Saturday, May 15, 2010

Claude; Eton Mess

We acquired our cat Claude (named because when pronounced the French way, it sounds like “cloud”, and he looks like a cloud) when Caroline saw him in the window of American Kennels on Lexington Avenue for what she thought was an excessively long period and she came to believe that no one was going to purchase him.  Although he was quite expensive, his perceived plight  turned this adoption into another cat rescue operation for us and, as I recall, Claude was “only” our fourth cat and, as the poet Christopher Smart said, quite correctly, in his Jubilate Agno, "For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit."
Our Brazilian friends (they are numerous) referred to Claude throughout kittenhood and beyond as a “nene” (pronounced nay-nay), which is Brazilian Portuguese for “baby”.  The name and description stuck for an overly long period due to his small size and, I suppose, because his luxuriant long creamy coat made him seem like a gorgeous female infant.  When Jane was quite small, they could conveniently be seen as being quite small together and nursery teammates.   
In terms of personality, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  Claude has always been a small male lion, a cat of enormous personal power and dignity.  His champion blood lines  seem  to confirm and be consistent with his “royal” demeanor, his natural good manners and inborn grace.  Almost alone among our large family of cats he has a sweet tooth; cake, muffins and scones are irresistible to him.  Claude’s sense of justice is also royal in the most elevated sense.  He has always protected his older sister Rose, who along with Pansy, took him in hand as a kitten and taught him to mouse, is a good sibling, but as a naturalized American has also learned that good fences make good neighbors.  He naturally commands and deserves respect.
A note to prospective Persian cat owners:  Do groom them regularly.  They enjoy it, it’s healthy for them, and if you don’t, you will be forced to submit them for “lion cut” grooming which, although “cool for summer” is essentially like turning your Persian into a Parris Island private.  I’m not suggesting that Claude couldn’t make it in the Marines, but he’s a cat, not a soldier,  and the only time I ever saw him look truly unhappy was when he was shorn of his fur.
Claude would love to sample an Eton Mess.  First up is Lindsay Bareham’s version.  Nigella Lawson’s recipe follows and then Heston Blumenthal’s.  Blumenthal writes, inspiringly:  “What is so wonderful about this dessert is that it cannot be improved upon.”

Eton Mess 1 (Lindsay Bareham)
Serves 6
Prep: 30 min
800g strawberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 meringue nests
500ml whipping cream
Remove the strawberry stalks by running a small, sharp knife round the base of the leaf in a pointed plug shape while turning the strawberry. Quarter large fruit, halve medium ones and leaves small British strawberries whole. Place in a bowl and sprinkle the sugar over the top. Leave until the sugar melts and the strawberries glisten and turn juicy.
Break the meringue nests into small chunks. Whip the cream in a mixing bowl until it doubles in size and forms soft peaks — do not over-whip! Use a rubber spatula to loosely but evenly fold the meringue through the cream, then repeat with two thirds of the strawberries. Place a sieve over a small bowl and tip the remaining strawberries and sugary juices into the sieve. Use a spoon to press the strawberries through the sieve, scraping underneath so nothing is wasted.
Transfer the Mess to a serving bowl and swirl the strawberry sauce over the top in a pretty pattern.
Eton Mess 2 (Nigella Lawson)
Serves 4
  • 500g strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons caster or vanilla sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate juice
  • 500ml whipping cream
  • 4 x small meringue nests from a packet
1. Hull and chop the strawberries and put into a bowl. Add the sugar and pomegranate juice and leave to macerate while you whip the cream.
2. Whip the cream in a large bowl until thick but still soft.
3. Roughly crumble in four meringue nests — you will need chunks for texture, as well as a little fine dust.
4. Take out a ladleful, or about 100g of the chopped strawberries and fold the meringued cream and the rest of the fruit mixture together.
5. Arrange on four serving plates or glasses, or in a
mound, and top each with some of the remaining strawberries.
Eton Mess 3 (Heston Blumenthal)

Serves 4

For the meringue
100g egg whites
100g caster sugar
100g icing sugar

For the mess
4 bananas
2 tbsp lime juice
200ml double cream
Seeds of 2 vanilla pods

1 tbsp kirsch
Grated zest of 4 limes

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting (110C/ 225F/Gas Mark ) and line a baking tray with parchment. Beat the egg whites until very stiff — this is important as they must stay stiff when the sugar is added. Beat in the caster sugar, then the icing sugar. Spoon the meringue mix onto a baking tray, in 12 even shapes. Cook for 4 hours, or overnight. They should be crisp all the way through, with no colour. Turn the oven off, open the door and leave the meringues inside so they cool down slowly.

Peel the bananas. Purée 2 of them with half the lime juice. Cut the other 2 bananas into 3mm-thick slices and mix with the remaining lime juice to prevent them browning. Whisk the cream until stiff — being careful not to overwhip it — and stir into the crushed or puréed banana. Then fold in the vanilla seeds and kirsch.

Break the cool meringue into large pieces, mix with the banana cream and the sliced bananas. Spoon into a bowl and grate over the lime zest before serving.


  1. Curtis,

    The dignity of cats, now that you mention it... puts to shame the airs of any and every human.

    Our two white cats are not of the "show" variety -- but don't tell them that. Each is, of course, the center of her/his own universe. (Though indeed they come quite literally from "the streets".)

    There's so much more to share on this subject, but I'm afraid I am distracted by a sudden strong nocturnal yen for an Eton Mess. I think I'll have three, please. One of each.

  2. Good morning, Tom. Claude and his cohorts (all of whom have "street cred") also thank you for welcoming them into what is clearly an extended family.

    Thank you also for your kind words in response to my comments concerning The Faculty Of Oblivion. All your readers are in your debt. You're in a better position than I am to judge whether it's a frail limb you're out on or not. I see it more as a high wire. All the choices you make are interesting and obviously part of a tradition of artists working in different media sparking off each other. But there’s something about putting your words and the words of other writers together with artists like Chardin or, as you just suggested, Durer (that is to say, incomparable geniuses) that’s very exciting. I agree entirely with your remark about Chardin and historical painting, by the way.

    We spent yesterday afternoon at the Radnor Hunt Club races, which is a very traditional point-to-point riding contest in Chester County, PA. It was a beautiful day (first sunburn of the year; that was a surprise). These events all tend to feature a parade of horse-drawn carriages of different styles and vintages and one of them, a smaller buggy, was pulled by four white pony mules – two small females in front and two larger males behind who do the real work. I had never seen these creatures before and they’re extremely beautiful and just amazing to be around. So I’ve spent most of the morning researching the subject of mules and am now deep into the land of “hybrid vigor”, a phrase I’ve heard before but didn’t know what it meant. I think it has a certain application to all adoption situations (with animals, among humans) and also to ekphrastic meetings of poems, paintings and other artworks.

    One test of the very high quality of The Faculty Of Oblivion is that your respondents all resisted the possibility of making “faculty” jokes, as in “I sometimes feel like a full professor on the Faculty of Oblivion”, etc. Given the potential for humor in the title, the common frustrations of living , and the fact that flippancy and humor come pretty naturally (to the Beyond The Pale readership, I’m sure) and can be shared stress relievers, I think that’s worth noting. I think it’s a remarkable piece.

  3. i havent tried any of the recipes yet but nigella lawsons sounds good and i trust her a lot because my mom has her cookbook and she was a judge on the iron chef america super chef special.the 1st one looks like the simplest, the 2nd looks a little more complex, and the third looks like the most complicated of the three

  4. Aliki,

    I agree with your assessment regarding "degree of difficulty" of the three recipes. All three chefs are very famous and highly regarded in the UK.

    Lindsay Bareham's should be considered, obviously, the "basic" recipe. Nigella's addition of pomegranate sounds great. Like your mom, I think she's quite good and appealing. Did you know that she comes from a famous English family?

    I think you could really make the Heston Blumenthal one a cinch if you used store-bought meringues, which are used in the other recipes, rather than making your own, which would be great, but is probably unnecessary. It wouldn't be a Heston Blumenthal recipe, however, if he suggested that.

    I remember first reading about Eton Mess and thinking "wow, that sounds amazing". The dish has a really interesting history. I wish I were eating it now.


  5. And that, of course, was the idea. You can purchase meringue nests at some supermarkets. If Acme doesn't have them, or Whole Foods, I bet our friends at Aux Petits Delices can help out. They're not expensive and they're extremely delicious. I can assure you that my cats Claude and Bunny would devour Eton Mess in a hurry and quite neatly. As for Andy and Edie, the dachshunds, same story, less neatly.