I have no doubt told you before that my grandmother didn’t cook, except for fudge and meatloaf (why just those? I have no idea.). My mother produced tasty, healthy meals, but I don’t know how much pleasure she took in the whole process. But for some unknown reason I have a very clear memory of the two of them working together, in the kitchen of a house we rented for only a few years, to make this dish. It wasn’t a holiday meal or anything. Maybe they had some spare time or wanted to distract themselves from other things. I think my grandmother had her own memories of the dish, and while she might not have been able to make it herself, she certainly felt free to offer opinions and instructions. Me (age 11 or so), I just kept out of their way and watched.
But what made it memorable for me was that it’s kind of a playful dish: meringue islands floating in a yellow sea of custard. (Maybe that makes it appropriate for April Fools’ Day?)
Fanny Farmer said only, make custard, spoon beaten egg whites or whipped cream on top. Uh, no. These days we kind of prefer to cook our eggs. So I turned to The Joy of Cooking, where the recipe made much more sense.
Floating Island (or Snowy Eggs)
For the Islands:
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups [whole] milk
Separate the egg whites and yolks. Set aside the yolks.
Whip the egg whites until stiff, then beat in the sugar gradually.
Scald the milk (anybody remember how to do that? I do it in the microwave, in stages. You know it’s scalded when a thin skin forms on top. Discard the skin before using!).
|You can just see the skin|
Lift out the poached meringues carefully (there’s an understatement!) with a skimmer and lay them gently on a paper towels to drain.
The sea (all right, the custard)
You will still have the yolks left over from the eggs above, right? You’ll need another quarter-cup of sugar now.
In a double boiler (you do have one of those? I have my mother’s and my grandmother’s, both now definitely vintage) put the milk you’ve already scalded (still warm) in the top pan. Slowly stir in the slightly-beaten egg yolks, whisking steadily, plus 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt.
|The heirloom double boilers|
If you want, you can add vanilla, rum, or grated lemon rind for flavor now. Then pour the custard into a pretty serving dish (this will be a thin layer), cover loosely and place it in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.
Assembling the dish
When the custard is cool, gently slip the meringue “islands” on top and return the dish to the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.
It’s kind of an odd dish, I must say. It’s very light, and mostly liquid, but it tastes pleasant. BTW, this recipe as given made enough for four small servings—not a lot given the effort to make it.