Imagine, if you will…
It’s July. Warm sunshine bathes your face. Bees buzz busily at fragrant lavender, softly brushing it with warm furry bodies. Marigolds nod their heads happily in the oh-so-gentle breeze. Poppies spring up, opportunists in the English Country Garden, delicate petals hiding a multitude of sins. Roses of soft pink, deep blush, scarlet red, vibrant yellow and crisp white adorn the red brick walls, marking their territory with their heady perfume. Somewhere, music plays ….
Gentle laughter floats through the air, filling it with the sounds of summer. The lazy waves warm toes today, waxing and waning, conjuring magical castles and deep moats and screams of joy as the deeply dug ditches fill with water and then empty again like a heartbeat. Ice-cream, pressed into neat, uniform spheres dribbles down the crunchy cones – “A 99, please. WITH a flake. AND monkey blood.”
It’s too cool, Breeze-by-the-Sea, for ice-cream, but we don’t care. We just kneel behind the weaved wind-breaks, sucking up creamy spills before they are peppered with sand. Old Nannas and Grandmas and Aunties look on with blanketed laps and a twinkle in their eye, remembering the old wooden pier, the old wooden roller-coaster, the old wooden huts and the basic B&B with, would you believe, running hot water?
“A TV in our room, Mrs Flannigan, a television! Why, this is unheard of!”
“And a duvet, in ours, Mrs Symthe, a duvet… What is the world coming to? We’ll be eating oysters next, mark my words! One blanket should never keep the chill off, of this I am certain!”
Old uncles debate tuppence machines in the ramshackle arcades, fish and chips (“In my day they only ever wrapped chips in newspaper, made ‘em taste good, it did”) and the best route.
“D’you remember the old Hen and Chickens pub? You turn left there, drive a mile or so, turning left at the bypass next to The Sly Dog pub and then right at the old snooker hall, remember the one? It’s still there, y’know.”
Weathered men, with leathery skin and false teeth, disagree with one another about memories we’ll never have. “Helter-skelters at the end of the pier? Nee, pet, only in Weston! Eeee, it’s lighthouses arl reet, wooden roller-coasters with that red-fy-aced, disoriented, slightly eccentric brake-man at the back. Remember?”
D’you remember red telephone boxes?
“Only tuppence a call.”
Summer strawberry picking, loved by all, is the perfect day out. ”They should weigh us on the way in and then on the way out,” says D, patting his tummy and licking his perfect red lips.
We ALL love the summer. But British summers? So hard to come by. So cherished and relished and ultimately still so vintage.
This is my own recipe – comments appreciated.
English Country Crumble Cupcakes (12 large cakes)
220g unsalted butter
220g caster sugar
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/2 vanilla pod (or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract)
230g self-raising flour (or plain, with 1 tsp baking powder)
2 tbsp rose water
2 oz plain flour
pinch baking powder
1 oz cold butter
1/2 oz chopped/ground almonds (chopped is better for texture)
1 oz golden caster sugar
* Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
* Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper liners.
* Wash and hull strawberries. Reserve.
* Make the crumble: Rub together butter and flour and baking powder until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the almonds and sugar, stir gently and set aside.
* Using a hand whisk, a free-standing electric mixer etc, beat sugar and butter until pale, light and fluffy.
* Gradually add the eggs. (If this mixture curdles, add 1 tbsp of flour) Add the vanilla pod SEEDS only.
* Sieve the flour and then add it to the eggs, butter and sugar, beating (folding) on a VERY low speed for one minute. Add the rose water. Beat for a further 30 seconds.
* Spoon a teaspoon of mixture into each case, then add a strawberry (raw, into the centre) of the cakes.
* Add an ice-cream scoop amount of cake on top of the strawberry, filling the cases.
* Over the top of the cakes, crumble over the crumble mix.
* Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
* Serve with whipped cream!