Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gentleman Jack and Ambergris Rice Pudding and Chocolate Mousse

Shibden Hall

It’s been over a year since I’ve written Lostpastremembered -- a lot happened in that time.


In the first half of 2018 I had a blast renovating a producer’s office (their reception area was an homage to Kubrick’s 2001 complete with red Olivier Mourgue chairs and a black monolith). Then I did a series for The History Channel – called “The Food That Built America” all about people like Hershey, Heinz, Kellogg and Post who changed the way America ate (it premieres in June). This year I did a fabulous horror film called TRICK with the wonderful director, Patrick Lussier that will be out at Halloween.

Oh, and I won an Emmy in 2018

Anne Lister

What to write about after so long an absence? The answer came very quickly when I saw a piece on an upcoming show on HBO about an amazing woman named Anne Lister who was born in England at the end of the 18th century. Now that I’ve started watching it, I can tell you it’s marvelous and looks AMAZING since it’s shot in Lister’s actual 15th century house (which Lister modified and enlarged extensively in the 1830’s).

The show is called Gentleman Jack and its star, Suranne Jones, is remarkable. She plays Lister, a woman who wouldn’t behave as a woman should. Although her family denied her a formal education, she studied the sciences, traveled extensively and was the first woman to scale Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees in 1830. In 1826 she inherited Shibden Hall and ran it as well (or better) than any man would. She was successful at managing the farming tenants and the rich coal deposits on her land (outwitting a bullying mining family out to take advantage of her). The estate prospered. She dressed in black, swaggered, seduced many and was married in 1834 – to another woman!

We know about her because of her 26-volume diary written in a small careful hand, BUT --Lister's celebrity came from its salacious bits which she had disguised with a complicated code comprised of algebraic symbols and ancient Greek. An ancestor of hers broke the code in the late 19th century but was so scandalized by what he found that he hid the books away - miraculously not destroying them as often happens with families trying to protect family honor from scandalous ancestors or spouses. Most famously, Sir Richard Burton’s  widow burned everything in sight that offended her upon his death – even though it was her husband’s life’s work. She destroyed the last, unpublished chapter (on pederasty) of Burton’s The Perfumed Garden, (a translation of a 12th century Tunisian book celebrating sexual pleasure he had worked on for decades).

Lister’s diaries were rediscovered in the 1980s and re-translated and the writer/director Sally Wainwright discovered them and was obsessed for years with bringing Lister’s story to the small screen. She had grown up in Halifax around Lister’s home and had visited there in her youth.

George Sand

Everything about Anne Lister was fairly shocking for a woman in the backwater town of Halifax. Although women like George Sand were traipsing about Paris smoking cigars in full male dress, such things were not done in smaller, unsophisticated towns. Sand and many of her celebrity contemporaries were wearing men’s clothes from time to time to make a point about freedom and the unfairness of a male dominated society. Anne was expressing her masculine personality and was most comfortable in masculine tailoring which she wore exclusively.

It’s no wonder Anne preferred the masculine style. The feminine fashions of the period were a little over the top - like the crazy 1980’s padded shoulder silhouette - the 1830’s had too much poof in the gigot sleeve - it overwhelmed the woman wearing it and had a cartoonish, exaggerated feel to it.

The masculine fashion of long coats with small waists of the 1830’s looks decidedly peculiar by today’s standards but it translated very well for a woman who wanted to distance herself from feminine frills and flounces. It was very flattering to the female figure.

I think most of us today would feel more at home in Lister’s tailoring than in the puffy-sleeved pinkness of her love interest Ann Walker’s wardrobe.

The sensibility was carried through to Walker’s lovely feminine Georgian house (played by pastel-soaked Sutton Park in Yorkshire with antique wallpaper and silk draperies). It is as feminine as Lister’s dark wooden Shibden Hall is masculine.

Anne didn’t wear trousers regularly either from preference or so as not to be too outside the norm – she wore skirts with her vests and jackets and top hats -- taking her cue from The Ladies of Llangollen who lived together as a lesbian couple for 50 years at Plas Newdd (the relationship was loving but not sexual. Brilliant, anti-marriage, possibly lesbian poet Anna Seward called theirs a "chaste provinciality").

News of the Ladies of Llangollen’s unusual lifestyle came to the attention of the surprisingly progressively minded Queen Charlotte and won her approbation.
Queen Charlotte, by Grimaldi 1801

That acceptance then generated a generous pension for them (helpful since they had been disowned by their families). Creative English society came to visit the Ladies of Llangollen, including Seward, Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Byron, Josiah Wedgewood AND Miss Anne Lister who may have been encouraged by the success of the Misses Butler and Ponsonby in establishing her own “marriage” to a woman – although hers was decidedly sexual.

