After several days of royal inspired cakes it is time to get back down to earth with a basic dessert. Well, I thought it was a basic dessert but it turns out to be unlike anything I’ve experienced. Today’s recipe from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book is Date and Fig Custard using a recipe contributed by Mrs. E. Hollinger.
I put 4 cups (1 quart) of 2% milk in a large saucepan and turned the heat to medium. Meanwhile I prepared the dates and put them in a small saucepan. I think I added about 1 cup of boiling water and turned the heat to low. I mixed the cornstarch and sugar in a bowl. Once the milk was steaming (hot not boiling), I slowly added a cup of the hot milk to the bowl of cornstarch and sugar and mixed. I continued to add the milk until the cornstarch mixture was liquid. I then poured it back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and stirred on very low heat. It is easy to burn at this point. I removed it from the heat and let it start to cool. I separated the two medium eggs and beat the yolks a little before slowly adding them to the cooler thick milk mixture. Once the dates were soft and the water was gone I added them too. I beat the egg whites and folded them into the mix and then poured it into a glass bowl and put in the 21st century version of the early 20th century icebox — my refrigerator.
Mrs. E. Hollinger is likely Mary Cook who married Ed Hollinger. In the 1901 census Mary is 31 and Ed is 34. They are listed along with a number of boarders, lodgers and domestics since Mr. Hollinger is a hotel keeper. He started as a hotel clerk and eventually had his own hotel. One of the boarders is Levina Cook so I wonder if she is Mary’s sister? Strangely in the 1911 census Mary and Ed are listed as lodgers at 35 Joseph Street and Charles Karn is the head at 84 Joseph Street. Ed’s occupation is retired hotel keeper although he’s only 45 years old and he has some sort of income. Like many other contributors to the cook book, the Hollingers are Lutheran and of German heritage.
This dessert is a custard since it has eggs, milk, sugar and cornstarch but the addition of egg whites and dates makes it different. I liked the plain milk, sugar, cornstarch mixture — basically a plain pudding. It was still okay with the addition of egg yolk to make it a custard. I like dates so they were a nice part of the mix. The texture changed when I folded in the egg whites — it became fluffy. I was surprised that I still liked the final product. It is quite sweet and thick. Modern cooks will have to consider that this recipe contains raw eggs. The yolks are somewhat cooked by the heat of the pudding. In fact, a modern cook could avoid the eggs altogether and consider simply adding the cooked dates to the pudding portion. I might make this recipe again since I like dates. However, I prefer to use my effort and my dates to make Mrs. Lippert’s Date Cake from a few days ago.
I can imagine this dessert as a favourite among the hotel’s lodgers and boarders. Date and Fig Custard will feed quite a number of people if served in small fruit nappies (small bowls).
DATE AND FIG CUSTARD
1 quart milk, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 2 cups dates or figs, 1/2 cup cornstarch. Heat the milk, mix cornstarch and sugar together, stir in the steaming milk, stir constantly until it thickens, separate the eggs, beat the yolks slightly and stir into the thickened mixture. Stone the dates, wash and cover with boiling water, cook until the dates are soft and the water has evaporated. Stir into the pudding.Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the mixture. Pour into serving dish and cool.