My mind was elsewhere as the sharp knife in my hands surgically removed the seeds from a large bunch of putative “seedless” grapes. I was reflecting on whether Beulah’s response to her mistress Mae West’s request for a peeled grape would have been the same as mine and if “Fuck off and peel your own grapes” would have found its rightful place in the trove of great Hollywood quotes but, frankly, I didn’t give a damn as before me lay a mountain of grapes still to climb, an unplanned ascent to which I had been unwittingly led by the nose. It seemed but a short time ago since I had returned home, flushed with pride at the thriftiness of my shopping, a senseless oxymoron to my former self, and was proudly offering up a heavy bunch of pale green grapes to my lady wife with the intention of eliciting from her a whoop of excitement by relating to her the pittance that I had parted with to bring home such a luxury, but which vainglorious moment was denied me by her smooth exit from the kitchen with an over the shoulder smile and a mouthed “grape tart”. Within the term “thrifty shopping” there are several meanings and one of them dictates that the ingredients thriftily purchased should be those from which a set of predetermined dishes can be prepared and this being the case, apart from grapes, those ingredients needed for the creation of a successful grape tart were signally absent. Occasionally good fortune goes to the wrong address and I most certainly had not heard the door bell nor had I noticed any other indication of his presence until I opened the fridge door. Was one to be glancing at a list of ingredients for crème patissière the first of those to appear on that list would be 3 separated egg yolks and those 3 separated yolks were there, sitting in a white cup in the chilled white interior, still slightly quivering from having just been placed by the invisible hand of good fortune who had also had the foresight to provide frozen puff pastry and, in a cupboard nearby, some good vanilla but, in the way that good fortune is never quite good enough, had forgotten the essence of crème patissière: full cream milk. Most milk in France is not real let alone full cream, it is UHT and for most of the time I neither care nor, indeed, notice. On the other hand the French are allowed to have lait cru, raw unpasteurised full cream milk which would cause health and safety, on the other side of La Manche, to head in droves for high cliffs from which to hurl themselves onto the rocks of worthiness. Meanwhile, far from Lemmings Leap, in a nearby village, there is a shed within which is a 24/7 dispenser of fresh, chilled lait cru, the essential building block for any form of worthwhile custard by which I mean the smooth, pale pouring sauce called creme anglaise or the dense crème patissière that enhances so many toothsome examples of the patissière’s art.
I should make it clear I have never cared for “custard”, by which I mean that overly sweet, bright yellow condiment of the English nursery, so I’m loathe to accept that crème patissière, which I like very much, is a member of that benighted family; but, as we can’t choose our family, all is forgiven.