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.
What do baking and letter writing have in common? Passion! Communication! Adventure!
Two of my most revered friendships came about because of letters I wrote. Last year I told you about Rose Levy Beranbaum; today, I would like to share another story about meeting M.F.K. Fisher, and share the recipe she loved most of all the things I made for her. The recipe is called “Starlight Sugar Crisps,” from a 1950s Pillsbury Bakeoff book, a croissant type of pastry laced with vanilla sugar.
Flashing back for a moment, someone lent me The Art Of Eating, an anthology of five books written by M.F.K. Fisher. Her style, sensibilities and wry humor captured me instantly. She made me fall in love with France all over again.
Just imagine for a minute that your kitchen is a rehearsal hall, your dining area a stage, and your favorite dishes as the actors in the dinner plays you produce and direct. It can put a different focus on what your favorites are and how many times you haul them out from the wings.
You should always be ready for surprises. In researching the origin of one of my favorite cakes, chiffon, I discovered it was invented in 1927 by a caterer named Mr. Harry Baker, in the Los Angeles area.
Louella Parsons (left) dining at the Brown Derby.
He kept the recipe a secret for a long time and finally sold it to General Mills. But before that happened he had the brilliant idea to take a cake to The Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, where it became a popular item on the menu with movie stars – and Louella Parsons, one of the leading gossip columnists of the day. Whatever Louella wanted, Louella got, so her idea that grapefruit was nonfattening resulted in a grapefruit-flavored frosting for the popular cake. (Do we want to try that? Maybe…)
I used to buy chocolate in 10-pound bars from a company near the old produce market in San Francisco. The bookkeeper there made me a Christmas cake every year and it was terrible, but I loved it because she made it for me.
We will venture forth here with quality recipes easy to accomplish (Sugar Plums! Velma’s Mother’s Tennessee Refrigerator Rolls!), something a little different, something you can make yourself and be loved for doing it.