For those of us who are not cock-eyed optimists an Eton Mess is a political ‘snafu’ headed up by a bunch of Bullingdon Club toffs who persuade us to take a referendum on our membership of the European Union. Then once we, the ignorati, have made our decision they all bail out, leaving us with no idea of what to do or where to go. It is rather like General Eisenhower dropping the allied troops on the Normandy beaches on D Day and then saying, “Well lads, here we are. Berlin is… er… that way. Off you go!”
For others of an epicurean nature an Eton Mess is a traditional English dessert made of strawberries, bananas or other soft fruit mixed up with pieces of crushed meringue and cream… and very nice it is too, particularly at a time of record temperatures.
The origins of Eton Mess seemed to be lost in the meringues of time, with lots of fruit but little in facts. It has been claimed that the meringue element was invented in the Swiss village of Meiringen in the 18th century. However the name meringue for this confection first appeared in print in François Massialot’s cookbook of 1692, appearing in English in 1706 in a translation. Eton Mess has been sold in the Eton College ‘sock shop’ (tuck shop) since the 1930’s when it was made of strawberries or bananas mixed with thick cream or ice cream. Apparently meringue was a latter addition. There is another story - or maybe a shaggy dog story - floating around that the Eton Mess was invented by a frisky Labrador in the 1920s who, during a cricket match at Eton College, sat upon a picnic basket containing ‘Strawberry Pavlova’ and squashed it. ‘Pavlova’ also contains meringue, strawberries and cream. The Eton boys didn’t care a bit that their dessert had been ruined and ate the thing anyway, dog hairs and all. It now transpires that the ‘Lab - Pav - Mess’ story is a complete fabrication.
‘Pavlova’ is named after the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. When she visited New Zealand in 1926 during a world tour a chef in Wellington created the dessert in her honour.
By custom Eton Mess is served at the Eton College v. Harrow School cricket match which is played at Lords in June. This year’s match on Saturday 25th June was the 176th in the series. Cricket fans might like to know that excluding fixtures during the First and Second World Wars, of the 175 matches in the series played between 1805 to 2015, Eton have won 58 and Harrow have won 52, with 67 matches drawn. Isn’t that interesting?
Searching around for more information on the origins of Eton Mess I discovered in the third best book in the world - ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ - that ‘Mess’ originally meant a portion of food, from the latin ‘missum’ or ‘mittere’. The French also have the word ‘mets’ meaning ‘food’, and the Italians ‘messa’ meaning ‘a course of a meal’. Between them all ‘Mess’ came to mean mixed food and so a confusion, medley or jumble.
Another meaning of ‘Mess’ is a small group of people (usually four) who sat together at banquets and were served from the same pots and dishes. This gave rise to the Army and Navy ‘Mess’ where meals are served and eaten. In the Inns of Court in London members still dine in groups of four. Parents of young children know of a more general meaning of ‘Mess’ when applied to meals.
HOW TO MAKE A SIMPLE ‘ETON MESS’.
Foodies living the ‘The Village’ - wherever that is - will insist that you make your own meringue probably using organic free range eggs blessed by the Dalai Lama. Those of us who live north of the A316 are more than content to buy it ready made from Tesco’s.
|450 g (1 lb)||fresh strawberries, stems removed|
|2 tablespoons||unrefined icing sugar|
|570 ml (1 pint)||double cream|
- Break up the meringues and layer into a large serving bowl.
- Chop half of the strawberries, add the icing sugar and blend to a puree in a food processor. If you are fussy you may want to pass the puree through a fine sieve to remove the pips.
- Chop the remaining strawberries and fold into the double cream.
- Pour the cream & strawberries over the meringues and make a proper mess by adding the puree.
- Serve immediately or everything goes soggy, very quickly.
Use fresh raspberries or bananas instead of the strawberries. Use vanilla ice cream rather than double cream.
A similar dessert is the Lancing Mess (which uses bananas), served throughout the year at Lancing College in West Sussex, England.
– from Martyn Day