Finally, an opportunity to unwrap my Gran’s cookery books and bake.
My sister is hosting a morning tea for Mum’s birthday, and I’m looking for something reminiscent to make. I flick through the pages, unsure how practical this idea might be
When clearing the old house, I came across two very old books. They are both shambolic, lots of loose pages and lots of loose pieces of paper tucked in everywhere. All are assorted shades of shepia. The cover has broken away and the inside is upside down.
In the older of the two volumes – I think its the older volume because there are no dates – I find a piece of paper with “Joyce & Val” handwritten on a slant. That’s my Aunt and Mum.
Unfolded, the stained note paper becomes a recipe for pavlova, with a little pile of sugar stuck to the middle. The sugar glistens in the light. When did it last do that?
The decision has been made: I will attempt to make this pavlova for the birthday morning tea. I say ‘attempt’ not just because the recipe is unknown but also because my little oven-style of an air fryer has only been used once, to bake shortbread.
Pavlova is a dessert consisting of a meringue shell that’s been topped with whipped cream and fruit, named for the famed dancer, Anna Pavlova.
A pavlova is supposed to have a crispy outer layer and a gooey centre. The skill is getting the right oven settings to ensure the best ratio of crisp to goo and the right kind of gooeyness. It was perhaps a very special skill when using the slow fuel stove mentioned in Gran’s recipe.
I recall the white pavlovas in contemporary cook books and on those expensive-looking cooking shows. White makes for a decorative presentation and expands the range of toppings that can be used in the photograph.
The ingredients and utensils are laid out, and everything is combining as excepted. Awkwardly, one egg had the largest blood spot I’ve ever seen and, thankfully, was caught before it could contaminate anything. Egg whites won’t beat properly if anything in the bowl is not an egg white.
One less egg means I must subtract two tablespoons of the caster sugar to keep things in balance.
Focus. Stiff peaks. No problem. I avoid over beating the egg white. Gradually adding the sugar. No problem. One tablespoon at a time. The mixture starts to glisten. I remember this. The mixture glistens and gleams as the last of the sugar, vanilla and vinegar are added.
Sculpting the mixture to sit high on the baking paper and then into the oven.
“275 degrees”. My oven doesn’t go that high. Opps. It’s an old recipe. Switch the oven from Celsius to Fahrenheit and all is well.
But I fuss with the settings. It’s supposed to be higher for the first half hour to cook the outside and then lower for the remaining two hours to slowly cook the middle. My pav browned before I turned it down, which left me worried that the recipe didn’t lower the temperature enough for my style of oven. I fuss further.
In the end, the outside is only slightly caramelised and the middle is suitably soft.
I left it in the oven overnight because I had nowhere else to store it; I remember Nigella did that on one of her TV shows. I wasn’t expecting a usable result, so I didn’t give the next step much thought.
What to pile on top and what to sit it it on?
I feel that the colour of the pav has limited my choices so back to the supermarket for bananas, tubs of creme caramel dessert and a tin of passionfruit pulp (for a traditional topping if I decide not use to use the caramel).
The only plate large enough is the same colour as the pav, and it’s all starting to look a bit bland.
But, just as I’m about to pop the end result into a carry bag and head to my sister’s, the phone rings. Mum is taking Dad up to emergency because they are worried about the way his broken wrist has swollen.
Morning tea is now afternoon tea. The table is laid beautifully and the room is decorated to the hilt. Dad’s wrist is not infected.
I carefully extricate the plate from the carry bag and set it down next to the striking vase that’s full of the most delicate flowers. The colours of the pav and its plate blend with the tablecloth. It’s looking even blander.
I know Mum likes caramelised meringue. I hold onto that thought.
And it all goes very well.