Miss Lister had a reputation as a rapacious sexual predator who preyed on innocent women. Who’s to say if the reputation was deserved or assigned by those who violently disapproved of homosexuality for men or women. Judging from her diary – she was a rather adroit and adventurous sexual partner - does that make her a predator?

Anne Walker

Anne and her wife lived happily for 16 years refining and improving Shibden Hall with the help of Walker’s money until Anne died while vacationing in Georgia with Miss Walker in 1840.

Miss Walker died 14 years later – having been put in a madhouse by an unscrupulous relative to steal her money and take her estate. Walker’s unorthodox living arrangement with Lister must have made it easy for a male relative to condemn her as mad.

Now, what about making something to snack on while watching Gentleman Jack - something to celebrate my return to Lost Past Remembered?

Aside from updating one of my first posts for Pumpion pie last Thanksgiving, it’s been such a long time since I made things for the blog, I decided I would pull out all the stops and make some sweet things with Ambergris.

I give you my version of an ambergris chocolate mousse (that Casanova insisted was an aphrodisiac) and an ambergris perfumed  rice pudding with orange and rose as a treat from a recipe book that was written anonymously over 100 years in many different handwriting styles– from 1690 to 1802 at University of Pennsylvania – known as LJS165.

As always, my ambergris comes from  Ambergris NZ.  It's gathered from beaches and is always the best quality.  I also admit to loving their ambergris tincture -- I use it nearly everyday -- I love the scent.

I decided that the amount of cream called for in the original wouldn't be nearly enough to make a creamy rice pudding and decided to cook the rice first and then add the cream (I used arborio rice for this). I made half a recipe and used more than a quart of milk and cream.   The cinnamon might be too much for some -- taste to see.   It does become more subtle after cooking so wait to check.  Also -- don't be afraid of the marrow -- it dissolves in the pudding and just adds a mystery layer of richness to the flavor. May I also say, it reheats like a dream.  I just put a few tablespoons of milk in a single serving dish and scoop in in and microwave for a minute or so.  Oh, and those little orange candies are very good -- you may want to make more for later!

A quart of creame a pound of rice 2 eggs orangado a ¼ of a pound, cinnamon a quarter of an ounce a little rosewater and ambergreese some grated bread ¾ of a pound of sugar some marrow boyle salt in creame

Rice Pudding with Ambergris, Rose and Orangado

1-quart cream or mixture of milk and cream
1 pound of rice cooked in milk till it soaks up the milk (2½ c rice +  5c milk)
¼ pound of candied orange peel*
¼ oz of cinnamon stick - about 4 (or add 2 T. of ground cinnamon or to taste)  
¼ c bread crumbs
½- ¾ pound sugar
4 T of bone marrow
½ - 1 t salt
2 eggs, beaten in 1/4 c milk
2 T rosewater or 2 drops Aftelier rose essence
piece of ambergris (Ambergris NZ) the size of a large bean or to taste, grated finely on a microplane
extra cream or milk for serving

Add the cooked rice to the cream. Cook the mixture at low heat till softened with the orange, cinnamon and sugar with bread crumbs and marrow.

When the rice has softened remove the cinnamon sticks, taste for sugar and salt and add more if desired.  Turn off the heat.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir till the ambergris melts and is fragrant. Add some of the sugar syrup left from candying the orange if you wish.

Serve warm or at room temperature, stir some extra milk or cream into it if it sits very long -- it tends to tighten up after a while and the milk/cream gives it back the lovely creamy texture.  Top with a sprinkle of more of the orange peel

* Candied Orange Peel/Orangado

Peel from 1 orange, sliced and chopped into small pieces with white pith
1 c sugar
1/2 c water

Simmer water and sugar till dissolved and cook for 6 minutes at low heat.  Add the peel and cook till translucent over low heat -- about 45 minutes.  Put on parchment or a rack to dry.

The chocolate mousse is death-star dark and rich.  It is meant to be served in tiny little covered pot de creme dishes (the cover keeps the top from hardening over).  It's the richest chocolate pudding ever -- sort of like a truffle that has melted.  There is no cream -- only butter.  The ambergris is subtle and feral with the chocolate.  I absolutely loved it.  I made 1/4 of the recipe -- more than enough for 2 people.

Chocolate Mousse Casanova with Ambergris serves 8

250 G semi-sweet chocolate, chopped fine
3 T water
1/2 c sugar or more -- to taste
230 G butter  (room temperature is best)
4 egg yolks (room temperature is best)
1 marble sized piece of Ambergris (Ambergris NZ) finely grated on a microplane
4 egg whites, beaten till thick

Put the chocolate in a saucepan with the water and melt over low flame or double boiler.

Add sugar and stir to melt. Add the butter and blend and then take off the heat and add the yolks. If it seizes up because the egg and butter were too cold -- just whip it till it behaves.  I put a bit of maple syrup in it and it smoothed out beautifully.

Allow to cool and add the whites. Put into small cups and serve --