Why do some people have a sweet tooth and others don’t? Both my parents were born during the First World War when the Germans U-boats cut off Britain from much of its supplies. Food products included potatoes and sugar were particularly affected. By the end of 1917, people began to fear that the country was running out of food and started panic buying – and this, in turn, led to shortages. Therefore in January 1918, the Ministry of Food decided to introduce rationing and sugar was first on their list.
Neither my mother or father, who lived through both periods of sugar rationing during the two world wars, seemed to have emerged from the experience with much of a liking for ‘sweets’. Not so my grandmother. She kept a supply of pastel coloured sugar almonds in a silver lidded bowl in her room. I was allowed to suck one as a distraction when she brushed my hair for school in the morning. At Christmas we would, likely or not, buy her a packet of Metis Newbury Fruits – jelly fruits with a sugar crust and liquid centres. These would not be shared but stayed enticingly on her dressing table for what seemed months. On occasions, we would assist in the kitchen when she made trays of creamy fudge, crunchy honeycomb, coconut ice, strong black treacle toffee and at Christmas, sugar mice in varying shades of pink, white and green, all adorned with a string tail. I presume all these delights were in preparation for visitors as, apart from a brief taste, we never saw any excepting the sugar mice that appeared at the bottom of our Christmas stockings squashed against the tangerine.
Our access to sweets, therefore, was limited to spending weekly pocket money after school on Friday at the village sweet shop. My memory may do me a disservice but I remember a thick glass paned window, lined with jars of sweets of all shapes and sizes, a tall wooden counter on which I placed my pennies to receive a paper bag full of my chosen favourites. Trebor’s sherbet lemons and Barratts sherbet fountains were regular purchases. On one occasion I clearly remember trying to impress the headmaster’s son by buying his favourite toffee balls covered with icing sugar. It didn’t work.
Chocolate only really featured at Easter when we were allowed to stuff ourselves with the few eggs we were given. No Easter Bunny darkened our doors, just mother who was sparing with the egg allowance. I soon learnt to ask to swap my Easter egg for the latest Enid Blyton Adventure story I was desperate to read. At nine, adventure books took priority over any chocolate. Perhaps because of this rationing, I manage to survive my teens with only the occasional spot. By the time I was nearing my nineteenth I was whisked off abroad to the warmer climates of Africa and Asia, and chocolate disappeared completely from the horizon. Only an occasional block of Cadbury’s that some expat brought back from ‘leave’, crossed my path. But it didn’t travel well and mostly lay whitening and turning brick hard in the fridge, so even that chocolate lost its appeal.
I must have picked up ‘the habit’again in my early thirties when, back in London, I tried to juggle a full time job and young children. Those were the days when in offices, especially of American companies, vending machines stood in the basements or near the kitchens to provide employees with that much needed energy high to get them through the afternoon. Twix bars and Snickers were my particular favourites, washed down with a Coke – Diet of course – as if one negative calorie would outweigh the positive. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk became an obsession when I worked for an American boss, who had me run the coffee filter all day long. Black syrupy coffee can be sweetened perfectly if you have a square of Dairy Milk sat on your tongue, a somewhat similar formula to that of the Bosnians who sip their coffee with a sugar cube placed under their tongue.
I have found that as you age your taste buds change, or perhaps mine were retrained by a year’s sojourn in California. I’ll say it now and I’ll try not to apologise, but American manufacturers don’t know what real chocolate should taste like. Living close to San Francisco and the home of the much raved about Ghirardelli chocolate, I was encouraged to try it, but its manufactured taste isn’t to my liking. It may have an improved shelf life but it doesn’t melt in the mouth in quite the same way. Luckily, I had the forethought to pack my sea chest with, but a month or two’s supply of Cadbury’s. When it ran out, I stopped eating chocolate and went on one of those Californian health kicks, involving loads of supplements, thrice weekly training and shots of wheat grass, not coffee. When in Rome….
Now, in my seventh decade, Dairy Milk tastes very sweet and sickly. I put down my sailing through the menopause with virtually no symptoms to exercise, red wine and an addiction to dark chocolate. But now my chocolate consumption is just a square or two after supper, to aid digestion, washed down with a peppermint tea. I love chocolate desserts but, now has lessened as I’ve got older, I tend to share a dessert with Man if we eat out.
Our favourite (or is it mine and he’s trying to humour me?), is a fluffy chocolate mousse. Although I can admire Fiona’s ‘petit pots du chocolat’ I find it, like many ‘adult’ mousses, too dark, too elegant, and too small. I aim for a mousse that is light, airy, but substantial and to achieve this effect I add cream to the dark chocolate. As always I use my personal favourite chocolate – Lindt’s Intense Orange, as the orange bits provide additional taste and texture.
Milk Chocolate Mousse: Preparation time 20 mins plus 2hrs chilling time. It will serve 6. NB: this recipe contains raw eggs
200g dark chocolate – good quality – Lindt Intense Orange was perfect
120ml double cream
3 medium sized eggs, separated into two bowls
30g caster sugar
Break the chocolate into little pieces and put in a large heatproof bowl with the warm cream (I heat my cream in the microwave – don’t let it boil). Sit the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. The water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.
The chocolate and cream mix should melt and meld slowly so only stir every now again for approximately 5/6minutes. Remove from heat and then give it a good stir until smooth. If like me you are using chocolate with bits in it, then it won’t be entirely ‘smooth’, but should be glossy. Let it stand and cool for a few minutes while you beat together the egg yolks. Then add these and give it another good stir with a wooden spoon. Leave and start whisking the egg whites to the soft-peak stage, add in about a third of the sugar, whisk again, then add another third until all the sugar is incorporated and you have a glossy mix – similar to one for meringues.
Now, carefully fold a tablespoon of the egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it up. Then you can fold in the rest of the egg white. I do this with a large flat spoon. My grandmother taught me to fold in a figure of eight. What you are aiming to do is mix in all the white whilst not losing the airiness. Divide the mousse between ramekins, glasses or whatever suitable containers you have. I filled 3 deep ramekins and two flat ones – but you could easily divide into 6 portions. Chill in the fridge for two hours plus.
I’m trying not to use plastic so didn’t cover with cling film, but then the mousse didn’t share the fridge with anything smelling, so didn’t absorb the smell of other ingredients. I could have equally placed a yoghurt pot over each container, as at least they can be reused. If you like cream as much as I do, serve with a small jug of double cream for pouring over as you dig in, and soft fruit if in season.