by Dianne Boate
There are remarkable people who come into our lives and become authors of certain types of adventures. I am speaking of my former “gentleman friend,” a Mr. Watkins, an Englishman who took me three times to England, and was responsible for a career turning point in my life when I became a staff member of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Even after we parted (after nine years together), English ways and recipes carved out new horizons for me.
During my Renaissance Faire working days, as Catering Coordinator in charge of the outdoor caterers, I inherited a new office and a small bookcase full of medieval English cookery volumes. Just as plans were made to go on a trip to London, I discovered that the first known written book on cooking was in the British Museum, was called The Forme of Cury, and was written over 10 years, from 1390 to 1400, during the time of Richard II. This quest to see it became No. 1 on my to-do list.
In foreign cities one finds that museums are never open when you think they would be, so it took some perseverance to finally find myself being escorted to a desk in a large room full of tables and chairs and with a very high ceiling. An oversized desk with a judge-like person sitting there dominated the room. A velvet-lined tray was presented, with a blue-green-colored paper scroll. Aha! History was about to be put in my hands! But there was an immediate shock: The scroll was written in Olde English script and unreadable.
Diving into my actress mode I pretended to read, unrolling the entire 10 years of recipes to the end, then carefully placed the document back in its velvet bed.
As I passed the guard at the door he said,
“Goin’ to cook up a good stew, are you?”
English Cream of Carrot Soup, Mrs. Watkins of Wimbledon style, or, a little sass for Martha Stewart.
Back a few years when San Francisco was bursting with glamorous fundraisers, The Gourmet Gala for the March of Dimes was high on the list of the socially prominent and celebrity-circuit chefs and folks. Imagine my surprise when Chevron picked me for three years in a row to be the chef with a well-known name. First year, I won, with Dick Smothers in the appetizer category. Next, I was paired with Bill Dana (aka Jose Jiminez), and last, with then-California Secretary of State March Fong Eu. The year was 1986.
The venue had been changed from the Fairmont Gold Room to the San Francisco Studios. The meat and potatoes of the event was the menu, selected by a committee from the contestant’s recipes. Once the menu was decided you were given your assignment for sample tasting for the judges and the public in small portable kitchens that dotted the room. The same menu was prepared for the sit-down portion of the evening by TASTE Catering.
Well, there I was stirring away with my pot of soup. March was sitting behind me, looking beautiful in an ivory lace ensemble, when Martha Stewart came by. “And what have we here?” she asked. “English Cream of Carrot Soup!” As she tasted I though it a good idea to introduce March to Martha or maybe the other way around, and as I did so, March looked at Martha and asked, “And what do you do?”
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
- 2 pounds carrots, washed, ends clipped, cut into pieces
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 cube butter
- 4 cups water
- 4 chicken bouillon cubes*
- 1 quart whole milk
- ½ tsp mace
*We all know that bouillon cubes contain salt. 4 cups of low-salt chicken broth might be a better choice.
Garnish: freshly ground nutmeg, freshly chopped chives
Place oil and 1 tbsp butter in large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cook until transparent. Add potatoes, carrots, water and bouillon cubes. Cover and cook until vegetables are soft. Let cool. Do not drain liquid.
Puree vegetables and liquid in blender or food processor with milk as needed, then put all in large saucepan and add remaining milk. Garnish with nutmeg and chives as desired. Serves 8.
Mr. Watkins had a great sense of humor. On one trip we motored down to Brighton where the family had its favorite butcher shop. With his mother, he bought a large chicken and they left the store. Outside, he asked if one was enough, handed her the chicken and went back in. Empty handed, he said to the butcher, “I lost the chicken.”
It is said that this recipe was named for the sounds it makes during cooking, becoming widely used during World War II to thriftily use up leftovers from Sunday dinner – cooked roast and various vegetables, all done together in a skillet. Cabbage was usually in the mix.
Recently I had a different set of ingredients that I thought would work for this kind of dish, and in about 15 minutes a delicious dinner was served.
I used ½ head of green cabbage, one sweet white onion, and 2 cups of cooked rice, several pats of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil.
Serve with Parmesan Cheese, roasted almonds, fleur de sel and fresh ground pepper.
Dianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area.
Between cake assignments, she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at www.BoateCollection.com.