Un-Puritan Activities: Shakespeare, Jesuits, and pudding

Presbyterians have often, and who am I to argue with this, acquired a bad name as killjoys. My recent tribulations (see last blog) were at the hands of Independents, viz., the ones that thought Presbyterians were dangerous softies, and possibly Commie Bastards to boot. I have packed the dreary nonsense in question off to its editor, and as chance would have it, various things then came our way which were, one and all, the sort of stuff they were keen on preventing, and we found ourselves pretty much enlisted on the opposite side. Theatricals, for example. The son of Barry the Great, who wants to get an acting scholarship — he is a boy of some talent, and we advised him as best we could: he had to prepare something Shakespeare for audition and we suggested ‘Fear no more’: he came in with a new style RSC ‘bugger the verse’ act of tonsil-vibrating sincerity and coming to bits with grief, which certainly convinced Miss Dog, who bumbled up and licked his face. The Professor suggested thinking a bit more about what Shakespeare thought princeing was all about, and after three hours of concentrated work, there was a tiny moment where the young man suddenly took on a force and dignity and looked like someone else entirely. Fingers crossed. He’s an intelligent boy, and we hope he might surprise them. We don’t set up for knowing much about the theatre, but we do know something about verse and about the Renaissance, and the Greatest Living Shakesperean has since been canvassed about what DVDs to watch.
On a yet more frivolous note, we’ve been told about a Jesuit Pudding called Menchikoff , a recipe which was given to the order by Catherine the Great. Catherine the Great in later life resembled a sofa. If this is her notion of a pudding you can see how this might come about.
Line a large pudding bowl with thick sponge cake damping the side next to the basin with sherry. Have a small glass yourself.
Finely pummel a half pound of sweet almonds
Mix with 6 oz of caster sugar and the yolk of a large egg
Add 1/8 Lb of melted butter and blend.
Mix in half a glass of whisky and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Have another small glass.
Once the mixture is finely blended pour it into the lined bowl.
Cover the top with more dampened sponge cake and put a weighted plate on top and leave overnight in a cool place or a fridge.
When you are ready to serve, turn the pudding out onto a plate and cover with whipped cream. Decorate as desired.
One thing which I’m intrigued by is that it lookes strangely familiar. We have a family recipe, which I think was given us by a delightful old German friend who must have been born about 1890 (it certainly came our way in Germany), which is recognisably the same basic concept: you make an almond-egg-sugar paste of this kind, dip sponge fingers (more familiar to some as boudoir biscuits) in a mixture of sherry and milk, and build layer upon layer alternating the two, plaster with almond paste, then cover with cream and a bit of shaved chocolate. I have to say that, though I haven’t made this in decades, it was delicious, even if it was so obviously bad for you it ought to have been decorated with a skull and crossbones or a radio-active sticker. It seems fairly clear that the recipe was a domesticated, toned down version of this. As someone mildly interested in the history of food, it provokes two questions: did our dear old friend Lieselotte have Jesuit or Russian Imperial connections? Or does this work the other way round? Catherine the Great, as she took pains that people should forget, was a German princess from Braunschweig: is this sinker of a pud a relict of Germany’s eighteenth century, in many ways (vide Haydn, Handel) quietly jolly? either way, if anyone fancies a domestic try-out, I’d say Lieselotte’s version was the one to go for: alternating alcoholic sponge and almond would be nicer, I’m fairly confident, than ending up with a solid bolus of almondy stuff. Either way, since we’ve all got so unaccustomed to solid fat and sugar, I’d hand round Rennies with the after dinner mints, if it were me. Anyway: it all makes me think of the dreary Puritans I’ve been dealing with, and how they’d have disapproved. But if Menchikoff has contributed to the gaiety of nations, I rather feel I’m on its side. And anyway, it’s made me think about a beloved old friend of my early childhood who was very kind to me, and that’s a good thing too.

One Response to “Un-Puritan Activities: Shakespeare, Jesuits, and pudding”

  1. Eleanor Says:

    Lovely connections– old recipes and old friends.

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