There is a nice lull once the main course is on the table...time to gather oneself to prepare the next courses...
At this stage the host pours me a lovely glass of full red wine only I didn't get a chance to read the label. I get to sit down for a few moments as I have already prepared the cheeseboard in advance. I listen to the babble of conversation gradually lull to the mmmnns and ahhas of enjoyment, always a good sign. The pace slows now because everyone is happy and confident that they are going to enjoy a wonderful evening, the conversation changes and everyone relaxes. I hear some great jokes from the kitchen stool! I forgot to mention that all the dinner guests had arrived in full evening dress. That was an absolute surprise and extremely pleasant.
I thinly slice some rolls and place them in the oven to crisp into rusk to serve with the cheese. Six empty plates come into the kitchen and the beaming host say, "That lamb was to die for" I uncover the cheeses all at perfectly ripe stage by now. Chaource, Bannon, Saint Marcellin, for the French part. And Shropshire Blue, Appleby Cheshire and a lovely light Fresh English goat cheese perfectly ripe for the English side. The board was divided by beautiful bunches of apple blossoms at mouse ear stage when the blossom mounds are pinkest and the leaves a divine pale furry green. I would prefer apple quarters with the cheese but my host asked for celery. I cut some long slivers of organically grown full flavoured celery that had stood in iced water for a while to crisp.
Now for the piece de resistance. I had made my Pavlova base the night before and set it on a disposable aluminium dish. The meringue is another recipe from the book and it is definitely a New Zealand type with some French influence. The crispy pale caramel basket is very plain. No twirls or fancy swirls. It is extremely crisp on the outside and soft and melting inside. Into this I pipe the whipped cream to line the meringue. No sugar is needed as the meringue itself is made from that. I have already cut the fruits I will use in slices if needed and scooped out lots of passion fruit pulp to dress it. This is done from the passions fruits before they get crinkly so the juice is nice and acidic. I used Blueberries, strawberries, top quality peaches. Fresh figs quartered and some very ripe persimmons for sweetness. I just arranged all the fruit on top of the cream and then piped some extra swirls on top. To finish off some Cape Gooseberries with the dry outer covers twisted back were placed on the cream swirls.
The passion fruit pulp is all the dressing this needs so no more sugar or anything. You can add alcohol or liqueur but it is gilding the lily The Pavlova is magnificent.
A nice big silver cake slice so all can help themselves is the only addition. I place the aluminium platter onto the host's blue glass dish and wait for the comments as he takes it to the table. Wonderful all the hard work is worthwhile.
I wash up and make coffee while the guests enjoy the pudding. A bottle of dessert wine is called for; this is a serious sign that the dessert is a good one. There is plenty of Pavlova and seconds are easy. With all the air in the meringue it looks much more filling than it is. It should absolutely melt in the mouth and by no means be overly sweet. A second bottle of dessert wine! Wow that's a first. Now there are comments of "My stomach will not stretch another inch." Or can we come back for lunch to finish it off. "
Everything is put away I wash the floor and cut all the lamb from the bone for the host to have for his lunch the following day. Half of the Pavlova is left so I trim it up and store that in the fridge too. It will keep. The assembly method will prevent it from becoming soggy. The cheeses are carefully packed in little sealed boxes to keep in the larder and a nice bag of rolls are left to heat up for breakfast. The kitchen is spotless again; no one would know I had been there. My client pays me and generously donates a very large tip from the guests which is very gratefully accepted (it does not always happen) I am happy they are all content. I pack my little van and drive off into the night. It is an hours drive home but I am happy it is the best part of the day, knowing you have made someone very happy and helped create their special evening for them. Something they will remember for a long time. I get a call on my mobile and stop to answer it. "Can you do a country house weekend for us Fay?" They have all decided to do it again on a larger scale this time. Who needs drugs…when you can get high on your work?
I get the promised breakfast in bed on Sunday morning and start to plan for the next job. Menu's, style, colours, flowers. The lamb bone is slowly simmering on the cooker, carrots onions and some potatoes and pearl barley. When the rest of the meat falls off the bone and the barley thickens it up I will have my Mum's version of Irish stew for supper. Perks of the job!