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||Those Custard Days|
While my parents might share the 'crisp' & 'fresh' memories (& meolodies) of their 'Salad Days', many of my fondest memories hark back to hearty, honest, one-shilling-per-day school dinners. Before catching even the slightest whiff of custard, I would have already dodged, ducked and dived to earn the privilege of being near the end of the dinner queue (or dinner 'line' as we liked to say) - to be one of those lucky few to enjoy 'leftover heaven' at the end of the sitting. Like Winnie the Pooh & his honey pots, I'd be joined by a few loyal, fervent custardologists, all armed with spoons, blissfully surrounded by not-quite-empty custard pots - surrendering their last few spoonfulls of sweet, smooth sauce (and denying the same for all the pigs we were told would finish our dinner if we didn't). School custard came in a wide variety of comforting flavour variations, not to mention other variable physical characteristics, such as viscosity, temperature, chromaticity and hue (it would be a serious digression to even mention 'pink' custard, or 'chocolate' custard, but surely such misnomers only serve to emphasise the central 'cementing' role that custard enjoys in our proud culinary heritage). Of course there would always be plenty of skin (or 'coat') left for all the custard-chewy-bit enthusiasts amongst us. This was quite unlike the home sitatuation - you could cut the tension with a knife as, during the latter part of the dinner course, a nice thick, dark, chewy coat develops at the top of the wide, amply-filled custard pot. Anxious to avoid 'skin submergence', 'coat sticking to spoon' and and other coat or skin calamaties, Mum became a deft custard coat cutter, eager to please the coat-lovers amongst us - herself included (she still calls it 'yellow peril'). And the story doesn't end at school or home - oh no. Those 'custard days' also included the many times our family's little old lady friend who used to sit me down with a nice shallow bowl of sugary, runny, hot custard (I can still hear the clanking of her custard spoon against the side of her beaten up little saucepan over the gas cooker). And then of course there's my Great Aunty Mary. She didn't have a canary, but she always had a nice dish of hot custard waiting for me.
And finally, I'd like to add that Wifey's apple pie and custard has just become my wallpaper - nice to see someone else still going to the trouble of pastry leaves - and making sure that at least one slice comes with a whole leaf. If she's ever in the mood for a rhubarb pie & custard, I'd happily add that to my wallpaper too.
Living in America as I do (& alas my wifey doesn't care for custard), I thank you for bringing such pleasures from seeming so far away.
|Nicey replies: Very good, but it was me me who made the pie, and the custard for that matter. I always do pastry leaves as the younger members of staff like them especially when its sweet pastry. Very pleased to hear that at least one person has the custard picture as their wall paper, as I took that too. And yes I think it was me who ate that bit of pie, so it wasn't an entirely altruistic project.
Jacob's Mikado Review
I am half way through your book, and haven't enjoyed a read like this in ages.
I have stopped drinking coffee in favour of tea while I read this book, as I feel this is more fitting.
I regularly laugh out loud in bed, much to the annoyance of my wife. When i explain that I am reading the pro's & con's of building a full biscuit house I get a strange look which indicates she is making mental notes to add to a list for grounds for Divorce.
Anyway, thought i would mention the Mikado, which brought back memories of childhood parties. I always presumed that the reason the biscuit was always soft (sometimes bordering on moist, but maybe that is my memory over-exagerating the past), was either:
A) They were stale
B) The marshmallow had passed some of it's moisture into the biscuit, making it soft.
After much thought, this wouldn't make sense as the Original Teacake never had this problem so the biscuit was always crumbly despite the marshmallow sitting on top of it for some time prior to consumption.
So, this would mean that the Mikado was designed to be soft biscuit, which wouldn't make sense as surely it would be nicer with a little crunch.
What are your thoughts on this?
Finally, i fully agree with you on the pink wafer. A poor affair, although must have a big following to be still going strong after all these years.
All the best and good luck for the future with the website/ future publications etc
P.S. You are directly to blame for my increase in biscuit consumption although being on a diet- I am going to treat the office to some party rings on my lunch hour (my personal old-school favourite)
|Nicey replies: Hello James,
Glad to hear you are enjoying the book. I received reciprocal strange looks from Wifey after I wrote the bit about Hansel and Gretle, and she hasn't started any proceedings yet so I expect you're relatively safe.
Anyhow Mikados, yes they are meant to be that way. Although I already knew that it was an epiphanic moment on tea tour in Ireland two summers ago when an advert for the revered trinity (Kimberly, Mikado and Coconut Cream) came on the telly. Not only was it comforting to see a biscuit advert, but it positively promoted their 'soft' biscuits, talking up the advantages none of which I can recall as I was too excited. I think they even played the jingle at the end too. It was quite an special moment a bit like seeing a rare creature in its native habitat, not that they are rare.
My wife Rachel and I are Londoners in exile in Tignes, a ski resort high in the French Alps. The French Alps, in common with much of mainland Europe, is not the kind of place where one can easily get one's sticky paws on one's favourite mass produced biscuits. A decent cuppa is pretty much out of the question as well, and we've taken to importing tea bags rather than put up with Lipton day in, day out.
