Eton Mess (Meringue Crumble with Vanilla Custard and Berries) & Holiday Traditions

Dec 13, 2011

We grew up hacking down a grand pine tree in the woods at my grandparent’s house, schlepping it back to their house, and adorning the branches with glitter-coated stars and peaceful doves; the decorations of Jews who have Christmas trees.  Why did we have a tree?  The answer is simple and not.  Simply, the trees are pretty, the holiday brought everyone together with colorful paper chains, cranberries strung next to popcorn, and stockings.  Fun.  And not so simply, my dad’s parents grew up with immigrant parents who thought Christmas to be an American holiday and come hell or high water, they would be Americans!  So Christmas it was in their little communist Jewish enclave.  And on my mother’s side, there was nothing. No menorah and no stockings.  Sad and not fun at all.  So my mother made the holiday festive with tiny Swedish angels who rang bells and a funny bear in a sled and brightly wrapped gifts and a smoked salmon breakfast.

Then we moved to England and all traditions went into the blender.  Midnight mass?  Ok.  Running from church service to latke party with my teenage friends?  Yes!

Throw in some arcane bishops, a few delightfully drunken dinners, and there you have it.  Do I miss the wackiness? Not really.

But as we prepare for Chanukah here, I think of England.  Of my oldest friend, Jules, and our hilarious holiday feasts, the carefree yet lovelorn days of yore and yule.  And I remember cooking with her.  So today, after posting her holiday parcel, I went home and made an old tradition: Eton Mess.

Now, this is traditionally served by crumbling up meringue cookies or nests.  However, tradition can go up the chimney on this one.  My new bloggy friend, Celia, reminded me how much I adore pavlova, a pudding served traditionally in the summer in the UK. And what I like most about it is the crunchy outside matched with the chewy, sugary interior.

So I thought…Eton Mess but with raspberries not strawberries and made with pavlova…and my Grandma Ruth’s custard recipe but with vanilla…and red berries and…the kids and my husband (no berries on his) loved it so much they have asked to have it every year.

Well, that’s how jumbled pasts and puddings and ideas turn into tradition.


*If you feel like more tradition…on December 20th check out the new PBS special Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions in which chef Lidia Bastianich whips up well-loved holiday dishes with some famous friends (actors Stanley Tucci and Mo Rocca, food writer Ruth Reichl, to name a few).

You can sneak a peek here:

Eton Mess (Meringue Crumble with Vanilla Custard and Berries)

5 eggs, separated

2 cups white sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp white vinegar (note: I have used cider vinegar and it was fine)

2 cups milk

1 cup raspberries

Oven to 250. On a piece of parchment, trace a dinner plate (or have your 4-year-old do this). Turn the paper over onto a baking sheet. Let the egg whites come to room temperature. Beat on high until stiff peaks begin to form. Bit by bit, add 1 cup of the white sugar. Beat well and add 1 tsp of vanilla and the cornstarch. Fold in by hand the vinegar. Spread the meringue mixture onto the parchment, creating the shape of the plate with the egg. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour or until exterior is just starting to color. LEAVE IN OVEN until fully cool (crack the oven open). Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in a metal bowl and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. In a pot or in the microwave, scald milk (do not boil) and add small bits to temper the yolks (too much at one time will make scrambled eggs). Place the metal bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk constantly until custard begins to thicken. This will take about 20 minutes. Once thicker, remove from heat and let cool. This custard is runny, not a set pudding. When meringue is cooked and cooled, break it apart. Put pieces in a glass, spoon custard over, and top with berries. Tradition!

1 comment

  1. Celia
    December 13, 2011

    Traditions are wonderful, especially when they’re uniquely your own! Thanks for the shout-out, Em! 🙂

    This looks delicious – over here we’d call it a trifle. Now, you do know that pavlova is a downunder invention, don’t you? Either from here (Australia) or New Zealand, the debate continues, but in both countries, it’s an essential part of the Christmas Day barbeque! 🙂