Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Letter and the Gooseberry

Dear faithful reader of this writ,

I do apologise for the delay in posting. You see, last weekend I gave a sad final pat to Her Cattiness, and moved my self into a new abode (aided by dear friends whom I would give a kidney any time now). Consequently, yours truly found herself truly knackered and was going to skip a blog post. What happened (I imagine you saying with anticipation and relief)?

Well, I was at my dressmaking class, sewing seams. And let’s be frank: there is only so long that sewing can entertain you (if you hum ‘On the Road Again’, imagining your right foot on the gas pedal of a car and pretending your needle is on an exciting road trip across vast deserts of plaid, perhaps – but no, the novelty wears off…). So, I sat back and came up with a few thoughts about England and letters.

From CELL, Centre for Editing Lives and Letters

Blogging, 16th-century style

A workshop on early modern letters a few suns ago not only exposed me to some very nice and interesting people and to rather marvellous food, but it also introduced the following thought: if 16th-century letters were often read by various people, commented upon, anticipated, picked up and circulated, could letter writing be considered an early form of blogging? Thought number two followed almost instantly: nah, of course not. Letters were not placed into a public sphere (unless they contained some dishy dirt and featured in a court case – but that is a completely different story that cannot be told here, because everyone knows most blog readers switch off after the first screen. Do stay with me, will ya?).
But the connection between letters and blogs is not as outrageous as some other thoughts of mine that never make it to the screen. Both step outside of the privacy of the own mind (or diary) and communicate with readers. And while letter writers censor their own writing in order to avoid offence even to accidental readers, bloggers with ambition select their topics with their readers in mind, too. And this is where we have to leave this topic for now, because I think I can read your mind as you glance at the title and theme of this blog:

‘What does this have to do with alchemy?’ I wish I could see an early alchemist’s letter!! My own work has not dug up any, perhaps because I concentrate on recipes by anonymous writers. If anyone out there has examples to share, please do leave a comment.

‘So, surely there is some mystery in letters, then??’ Again, I have to admit ignorance (or rather that curious failure of my brain to pull specific information out of a hat when quizzed): all I can come up with right now is Sophie’s World, that rather sorry book for young readers that became a Matrix-like phenomenon and seduced many a young person into studying philosophy at university. Yes, I am on my soapbox right now. And I just have to say it:

1. Sophie’s World is pants (that’s ‘trousers’ for the British among you);

2. Philosophy is not ‘thinking about things’.

There. I’m coming down now. But if you can recommend a good mysterious piece of writing involving letters, please do let us all know about it in a round robin.

‘Letters and nosh, then???’ Um, no, sorry – but England and nosh, re: English summer! ‘Tis the season of the gooseberry, a sadly underrated piece of fruit, which I recently served at my house cooling party. It’s a Delia recipe, which I care to share because of its marvelosity, in my usual shortcut style (but a more detailed set of instructions, for those who have never made custard from scratch, is just a hop, skip and google away).

Gooseberry elderflower ice cream

1. Make a custard from
  • - 275 ml whipping cream
  • - 3 large egg yolks
  • - 50 g sugar
  • - 1 tsp cornflour
2. While that is cooling, cook
  • - 1.5 lb gooseberries with
  • - 75 g sugar
for ca. 7 minutes, then remove the pips and skins with the help of a mesh sieve, and stir in
  • - 8 tbsp elderflower cordial
3. Combine both mixtures. If you are the lucky owner of an ice cream maker, you know what to do next. If not, pour everything into a Tupperware box with a lid, put into a freezer and stir every 2 hours to break up those nasty crystals that form. If you make the ice cream more than a few hours before serving, depending on the potency of your cooling device, it might be a good idea to take it out of the same a few minutes before serving to soften it up and stir a bit more.

'So, you didn’t really have anything to say in this blog post?' And that’s why I still like old-fashioned letters (my pen pal and I just celebrated our 18th anniversary) – it is fun to be talked back to by a real person, rather than talking to yourself, as demonstrated here. And yes, I did have something to say. Letters are wonderful. Blogging can be great, too. But as in anything, it helps to figure out what you want to say, how you want to say it, and who you are addressing. As for me, I’m still practising.

Yours faithfully,


PS: Sorry about the formatting - Blogger is slow and buggy today...
From the OED

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