Friday, July 23, 2010


I’ve always wanted to make Blancmange. Correction: For a lot of my younger years, I wanted to make BLANK-MANGE. That’s what it looked like in literature (which was the only place I ever knew it to be, and since no one I knew ever said it, I took it at face value). And I never once heard it pronounced, until the Seventies, I think, when Mr. Humphries mentioned to Mrs. Slocombe that his Dear Mother was out delivering Blah-monggzzzzzhe to several of her elderly friends.
But it had already sounded just that wonderfully elegant when Mrs. March and the girls, or perhaps Miss Ellen O’Hara, carried it to the ill and infirm, along with some uplifting tracts and a jar of calf’s-foot jelly.

There just HAD to be a great delight in that perfectly white orb of deliciously-healing stuff, in all its coddly-wobble glory. But though I knew then not a speck of French, and stuck to my original pronunciation (also knowing what real MANGE could do to a puppy’s complexion), it STILL sounded superior to delivering soup and cornbread in a basket, no matter what the ailment.

I’ve assayed an octuplet of small white FireKing bowls of Panna Cotta, those rich, smooth half-balls of pure sweet cream, that spooned-up quivery silk melting sweet on your tongue before you can swallow a mouthful. They came out perfect, sliding from the cups with a satisfying tokkk onto the milk-glass plates. A moat of strawberry puree poured round, and several minutes of nothing but mmmmms and ahhhhhs and an occasional smacking sound, then the gentle scrape of spoons claimed the last rosy drops.

That was an absolutely perfect Summer dessert---stunning on the plate, delicious as the most exquisite gelato. But it just seemed too much, somehow, for someone who was not well---too rich and too fancy and too too. Plus, I can’t see anyone of Marmee's or Scarlett’s day making a quart of heavy cream into food for the poor.

It remained a gleaming perhaps---a someday thing, like writing memoirs or traveling to Greece. I WOULD make some, I knew that I would, but it just got pushed in back of today and grocery lists and other necessaries---a gentle maybe in the long Barrel List of my life.

And THEN I looked for recipes. Well, it shocked heck out of me, I can tell you, to find that instead of a luscious, soft-swallow spoonful, those dishes of the Poor Baskets and the Elderly Ladies’ Dole carried about by all those fluttery ladies in hats---those were made of CHICKEN. And Rice. And Flour.

It just HAD to be something else---a creamy, quivery white nothing-of-a-dish, easy to digest, gentle on the stomach, tasting of brighter days and better times. But it was Chicken and Rice! And probably not any of the good parts, at that. The whole thing just blew all my lofty thoughts into the stewpot.

Sure, I’ll still make some---the sweet-cream kind---someday. But it won’t be authentic, with that wimple-and-gloves feel of the convalescent’s basket. It will be a frivolous thing, a dainty little dish for fickle appetites, not a serious dish to fortify and strengthen.

That original chicken version lived up to its WhiteFood name, but oh, my!!! My feathers fell, my ambition fled, and I’m saving my efforts for something other than ordinary Soup---Good For The Soul or not.
Anyone have a dish they've always longed to make? I will if you will.

But I just KNOW that Emma took Mrs. and Miss Bates the REAL THING.
"Treat, Mother!"


Keetha said...

Ah've never had blancmange but my goodness: "quivery silk melting sweet on your tongue before you can swallow a mouthful" it sounds so good!

Didn't Laura (or her mother?) make blancmange in The Glass Menagerie? Our English teacher pointed that out when we studied the play. Something about the Wingfields putting on airs.

Cape Coop said...

I always thought that blancmange in those Victorian books was almond chicken in a cream sauce- I think my mother told me so because HER mother told her so.

Justabeachkat said...

I don't think I've ever heard of it???

Sure do love the way you write sweet friend.


racheld said...

Indeed, the Wingfields DID serve blancmange at that fateful dinner with the Gentleman Caller. Amanda was a bit like Aunt Bee when Opie had the Little Rich Boy over for lunch---serving a dish they'd never even had before, because it was fancy, and there was someone there to impress.

And Rebecca, most of the old recipes DO call for "almond milk"---made by boiling almonds in the milk, then squeezing the juices out through a cheesecloth (or old pillowslip). Your GrandMother was quite right.

Thank you all for your comments---it means a lot to see that someone is dropping in and reading.
I just throw words out there and hope someone will enjoy them.

Kim S. said...

I'm catching up tonight. I was in NC visiting my grandmother on the weekend and have been playing catch up ever since. I am so crestfallen. I, too, thought that blancmange was akin to panna cotta. The idea of CHICKEN never entered my mind.