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Look At Me i’m Sandra Dee

July 29, 2010

In these post-feminist, post-modern, and often downright confusing times, it’s OK for pretty much everyone to embrace their inner Doris Day. 1940’s and 50’s vintage is big news, and it’s not just about copping a cosmetic trend either.

Yesterday I walked past one of Cardiff’s many retro/vintage emporiums, and spotted, next to a gorgeous floral halter-neck, a posh china cake stand adorned with – get this – knitted Chelsea buns.

It’s difficult to imagine how anything could be more cartoon hyper-female than this.

It’s a cake (Domestic Goddess point 1), someone hand-knitted it (DG point 2), it’s on a fancy floral cake stand (DG point 3), and it looks a lot like a pert boob with a cherry nipple (DG points 4, 5 and 6). It’s also – touché – an utterly useless item. You can neither eat, nor wear it. Oh dear.

But this purely decorative object is a symbol of a generally well-managed move towards an old-fashioned aesthetic which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. It’s often said, that part of the problem with second wave feminism was that we threw the baby out with the bath water – women made huge strides towards equality in the workplace, and politically, and we managed to get at least some men to pick up a bit of the slack when it came to child-rearing. But we also seemed to lose some of the value held for traditional “feminine” arts, like home-cooking, pride taken in housework, making our own clothes. We could have just skill-swapped with the guys when they were teaching us to change tires and rewire plugs, but instead we somehow let them fall by the wayside a bit. In the past decade I think we’ve started to correct that a bit – even reclaiming those lost arts as a proud part of being a girl.

Partly you can see it in the neo-burlesque movement – a good percentage of the audience for burlesque is made up of heterosexual women. A lot of the stars, whilst gorgeous, are not the kinds of people you would expect to see in FHM (and, by the way, I am happy to see that the small, burgeoning male burlesque movement is following a similar trend!). What’s happening here is that we’re taking the fun, kitsch, and camp side of the early 20th century and leaving out all the repressive, sexist bullshit that spoilt the fun the first time around.

It’s telling that the pin up girl / retro domestic goddess look and attitude has been embraced by rock chicks everywhere. Eyebrow piercings and pink hair are now accompanied by pencil skirts and Thelma and Louise headscarves. This is the WI of the future. Fifteen years ago Courtney Love was singing about her failure to do the dishes; these days you’re just as likely to find punky chicks setting up knitting circles or selling beautifully decorated cupcakes at a burlesque show.

It’s a positive thing. Home Ec. Is not the preserve of the Goody Two Shoes anymore. For years we all wanted to be Rizzo in Grease, now it’s OK to admit that sometimes it’s fun to be Sandy too. (I love the mental image of Olivia Newton John icing twenty beautiful cupcakes dressed in a twinset, before getting into her leathers and heading out to pick up John Travolta on the back of her motorbike).

Initially when struck by the retro-housewife urge, making jam (or “preserves” whatever they are.) seemed highly appealing. I loved the idea of presenting friends and family with little lace-trimmed pots of lovingly handmade blackberry jam as Christmas presents.

Unfortunately, making jam is actually a pain in the arse. I would love to be able to say it’s one of those things “people think is really difficult but is actually simple”, but that would be a lie. Truth is, it takes forever, you have to faff around with controlled temperatures and sterilised jars, it makes a mess of your kitchen, sets the smoke alarms off, and unless you invest in a special jam pan (how menstrual that sounds…) you’ll wreck whatever receptacle you do use. Therefore, my advice is not to bother.

I had given up on the idea of pretty homemade gift jars entirely (pickled onions are nice, but difficult to make attractive). Then I came across the concept of lemon curd.

Unlike jam, lemon curd really is a complete doddle to make, and tastes significantly better than the stuff you buy ready-made. I do have Delia to thank for telling me how to make this – I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even know lemon curd had eggs in it until I looked it up.

Do have a go at this if you want to give someone a special present, or even just to eat yourself on hot toasted muffins. This recipe makes about three medium size jars full – just double or halve the quantities to according to the amount you want to make. Apparently it’s best to use clean jars still hot from the dishwasher or being soaked in the sink.

You need: Four unwaxed lemons, four eggs, 350g caster sugar, and 225g of butter.

First, whisk the eggs for a while, until they’re nicely mixed up. Then add the sugar, and the butter (chop it into small pieces and it will melt more easily), then add the zest of the lemons – use the small-hole part of a cheese grater to grate at the peel until the lemon is completely white, and squeeze the juice in too. Now put the mixture on the hob over a medium heat and start to whisk again. You’ll need to whisk continuously for about ten minutes before the mixture starts to thicken (you’ll feel it change) – obviously this is about a million times easier if you have an electric whisk. After that, turn the heat down low, and let it simmer for another minute or so, still whisking. Then you pour the hot curd into the hot jars and put the lids on straight away. Once they’re cool you can decorate as you see fit. I suggest brightly coloured ribbons and glittery stickers.

Depending how fresh your eggs are, it should keep for about three weeks.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Cerys Furlong permalink
    July 29, 2010 14:21

    Hi Holly,
    good to see you are filling your days with wandering around boutiques, making lemon curd and having fun! We all still miss you, but I’m enjoying catching up on your musings on the blog and may even make a little foray into the world of vegetarianism! (shock horror). Incidentally, I like my lemon curd best when encased in sweet pastry and topped with merigue (a.k.a lemon merigue pie!) basically just keep cooking the lemon curd a bit longer than you would for curd, before putting it into your sweet pastry base- then top with merigue before baking. yum.
    love cerys x

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