21 February 2009

Jennifer Paterson’s Feast Days

Jennifer Patterson is known to most Americans as half of the Two Fat Ladies. She loved Elizabeth David as I do. She once “acted” in a Derek Jarman film, fittingly playing a member of the banquet feast in Caravaggio. In England, she is known for her columns in The Spectator. Jennifer Paterson’s Feast Days is a collection of those writings.

Patterson died several years ago refusing to quit smoking, drinking champagne or eating foie gras.

Patterson would have been a great Sweet Potato Queen! She has a recipe for Banoffi pie which is made with a sweet crust, bananas, a coffee cream and yes --- Danger Pudding! She recommends boiling the can of milk for 5 hours! She says, “it is vital to top up the pan of boiling water frequently, otherwise the tins will explode, causing grave risk to life, limb, and kitchen ceilings.” And she implores, “Please, Please do not make this pudding if you are absent-minded – think of the explosion.” I love a cook who is as worried about the kitchen as they are bout life and limb. I sympathize. Imagine how horrible it would be to survive exploding can shrapnel and hot toffee only to find out your preserving pan and Cuisinart were destroyed in the explosion! Remember, Lucinda says: "DON'T TRY IT!

Here is a rich (would I have chosen anything else) old-fashioned recipe for crab gratin. I can’t imagine this dish as a course during a meal. It seems a much better “dip” for an appetizer.

Crab Gratin

1 lb of mixed crab meat (frozen or fresh)
4 oz. unsalted butter
3/4 pint of double cream
2 tablespoons of medium sherry
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 onion
parsley, salt, pepper

Chop the onion quite finely, fry gently in the butter until soft. Using a largish frying pan, pour in the cream, simmer carefully until the quantity is reduced by half (the large frying pan facilitates this operation), add the sherry, season with fresh ground pepper and a drop or so of Tabasco if you like. Be careful with the salt, remembering the cheese to come. Put the crab meat (defrosted if frozen) into a nice, ovenproof gratin dish, smooth it down evenly and cover with the hot cream sauce: sprinkle with about two tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese. Place in a hot preheated oven and brown quickly.

My friend and fellow card shark, Celia goes home to Oregon every year. When she and her daughter, Catherine, return they are always bearing gifts, including freshly canned crab meat. I like to make the gratin in a deep dish as it facilitates dipping!

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