Monday, 23 April 2012

Dear Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870),

You should probably know, I have an intense bias against 19th century authors. A seething, resentful, bitter bias. A bias born of having attended class after class after endless class for which Austen was required reading. A bias which turns me grey at the merest mention of social graces or good marriages.* It is my general opinion that most fiction from your century is a half-step above the average Mills & Boon, and I would turn away any tome of it, no matter how well-respected, if there was a nice modern Vonnegut or Auster available instead. It’s nothing personal Charlie, I have no issue with your writing in particular, it’s just that you’re a vomitous Victorian.  

Great Expectations: improved?
This is completely unfair, of course. I quite liked Great Expectations when I was a kid. Some of the film adaptations of your novels are even somewhat palatable on a rainy day. Besides, Henry James called you superficial, and given how much I hate him, that’s high praise indeed. In fact, now that I think about it, your greatest sin is not your fault. How could you have predicted, when penning A Christmas Carol, that you were condemning us to bilious annual retellings in every cheesy sitcom from Family Ties to Sanford & Son? (Six Million Dollar Man’s “A Bionic Christmas Carol,” I’m looking at you in particular.)

OK Charlie, I’ve been too harsh. Given your slew of charmingly scallywaggical ragamuffins and pithy one-liners, perhaps I should leave you out of the vomit club. Especially because, in Dombey and Son,+ you have your jolly Captain give us these words of wisdom:

           Train up a fig-tree in the way it should go, and when you are old sit under the shade of it.

I’m going to ignore the tree bit, and the old bit, and the shade bit, because: FIGS! Oh my goodness, yum. You can almost never find them in NZ, but they’re available at the moment... at one market in Parnell... if anyone knows of any other places to get a hit, please fill me in via comments. 

I kept the drool out of shot.
Sadly, though, if I were to create a Dickensian fig treat, I would have to base it around the gruel family of culinary slops. So to hell with tradition! You’re getting tiramisu. 

Honey Fig Tiramisu

Serves 10


200g savoiardi biscuits (sponge fingers; about 20-25)
1 cup very strong fruit tea (feijoa or berry flavours work well)
1 tbsp fruit syrup of your choice (I like Monin’s pomegranate)
1/4 cup honey
400g mascarpone
1/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
12 figs


Find a dish at least 10cm deep, and big enough to take 10 savoiardi fingers on its base. Mix the tea, fruit syrup, and half of the honey together. Dip half of the fingers in the mixture, and arrange on the bottom of the dish.

Separate the eggs. In a large bowl, beat the yolks until pale, then add the mascarpone, the other half of the honey, and half of the sugar and beat together. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg whites with the rest of the sugar until firm but not stiff. Gently incorporate the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture.  Lather half of the mascarpone cream over the savoiardi arrangement. Slice the figs, and arrange half of the slices over this first layer.

Dip the last half of the savoiardi fingers in the tea and syrup, and layer over the mascarpone cream. Lather the rest of the mascarpone cream over top, and arrange the rest of the fig slices on top. (For those keeping track, that’s fingers-cream-figs-fingers-cream-figs.) Refrigerate for 8 hours to allow everything to firm up.

Slice, drizzle with extra honey, serve, and enjoy with a shot of espresso and/or liqueur, since your tiramisu missed out on both.

*It seems that the Victorian literature which is popular now tends to be about people rallying against social conventions. In The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer denies wealthy suitors, and in Sense and Sensibility, the daughters have minds of their own... as much as you can, if you’re corseted out of all consciousness. Many of Dickens’ characters are outside the comforting confines of a nuclear family – seriously, Charlie, how many times can you write about poor orphan boys! But even with all this outside-the-box social writing, it’s still all about the box.

+ Not your most popular work, perhaps because you gave it the unfortunate full title of Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation. Ooooh, I’m hooked.

1 comment: