I have a fascination with both food and words. Chefs often say that diners eat with their eyes. I can’t disagree. Words and/or the names of foods are equally evocative. I have discovered that I can often decide that I will like a dish or foodstuff, simply because I like the word, or because it’s cropped up in something I’ve read (particularly if the associations were interesting). So it was with pesto. The first time I ate pesto, it was because I had heard about it and just had to taste it. One lunch time, about 20 years ago, I ordered a pesto pasta, never having tasted it; I was not disappointed.
So it was with syllabub. It took me a long time, however, to do anything about it. On one or other food programme, the chef made a syllabub. Don’t remember which, but I remember the dish. So, when Dave and Jayne visited the other week, and I outrageously commented that I’d pull out all the stops, I had to think of a dessert. Not having a sweet tooth, desserts are not a strong point.
Hmmm…. Warm autumn evenings, and plenty of preserved apricots. I have no idea why, but “syllabub” slipped into my head. Recipe books were consulted. Google invoked. I learned that syllabubs date back to the Tudors and were, effectively, the precursors to ice cream. Originally made with milk straight from the cow and with alcohol (usually cider), so that it was light and frothy. This mixture was allowed to rest and the alcohol separated from the foamy curds which floated to the top. The syllabub was served in special glass cups.
Modern syllabubs, I discovered, are usually made with lemon-infused with white wine, brandy or sherry, with the resulting liquor combined with whipped cream and sugar. One recipe I found also used egg whites which replicates the separation that characterised the Tudor versions.
Alcohol infused fruit, sugar and cream. Surely I could produce something that would be quite palatable – with a South African twist. Here, apricots are usually associated with cinnamon, brandy and/or sherry. I knew that the batch of apricots I had preserved were probably not firm enough to be incorporated into a baked pudding, but as a puréé they might work.
I set to it: a jar of apricots was drained, and the firmest set aside (wasn’t sure what I’d do with them, at that point). The softest were added to a bowl with some whole cinnamon and a tablespoon of brandy and left to infuse overnight.
The following afternoon, the bark (aka cinnamon) was removed from the apricot and brandy mixture which was then purééd with an immersion blender. Then a cup of cream and two tablespoons of white sugar were whipped to within an inch of their collective lives (firm but not too stiff). Then I gradually added the puréé.
The finger-tip taste test suggested that this was a winning mix!
Individual glasses with the reserved apricots at the base seemed a suitable “crib” of the traditional way of serving syllabub.
So when we had an impromptu, early birthday celebration with a friend, a couple of days later, I thought I’d do another syllabub. This time I didn’t have the luxury of much time so instead of infusing the apricots overnight, the drained apricots were purééd with a tablespoon of medium cream sherry, and then folded into the whipped cream and sugar.
A fitting end, it seemed, to a celebratory supper!
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