There is some evidence to say that summer-born children are more likely to report being unhappy at school and that, as they are relatively immature compared to their older classmates, they don’t do as well scholastically. My birthday always falls in the August bank holiday, but I can’t entirely excuse my low academic achievements on being too young. It had rather more to do with having attended twelve schools and that my life at home could be described as chaotic.
As much as I regret not having tried to work harder at my studies earlier in my school life, one of the plus sides was that I was sidelined into the domestic science stream. Domestic science, unlike other scientific disciplines, was thought essential for well-bred young girls, with the view that after working as secretaries, nurses or teachers we would find husbands who we could then impress with these dark arts. These classes were held in an old green Nissen hut situated on a piece of land opposite the main school grounds. We sixteen year olds flowed across the street cloistered in our black cloaks, to be greeted by the ‘Domestic Arts’ teacher, Mrs. Watkins, a well-upholstered, vertically challenged Welsh lady with an eye for detail. Under her auspices, we were drilled in both needlework and cookery.
Needlework I embraced wholeheartedly. By the age of thirteen, I was six feet tall – ten inches above the then national average height for women. Buying clothes, therefore, was a nightmare. Store bought skirts and dresses soon became micro length on me. With paper dress patterns however, it was easy to add extra inches to the body and sleeves. Patterns were pinned, tacked and fitted with exactitude to every curve under the eagle eye of our teacher. It’s a skill I’ve never lost and, to this day, I still enjoy making clothes.
Cooking, however, was a different matter. Each girl had to be inspected before class. Hair had to be tied well back and off the collar. Woe betide if you were found wearing any jewellery or, worst of all, nail varnish, even clear. You were provided with acetone and cotton wool and sent off to remove it immediately followed by a washing of hands that would have done a scrub nurse proud. No chips of varnish were ever going to be found in pastry made under Mrs Watkins’ supervision.
All of our lessons were of the ‘baking’ variety. By the time I was married at twenty-one, I was incapable of making anything that could pass as a meal unless you can count sausage rolls. But I could turn out a very short crust, a rough puff, a multiple layered puff proper, and an airy flaky. I learnt to twist cheese straws, wind just-cooked brandy snaps around the handle of a wooden spoon and fold pastry around apples to make sweet, not savoury, dumplings.
It was the latter I came back to when I was clearing out my freezer, ready for the impending Great Move. In the drawer where I keep homemade sauces and all things dessert, I found a ball of leftover almond paste from the Christmas cake and a packet of puff (I haven’t had the patience to make it from scratch for years), whilst in the fridge was a nearly empty jar of mincemeat. Apart from a small Bramley or two, I had all the ingredients for a version of apple dumplings.
Double Layered Apple Dumplings.
Serves 2. Preparation Time 45mins.
2 heaped tsp mincemeat – Or mix together the next four ingredients:
20g butter, finely diced
20g demerara sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
250g almond paste/marzipan
Small amounts of ground almonds and flour for dusting.
2 small Bramley apples
250g ready-made puff pastry
1 egg white, lightly beaten
6 tsp caster sugar
Cream or custard, to serve
Mix the butter, sugar, raisins, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Peel the apples, then remove the core from each with a corer or a teaspoon, leaving the apple whole.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, fan 180°C, gas 6. Put a baking tray in the oven to heat.
First work on the almond paste, cutting it in half and then roll out – using a sprinkle of ground almonds to prevent it from sticking, into a circle large enough to fit around the apple – approx. 20cm in diameter. Place one apple in the centre and spoon a little of the mincemeat or butter and sugar mixture inside the apple (where the core used to be), packing it in tightly. Then bring the almond paste up an around the apple, folding it when you need to. It’s easy to smooth out any lumps and bumps afterwards. Next layer is the pastry. Cut this in half. Flatten each piece with your hand and roll out thinly on a work surface lightly dusted with flour until you have a square big enough to cut a circle large enough to wrap completely around the apple and almond paste. I used a 23cm diameter cake tin as a cutting guide.
Lightly brush the edges of the pastry with water then gather the pastry up over the apple, pleating the pastry all the way around to enclose it, pinching the pastry tightly together at the top. If there is an amalgamation of too much pastry at the top, remove a little. You should have enough pastry trimming to roll thinly into a decoration, flowers, leaves etc to stick on top with a little more water. Place completed apple in the fridge. Repeat. They can be left to rest in a fridge for at least 24hrs.
When ready to serve, brush the apples with lightly beaten egg white, sprinkle with sugar and put on the hot baking tray. Bake for 30- 40 minutes until golden and the apples are tender. Serve hot with cream or custard.