The biscuit issue was more of a problem, but my wife's entrepreneurial streak encouraged her to bake brownies. This in turn led to a 'Tignes brownie off', resulting in said brownies becoming available in a local cafe, Le Lavachet Lounge. Walnut brownies are a favourite, but 'orange and white chocolate chip' have been spotted, as have 'cherry and kirsch', and the flavour changes every week.
I occasionally report on the brownies in my blog and a recent post was entitled "Nice cup of tea and a sit down" after your good selves. A reader posted a link to your site and commented that if Rachel's brownies were ever to get a mention there, she'd know they'd truly hit the big time.
It's my wife's birthday in April (the 12th) and I'm sure it would make her day for her baking to be recognised in such an internationally renowned place.
Obviously I'm biased, but I'm sure I could find vaguely independent verification of aforementioned brownie quality.
Great site - keep up the good work.
|Nicey replies: As I too have endured many a cup of Liptons tea a mere mountain away from you I have some empathy for your wretched plight. Mind you living in the middle of Espace Killy and looking like the season could make it through to the start of May this year tempers my anguish somewhat.
Still well done to Mrs Cowbells for her resourceful baking. I have to say I do like the whole high altitude baking thing in ski resorts even if much of it is enforced on chalet maids.
|Dear Mr Nicey (and Mrs Wifey)|
I remember that in the early 70's that you could get 5-fingered KitKats from some chocolate machines. Machines weren't as sophisticated then, so everything was the same price. I guess a 4-finger KitKat wouldn't have been good enough value-for-money, and wouldn't have sold.
Keep up the good work,
|Hi there Nicey|
I've just returned from a cellar stocking and retail therapy trip to the Auchan hypermarket in Calais, and was looking forward to trying the Bastogne biscuits you reviewed a few weeks ago. But could I find them? Non, I could not.
I confess that I spent a good cinq minutes perusing le section des biscuits, (as a former McVities' biscuit salesman - albeit nearly 40 years ago - it's a habit that's hard to break), and it struck me that it could really do with a good "merchandising". This, as I was informed on my first day with McVits, was "the bringing together of psychology and salesmanship". The idea was that if the shelves were arranged with each of the manufacturers' products grouped together, and shelf space allocated in line with market share, the average British housewife (who in those days was 5 feet 3 and a half inches tall and spent 2s 9d (14p) a week on biscuits), would a) be able to find what she was looking for more easily, and b) buy more of the wares of McVitie and Price than she consciously intended. I was never convinced by this, but Marketing said it worked, and their word was law.
So, despite being a foodie's paradise, nul points to Auchan in that department, mais je also have to dire that le packaging of French biscuits en general est tres uninspiring. So all I ended up buying (apart from cheeses, salamis, jams, monster lettuces, etc etc), were the usual Spekuloos, some Bon Maman Galettes, and the quintessential Gateau do Bretagne, which admits to a 25 per cent butter content, and a heart attack in every mouthful. In fact a lot of the French biscuits had "beurre" in their noms, so les French sont obviously pas so worried about le chloresterol as nous Brits. But then butter is quelque chose they do seriously better than us.
After denying Gordon Brown the excise duty on les vins et bierres, we decided to faire le pique nique. (A very nice place for one, or a sit down in your car, is cap Gris Nez, just past Sangatte. On a clear day you get a magnificent view of the white cliffs of Dover). Whilst munching my baguette I got to thinking that the biscuit sections in our local Asda and Tesco also leave something to be desired - perhaps biscuit shelves are not so attractive because there are fewer manufacturers these days. What do you think?
Mind you, Waitrose does do the merchandising thing better, and they also stock Mc Vities' Lyle's Syrup Creams and Fruit Shortcake. Shame the aisle in our local one isn't too wide, making browsing difficult.
Does this sound like a moan? It's not meant to.
|Nicey replies: Ahh I'm only familiar with the Auchan biscuit aisle at Boulogne. As soon as the tyres touch down in Calais I am filled with the urge to leave the place and head south, even if it is only for twenty minutes. We too like a spot of the old pic-nic when in France. There is also good sport to be had worrying the French by eating at times that are out of sync with them due to the hour time difference and being through a casual British approach to lunch time based on feeling peckish rather than some national time signal. Often as we have sat on a camp chair in some French lay by at quarter past two in the afternoon chewing on a bit of sauciseson whilst disembowelling an over ripe melon with spoon, we have received shocked glances from the occupants of a passing Renault or Citreon.
Once when camping in deepest darkest France we began about lunch at almost 1:30 and finished at around 3:00. One of the other French campers who we had gotten to know quite well came across to see if we were all right. He had been fretting that one of us had been taken ill, or that we had been involved in a road accident. He had to employ some very seldom used French expression that may have been "Vous mangez en decolarge?" or something like that. Despite two of our party being fluent French speakers and both having lived in France for at least a year each neither had heard this, which they best translated as "eating out of time". We were all quietly pleased with ourselves for creating such an air of tension just through shear applied Britishness.