The last of the bewildering hot weather. Nights where one cotton sheet feels like being shrouded in carpet. Talking alone brings on the vapours, sweat beading on our foreheads as we nod sagely at someone we’re not listening to. Everyone drives like Vin Diesel, ramping up the volume on their car stereos, burning rubber as they overtake me on blind corners, tyres squealing like guinea pigs. And all I can think is how rude they’re being. That’s my version of a riot. Because I can’t complain. Because I’m English, and that’s all we do, while saying that we can’t do it. “I can’t complain” is our watchword. And I have been drawn to this detail of Englishness recently, perhaps because it’s so absent in LA.
Our English guests never complain either. We dance around each other in pained politeness. It must be akin to observing some ancient ritual – like conversational Morris dancing – with no one able to say exactly what the problem is, or even if there is a problem. “Do you have a parrot?” our English guest asked me today. “Er, no. Why?” “No, no, it’s fine. I just thought I heard a parrot at around five o’clock this morning.” I knew what it was because it had woken us too. “It was a coyote.” “Really?” “Yes, they live in the hills here and when they’ve killed a deer, they make a kind of ‘yipping’ sound. They do it with car alarms and fire engines as well.” “Oh right.” We all imagined a decapitated deer. “Great, well, see you around then! Thanks for breakfast.” “Don’t worry, it’s really safe here. They very rarely come down into the complex.” As I said this I remembered the coyote in the hallway and the mountain lion up by the tennis courts. They tranquillized it and carried it off somewhere. I wish I’d just said: “Yes, we have a parrot. We’ll kill it for you.”
I can’t imagine this conversation between Americans. I still don’t know what it was really about, but I felt in strange harmony with it. I’m leaving soon for England and it helped me get into the rhythm of things again. It was nice to talk to someone from Eastbourne, knowing that in a few days I will be walking the Downs, talking about the weather, bemoaning the end of summer, arms folded against the wind.
I would be happy if there were only five flavours of ice cream in the world: vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio and rum & raisin. And raspberry ripple as a bonus flavour (for nostalgia purposes). But no cookie dough, rocky road or banoffee pie. And ‘sugar free’ vanilla – what’s that? Rum and raisin is a classic, and much underrated in my opinion. I know there are people who don’t like alcohol in sweets, but we will forge ahead regardless.
And this ice cream also lends itself to subtle doctoring: round and treacly Flame raisins, seeded Muscat raisins (sticky and crunchy and used traditionally in old bread recipes), meaty, soft, pale gold raisins (above) and Thompson seedless down below, still with their tails on, drowned in a saucer of rum – they are all so Californian, dried from the grape by our endless sun, and yet weirdly invisible, except for a few market stalls with their lumpen quarry. But I never gravitate there. Does one ever crave a raisin? But plumped up juicily in some searing alcohol and it’s quite a different matter. You could substitute the rum for sherry, if you like, and go for Pedro Ximénez if it’s available. This is a very ‘raisiny’ sherry, treacly and intense and good for a grown up ice cream such as this.
Rum & Raisin Ice Cream
Adapted from Ice Cream! by Pippa Cuthbert & Lindsay Cameron Wilson
The soft brown sugar creates a darker, more complex flavour, but you can use caster sugar instead if you like. Sherry works well in place of rum.
100g (¾ cup) raisins
100ml (½ cup) dark rum or sherry
300ml (1¼ cups) whole milk
4 large egg yolks
100g (¾ cup) soft brown sugar
200ml (scant 1 cup) heavy/double cream
Put the raisins and 75ml (¼ cup) of the rum or sherry in a bowl and set aside to soak overnight or until the raisins have absorbed almost all the liquid.
Heat the milk and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan to near-boiling point, then remove from the heat. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together, using an electric whisk, until thick and pale. Loosen the egg with some of the milk/cream mixture, then pour the eggs and sugar back into the saucepan. Stir well to mix everything properly and then return to a low heat. Stir until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and place over iced water to cool. You will need to stir it from time to time to avoid the custard developing a skin.
When the mixture is completely cold, churn in an ice cream maker, adding the remaining rum/sherry and all the raisins towards the end of churning. The raisins have a tendency to sink to the bottom before the ice cream can harden and suspend them, so you may want to give it a stir after half an hour or so in the freezer to distribute the raisins more evenly. Serve with a glass of either rum or sherry, or just pour it straight over the ice cream.
Other recipes with raisins: