custard.
Trifle. Is. Serious.
If you think the debate over how to pronounce ‘scone’ is fierce (it rhymes with gone, not bone. This is the truth as all real British northerners know it. End of) …
Sorry, back to fierce.
Fierce isn’t in it when it comes to trifle.
The question of ratafia biscuits is neither here nor there. I don’t like them. Can’t stand anything almond flavoured. So, leave them out if I’m coming round, please.
No, the really big issue is much more fundamental than that.
Or no jelly.
Well, I think it’s obvious.
Jelly trifles are simply, I’m sorry [no I’m not], just horrid.
A packet of trifle sponges (or home-made fatless sponge). Sliced and lavishly raspberry jammed. Cut into chunks, heaped in the trifle bowl. (What do you mean you don’t have one? Every home has one.)
Splodges of jam, dotted around. Liberally doused with medium sherry.
Custard – real, unreal or surreal [not sure about that last one, actually] – poured all over and left to ‘firm’ up.
Double cream whipped with a teaspoon of caster sugar slathered on that.
Left to sit for a while in the fridge.
Decorated with one, or any, or many of:
- toasted blanched almond slivers (not my thing)
- angelica cut into little leaf shapes (nice) to go with:
- glace cherries (bleeurgh, not for me)
- crystallised mimosa balls (quite nice)
- crystallised rose petals (mmmm)
- crystallised violets (oh, heaven sent, best ever, end of).
Then devoured as if you haven’t eaten for the last twenty years.
Hundreds and thousands?
Sorry, jelly trifles only need apply. The colours run. Which can, admittedly, be fun.
So, trust me, jelly-free it must be.
No trifling with the real thing, please.
Unless it’s custard 😉
A lovely article from the Black Country* Bugle about the fascinating story of Bird’s Custard (no, really): http://www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk/story-bird146s-custard/story-20122291-detail/story.html
The Black Country is a hard-to-define area in the English Midlands – another interesting story: The Black Country http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/21-things-you-not-know-7418256