When you look for the nascence of Eton Mess, most cookbooks say that it has a 100 year old history originating at Eton College, where it was traditionally served at the annual prize giving and picnic in June. Hmmmn, something smells a little pungent! I just don't believe this story; it seems too romantic and contrived somehow, reminiscent of an Arcadian time before the First World War when everything was full of sunshine and strawberries. The sceptic in me felt compelled to investigate further. This was a job for Detective Kelly!
A less-than scrupulous approach to research showed no references to Eton Mess in either Mrs Beeton, Dorothy Hartley or Florence White which rather supported my suspicion that Eton Mess was a relatively recent invention. Although it could be that since my library of cookbooks doesn't contain many written by Old Etonians, my argument is a little flawed. Turning to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the only Old Etonian cook that I am aware of, he says that Eton Mess was sadly unheard of in his day (which I am guessing was the 1970s).
Even a quick, though immensely enjoyable, look at the essays of Lady Jekyll, a columnist for The Times in the 1920s, doesn't make any mention of Eton Mess. Since she seems to have a recipe for every social occasion, it strikes me as quite an oversight, and one that in fact supports my theory that Eton Mess is a relatively recent dish.
It would make more sense that this became a favourite recipe of well-organised cooks since most of it can be prepared in advance. It will appeal to the thrifty cook as a way of using up leftover egg whites. But I doubt that delicious as meringues are, they would have only gained popularity with the home cook when ovens and their temperature became more reliable, some time in the 1930s I suspect. So QED to me I think!
Skill level: Easy
375ml double cream
6 x small meringues, crushed
500g strawberries, hulled (reserve a few for decoration)
2 tbsp caster sugar
1-2 tbsp kirsch
half tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Reserve a few strawberries to decorate, then halve or quarter any large berries. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, kirsch and black pepper. Leave to marinate for at least 2 to 3 hours.
- Whip the double cream until it is just holding its shape (but not too stiff).
- Drain the strawberries (reserving the marinade). Fold the strawberries through the cream, together with the crushed meringue.
- Serve with topped with a few sliced fresh strawberries and some of the marinade drizzled over.
- Do not shilly-shally and eat immediately. This is not a dessert that can stand waiting around!
- Replace the kirsch with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
- Most British summer fruits work beautifully with this pudding - try raspberries, gooseberries, redcurrants or blackberries. A Bramley apple puree with a little cinnamon is delicious too.
- Replace the black pepper with a little fresh thyme, mint or basil leaves.