GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 19, 2012

Journal Pages: To London for the 'Eton Mess'

Journal Pages Susan Emerson
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Throughout the television coverage of the London Olympic Games this past summer, I received frequent bulletins from my husband as I drifted about the house.

“Look at this. Can you believe what he’s doing? Hurry up – you’re going to miss it!”

It was not to see Michael Phelps streamlining through the pool, nor Gabrielle Douglas twirling around bars. His calls spoke instead to quite a different agenda.

It was to catch popular British chef Jamie Oliver preparing English culinary delights, courtesy of NBC’s coverage for The Today Show. Oliver, along with svelte anchorwoman Savannah Guthrie (whose role was straight man and taster), filled quite a few time slots in the breaks between competitions.

Oliver, ever the tongue-in-cheek showman, prepared favorite recipes, filling in with their quirky histories as well. From the next room, my sweetheart called out: “He’s making Eton Mess! This looks fantastic!”

The dessert got its name, he quipped, when some hundred years ago, an unfortunate cook tripped and fell, dropping the elegant creation on the floor on his way to present it to a roomful of aristocratic boys at Eton College.

Quick thinking and a measure of gumption saved his reputation (and likely, his job) as he quickly scraped it off the floor and back into the serving dish, presenting it as Eton’s own signature dessert. Savanna Guthrie approved the confection.

Another day, there was fresh ravioli with four extremely English cheeses,” taking me back to the Monty Python episode, “The Cheese Shop.” Ah! British cheeses! I listened to the makings of Christmas breakfast: fried lamb kidneys and bacon with mushrooms, on toast. And there was their own version of lemonade, British-style, with gin.

“Want to go to London?” my husband called out.

“OK,” I said, unaware it was a serious question.

After the Olympic games had cleared out, we did go to London. He turned in our frequent flier miles for tickets, and for the first time, we slept on an overnight flight in seats that slid you into a prone, slumbering position, delivering fewer aches in fewer body parts than the usual reclining seat allowed.

We ambled through the quiet, unpretentious acres of Kensington Gardens and toured the Palace; enjoyed a haunting exhibit depicting Queen Victoria’s coronation, complete with piped-in gossip from the crowds; stood on the lawn where millions of flowers lay for Princess Diana after her death, and heard laughter of children in the playground created in her memory; visited the Tate Museum.

We toured William the Conqueror’s Windsor Castle, circa 1066, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sometimes resides, flying a flag so tourists won’t disturb her. We took the bucolic “Long Walk,” a five-mile stretch of road abutting acres of the Queen’s vegetable gardens, and tasted the honey from her bees. We took a boat ride on the Thames River.

We circled Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, amazed at its Lilliputian intricacies reflecting the décor of her times. We were in awe standing in St. George’s Chapel, where among countless other royalty, the coffin of King Henry VIII is vaulted.

On our last day in Windsor, we ducked into a restaurant to escape the drizzling rain. Overlooking a narrow stretch of the Thames where thirty or so swans had gathered, our view from the window was the old stone bridge crossing over to the town of Eton, where we had just meandered among the quaint stone buildings and bookstores of the college.

Following lunch, dessert arrived. I saw a smug grin spread across my sweetheart’s face as the chef’s best effort of off-handed sloppiness arrived: Jersey cream whipped into raspberries, strawberries, currents, a touch of balsamic vinegar, broken pieces of meringue, and crowned with slivers of roasted almonds.

He was eating Eton Mess, smack dab in its place of origin.

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Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.