Camille Glenn is a name instantly recognized by most food-inclined Kentuckians and even by some Yankees. The caterer, cooking teacher and food writer was, as noted in the Village Voice when she died at the age of 100 a couple of years ago, an “avid promoter of local, seasonal produce long before it became fashionable.” Glenn’s The Heritage of Southern Cooking has been one of our most-used volumes and most-given wedding gifts for decades. Michelle recently came upon a copy of Glenn’s The Fine Art of Delectable Desserts in an antique store and thought its $4 price a worthy investment. The book, published in the early Eighties for the benefit of the Louisville Fund for the Arts Endowment, was one of what was supposed to be a series called “The Fine Art of Cooking.” As far as we’re aware, the only other volume (at least the only other one that Michelle’s mother owned) involved salads and soups. What happened to the other culinary fine arts seems to be lost in the mists of pre-Internet history.
When flipping through her somewhat dusty purchase, Michelle settled on the recipe for “Fancy Coconut Custard” thinking it might use up some of a strangely large store of frozen shredded coconut. Also, it would use some eggs which were being laid by nine young hens at a clip of six to eight per day and threatening to crowd everything else out of our refrigerator. The last of last summer’s peach jam was a lovely addition, the peach and coconut playing nicely under a blanket of crisp meringue.
But the custards were a bit softer than we would have liked. We decided try again with some cream and an extra egg yolk for thickness, thinking we’d added yet another way to use up eggs to our repertoire. We did not realize our egg surplus was to be short-lived.
A few weeks back we lost a hen to what Michelle thought might be a fox, glimpsed as it dashed by our back porch on its way to claim a meal. Steve calmed the survivors down, alternating comforting clucks with imitation dog barks. (As a self-taught chicken farmer, Steve has some odd methods.) The flock (minus one) gathered in the fenced yard, then calmly headed out to the nearby lawn just a few feet from our bedroom window. Thinking the beast had been scared away (helped, no doubt, by a full belly), we sat down for a light supper, discussing plans for heightened supervision of the hens including temporary suspension of their brief late afternoon ranging privileges.
Less than half an hour later, Steve rose to check on the birds, and found only piles of feathers. A frantic search of our surrounding environs turned up no chickens—just the shocking realization that what we now know to have been a pack of coyotes could successfully hunt only feet away from our home. Chagrined, sobered and a bit scared of hungry canine packs, we turned our energies to finding replacement birds. Thanks to some of our local farmers we now have six old hens and will gain 15 pullets in May. By this fall we’ll most likely return to worrying about surplus eggs, but for now we’re lucky to get one per day.
Our second round of custards, seasoned with a bit of sadness, proved that an additional yolk indeed makes a more satisfying custard. But the strawberry jam we used instead of peach proved too sweet. We will have to wait until much later this year to enjoy Camille Glenn’s recipe with both home-made peach jam and home-laid eggs. And hopefully the local coyotes will have to wait even longer for another group supper.
FANCY COCONUT CUSTARD
(adapted from Camille Glenn’s The Fine Art of Delectable Desserts)
- 1/3 c. + 8 TB sugar, divided
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1-1/2 c. milk
- 1/2 c. cream
- pinch salt
- 1 t. vanilla
- 2/3 c. shredded or grated coconut
- 6 TB peach jam (or apricot jam or currant jelly), run through food processor if chunky
Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine 1/3 c. sugar and egg yolks and beat with electric mixer. Warm milk and cream together, then add to sugar/egg mixture along with salt and vanilla. Mix thoroughly, then add coconut and blend well.
Pour into 6 1/2-cup-capacity ramekins or custard cups. Put ramekins in a baking pan. Add an inch or more of hot water to the pan, so it come up to about 1/2 the height of the containers.
Carefully place the pan on the lower shelf of the preheated oven. Cook until a knife stuck into the custard comes out clean. Depending on the type of containers used and how quickly they heat, this can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.
Remove from oven. Spread about 1 TB of jam on top of each custard.
Make a meringue of the egg whites beaten with 8 TB of sugar. Swirl onto custards. Return to oven for 8-10 minutes until browned.