Syllabub. The dictionary says, “See sillabub”. A classic English dessert of a certain era that graces the country dance tables in the novels of Jane Austen.
Earlier this summer, I re-read the last Jane Austen novel partially written by Ms. Austen and finished by a contemporary author. Sanditon is a play on all the same social issues that grace the pages of any Austen comedy/tragedy of manners. The heroine is smart, modest and sharp-tongued; the hero dashing, witty, and enigmatic. The location is the seaside with bracing salt breezes and healing sunshine; the pastime is collecting seaweed or admiring rather hideous boxes made of seashells. The dessert is sillabub, and there is a large amount of text given over to the picking of the berries, the thorn-pricked and stained hands of the inimitable Charlotte, and the preparation of and delivery of the dessert to the country dance which serves as the game changer in the narrative. In essence, Sillibub becomes a character.
At the same time I am reading Sanditon, I am reading the beautiful cookbook Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater. While it is a lousy apple season in our orchard, all the berries are over the top. The blueberries come in blue-black and almost bursting on the branches of the four bushes next to our greenhouse. While mining recipes for this blueberry bounty, like the medieval Trout in Cerulean Blue Sauce (with blueberries and rosemary) that we are serving at the restaurant, I come across a blueberry fool in Slater’s book. It’s English and I wonder if it’s related to sillabub which sends me to the old dictionary on our library table that is always open to some word we don’t know. These days I have to use the extra large magnifying glass to even read an entry. A sillibub is very much like a fool, and perhaps that is it’s intended role in Austen’s final saga as well, a dessert of whipped milk or cream flavored with wine or cider. A little adaptation goes a long way.
A cup of blueberries in a sauce pot. A tablespoon and a half of sugar. A little water. Simmered for five minutes so the fruit may give itself up to additional deliciousness. 1/3 of a cup of Greek-style yogurt, 1/4 and a little of a cup of thick, heavy cream, whipped with a little confectioners sugar and two splashes of a Corsican red wine, or any other light red wine sufficiently fresh and fruity to accompany the other flavors. Mix the cooled berry sauce and the yogurt. Fold in the winey whipped cream. Chill for an hour. Top with a few fresh blueberries and fresh mint. It is both witty and enigmatic. Blackberries or raspberries would suit well. Serves two or four depending on how hungry you are–