BY ROZANNE GOLD
When I was in my mid-twenties, I penned this recipe as a gift for my beautiful mother Marion on Mother’s Day 1980. I placed it in a Lucite frame and she nailed it to the wall of her apartment kitchen in Fresh Meadows, Queens. My mother loved this custard, in all its simplicity, but could never quite remember how to make it. I thought these words would guide her when I was not around, but she never followed the instructions. Instead of the classic swirl of liquid caramel that coats the custard after baking, my mother skipped this step and dusted grated nutmeg on top. A whiff of memory? And she preferred to eat the custard directly from its little glass cup, instead of flipping it onto a plate so that the caramel would pool all around.
My mother and I were extraordinarily close. Too close, if that’s possible. She encouraged me to become a chef when women were anathema in professional kitchens. I dropped out of graduate school and became the first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch when I was twenty-three. Being in the kitchen with my mother was the happiest place in the world for me. She would occasionally visit me in the kitchen of Gracie Mansion, and years later came to my kitchen in Park Slope, and yes, we’d make caramel custard together.
Our deep connection was expressed by cooking special things for each other. Custard for her, and for me she made cabbage and noodles – a homey Hungarian standard that she, too, ate in her childhood. It was the comfort food that connected us to previous generations of Hungarian women and also to each other. I have learned since that some recipes, even more than photographs, can provide the most intimate transfer of memory from mothers to daughters.
One grey day in October eight years ago, I removed the recipe now faded and worn, twenty-six years after I wrote it. And now my daughter makes custard for me.
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk, scalded
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350
2. Heat 1/2 cup sugar slowly in heavy small skillet stirring constantly with wooden spoon until sugar melts and is light caramel in color. Pour spoonful in each five custard cups and let is cool slightly.
3. Beat eggs with remaining sugar and salt. Add milk slowly, while stirring. Add vanilla. Strain and pour carefully into cups.
4. Place cups in pan of hot water (level with top of cups). Bake about 40 minutes, or until knife comes out clean.
5. Chill, and turn out to serve.