Diana. The people’s princess. 20 years ago, where have the last 20 years gone? If I was to describe her life in terms of weather, in one word, turbulent would sum it up.
The Diana tragedy and her story has touched my life at different ages. The events, so impactful that it’s hard not to make associations and draw from your own memories. Her journey, besides the pomp, the princess and the palace was a real one, played out for all to see. She was ultimately a loving mother, a woman struggling with peer pressure and body image issues, a cheated wife and partner, dealing with issues we will all face at some point in life.
Although not publicly played out, I can relate to all of the above. I guess most people can and because we saw here vulnerability, the untouchable life we viewed from a distance felt real to us and so we can relate.
My first real memory of her was the wedding, July 1981, I was 9 years old. I watched from the stuffy Liverpool living room of my Grandparents. My Granddad was beside himself with excitement and so his feverish enthusiasm rubbed off on me. My uncle John played Soft Cell, Tainted Love and danced around the living room in his too tight jeans. In hindsight Marc Almond must have had a tip off as the title and content of the chart topping single seem now, so painfully appropriate.
In full wedding broadcast preparation, we went to Sayers. Sayers was a north-west institution, a bakery that originated in Liverpool back in 1912. You could pick up sandwiches, savouries, pies and pasties along with a huge selection of cakes and bakes. Heaven! Back then it felt like the Harrods food hall of its day, at least it did to me. I distinctly remember the firm grip of my Grandad’s hand as he’d gently lead me to the white tiled floor of the 70’s round edged, orange shop outfit and the all-consuming indecision that would follow; what cake would I choose, whilst pressing my face a little too close through the chilled glass display units?
That particular day, they were running a Diana’s Dress art competition. Win a year’s supply of cake if your child (below the age of 12) could replicate the beautiful princess bride and gown. After stocking up on a selection of naughty but nice, chocolate éclair’s, Bavarian slice, Cream fingers and Egg custards, I entered the competition and was given an A3 sheet to take home and return within 7 days.
We watched the box, munching on our cream cakes, the royal spectacle unfolding whilst my Grandad had taken to drawing and painting. He’d roughly sketched Diane, the dress and the tumbling rose and Ivy bouquet and whilst taking extremely concentrated nibbles from his egg custard, he began to paint the oyster coloured silk and lace, creating a mini masterpiece (not entirely satisfying the Sayers age defined guidelines) I remember watching him more than I did the TV that afternoon. The skill of balancing trembling custard in one hand whilst concentrating on painting Diana’s dress and doing it justice, paintbrush softly moving across paper was captivating.
Fast forward to August 31st 1997, 25 years old, on a bank holiday weekend. I’d been out clubbing all night in Liverpool (they were the days!) returning back to a flat on Sandringham Drive in the small hours, oblivious until I turned the TV on. The news had started to break, along with the inflatable sofa I’d recently bought. Both I and the sofa slowly lost air, as we watched and listened. For what seemed like a lifetime, and then just before 5am she was gone. And so, began that British Bank holiday Monday. A day of mourning.
I sat as deflated as my support, remembering her wedding day, my Grandad and the trembling egg custard. The hope and the tainted love. She had not survived.
Whilst checking my dates for this post I came across a Diana quote.
Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.
We should do more of this.
On my dark days, I eat egg custards on the quiet. Whilst they now remind me of my Grandad and his loss, they also remind me of sayers, innocence and a trembling custardy celebration of life. They may not be the most fancy cream cake at the counter, but they are delicate, real and delicious. Falling from fame this nutmeg sprinkled, custard filled delight are nearing extinction and are increasingly more difficult to find in the bakeries of the UK, so I gave this recipe a go to keep the egg custard and the memories in me alive!
Best eaten during times of turbulent weather, served with a steaming hot cup of builders tea.
- The Pastry
- 180g plain flour
- 120g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
- 55g caster sugar
- 1 organic egg
- The Egg Custard
- 700ml pint full-fat milk
- 7 organic egg yolks
- 90g caster sugar
- freshly ground nutmeg
- To make the pastry, add the flour, the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar.
- Break in the egg and work into the mixture with your fingers, it should form a soft dough.
- Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball and wrap in cling film. Leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
- Roll out the sweet pastry on a lightly floured work surface.
- Using an 11cm fluted cutter, cut out twelve discs and line the muffin tray moulds with the pastry circle.
- For the custard filling, warm the milk in a saucepan,
- Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale and creamy.
- Pour the milk onto the egg yolk mixture and stir well
- Transfer the custard mixture into a pouring jug and fill each of the tart cases.
- Sprinkle with ground nutmeg over each tart.
- Bake the tarts in the oven for about 25 minutes, checking the temp and reducing for the final 10 mins
- To check they are baked correctly you are looking for a very slight dome on the custard, not too much!
- Cool, then remove from the moulds and enjoy one with a warm cuppa