Eton mess seems to be a pretty straight-forward pudding: whipped cream, broken meringue, berries – and its name means that we tend not to question its origins. But its first incarnation with the distinctive name didn’t even feature meringues – and other places lay claim to the actual cream-meringue-fruit pud genesis.
Originally, a version of the pudding we now know was sold in Eton’s tuck shop – strawberries mixed with cream or ice cream – and later, the meringues were added. But there is a suggestion that the combination that predates the Eton assertion. Food historian Sara Paston-Williams states that the dish actually originated at Clare College, Cambride, where it was known as ‘Clare Mush’. Either way, the Eton name has prevailed, and is continues to be served at the annual cricket match between Eton college and Harrow school.
Traditionally, it’s made with strawberries or raspberries, but given its uncertain beginnings, I feel on safe ground to play around a little. Here I’ve taken an autumnal twist to suit it to the time of year – and one which embraces the original ‘Clare mush’: the bramley apples are cooked down into a compote that is appropriately soft. This is then layered with the meringue-rubbled, dark muscovado cream, with blackberries dotted throughout, some bleeding into the cream, some sitting proudly on top.
Autumn Eton Mess
Makes: Serves 4
Takes: 15 minutes plus cooling
Bakes: No time at all
2 bramley apples
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon dark muscovado sugar
- Make the apple compote by peeling, coring and roughly chopping the bramley apples. Place it in a small pan with a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of water. Cook over a medium-low heat until completely collapsed and smooth; don’t let the apple colour, and add a little extra water if it is sizzling. Leave to cool.
- Whisk the double cream with the dark brown sugar until it reaches medium peaks: the cream will hold its own weight, but if you lift the whisk from the cream, the peaks of the cream will flop over a little.
- Break the meringue into chunky rubble using your hands. Reserve half a meringue for topping the pudding, and fold the rest, along with half of the blackberries, through the cream using a spatula or large metal spoon.
- Put a third of the apple compote at the bottom of the serving bowl, and scatter a small number of blackberries on top. Spoon a third of the cream mixture on top of this. Layer another third of the apple compote on this. Put the other two thirds of the cream mixture on top, and dot with the remaining apple compote, blackberries, and meringues.