I found a packet of custard creams at our well-named local grocer, Nosh. This may be of small interest to many people, but not to this foodie, to use a polite word for gourmand.
I grew up on custard creams as a particular treat in post-war England, and a delicately dunked custard cream in a nice cup of tea – preferably China tea – takes me back to those distant days of my youth. ( Dunking was also frowned upon in the days of my youth). Whenever friends visit from the UK now, top of my list of please- brings, are the custard creams, closely followed by rich tea biscuits. These are plain and uniquely English – no-one else would bother to look twice at them. But again, they reek of nostalgia for me, the only biscuit to have with an early morning cup of tea in bed, and an infinitely adaptable biscuit, equally at home with morning tea, afternoon tea, or a late night snack.
Neither of these biscuit are available in New Zealand, my home for over forty years, but I still crave for these old fashioned goodies. But now Nosh, to my delight, are suddenly importing one of them. Unfortunately, they haven’t also branched out into another delight which has always been unavailable in this land of milk and manukau honey and lamb and wine. I’m talking about those circular tin boxes, wrapped in stiff and very thick, crinkled, coloured tin foil, containing marrons glacees. To call them crystallised chestnuts would be to rob them of half their glamour. These too, come tumbling out of visitor’s suit cases on arrival, and it pains me to have to share them in the interests of good manners.
When we first arrived in this country, Mars Bars, the creamy malted bars with a thick layer of caramel, chewy insides, and covered in wavy patterns of milk chocolate, were also unobtainable. To the uninitiated, the words Mars Bars may be puzzling, but even such an authoritative journal as the UK Financial Times once devoted an article to Mars Bars, reaching the conclusion that they were the only commodity surviving since the thirties which is still worth its weight in gold. This fact of course, gives added relish as I sink my teeth into the lovely soft innards of the chocolate .
I was foolish enough to introduce this scarce treat to the children, so then three of us hankered after them, and again, distant travellers mentioning a trip to the Antipodes were suborned into bringing a few Mars Bars with them, ahead of the list of biscuits.
When my husband was leaving Heath Row after a quick business trip to London, he remembered at the airport, that he had an order for Mars Bars, and was about to buy half a dozen when he thought to himself, well, why not get the box. So he arrived with thirty six Mars Bars. Sadly, between me and the children they only lasted five days.
I think that is probably genuine gluttony. But so delicious.
My recipes tend to be frugal, and the antithesis of gourmet food, but they are the sort of dishes which would see a thread-bare gourmet through hard times. So perhaps that’s what I’ll call them : Recipes for a Thread-bare Gourmet.
Since our chickens come without the giblets these days, which used to be the makings of decent gravy, I’ve given up gravy. Visitors blanch when I tell them I don’t do gravy as I set the roast chicken on the table. But they soon cheer up when I hand them this dish, a recipe given to me by a French friend. I always have to make lots, as it disappears fast. Gently sauté as many mushrooms as you want in some butter and oil, and add finely chopped garlic. I use plenty, as garlic is half the point of this. While they’re still cooking, add cream and a chicken bouillon cube or two. Let the cream boil up and thicken. If it looks as though the mushrooms might get over -cooked, I just fish them out for this stage. When the cream is the consistency you like, return the mushrooms with plenty of chopped parsley, and season with black pepper, salt if you feel it needs it. I serve this with a roast, or it’s also good for a light supper or lunch on thick toasted slices of good bread with a glass of wine.