Six Ingredients In Search Of A Recipe

In the league table of cel­eb­rated plays that should nev­er be per­formed on stage, Shakespeare’s grue­some Tit­us Andronicus has to come top. But I’ve always thought Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Char­ac­ters in Search of an Author may be up there too. His open­ing night audi­ence in Rome yelled ‘man­icomio’ or ‘mad­house’ through­out the per­form­ance and the humi­li­ated Pir­an­dello had to slip out of a side door.

The play’s eccent­ric premise is this: a rehears­al is tak­ing place on stage when six half-writ­ten char­ac­ters barge into the theatre demand­ing to be allowed to act out their drama. The bewildered Dir­ect­or gives in and the bizarre event con­cludes with a drown­ing and a sui­cide. This week­end I’m see­ing it on stage for the very first time, so I’ll let you know if it’s per­form­able or not.

I love a good post­mod­ern exper­i­ment, in food as well as lit­er­at­ure. So when I had a whim to make lem­on­grass and lem­on thyme ice-cream, it struck me that this might be my Pir­an­dello moment. Great concept, mad­house in real­ity? Or daft idea, sub­lime res­ult? Would my six ice-cream ingredi­ents make for the per­fect per­form­ance or would I be forced out of the kit­chen, pur­sued by mem­bers of my fam­ily wav­ing rolling pins and shout­ing ‘man­icomio mani­ac’?


For the ice-cream

  • 1 cup semi skimmed milk
  • 2 cups double cream
  • 3/4 cup caster sug­ar
  • 6 large egg yolks (you can use the whites for the bis­cuits)
  • Three hand­fuls of fresh lem­on thyme, includ­ing the soft stalks
  • 2 bulbs of fresh lem­on­grass, bruised with a rolling pin and sliced finely

For the bis­cuits

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60g softened unsalted but­ter (I like Les­cure but­ter best)
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sug­ar
  • Finely grated zest of a lem­on

For the mango milk­shake

  • Slightly over­ripe Alphonso man­goes or 1 tin Alphonso mango pulp. The exquis­ite, per­fumed fruit are in sea­son in April, but if you can’t find any, the tinned pulp is excep­tion­ally good
  • Equal quant­it­ies of ice-cold semi skimmed milk

To make the ice-cream, com­bine the milk, sug­ar, 1 cup of the cream, the thyme and the lem­on­grass. Warm it through until hot, but not boil­ing. Take off the heat, cov­er and allow the fla­vours to infuse for around an hour and a half.

Once the cream has infused, whisk the egg yolks. Still whisk­ing, pour a little of the warm cream mix­ture into the bowl. Add a little more, whisk­ing all the while, and then pour the tempered eggs back into the pan con­tain­ing the rest of the cream mix.

Put the pan back on a gentle to medi­um heat and con­tin­ue to stir until the mix­ture becomes cus­tard-like and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the remain­ing cup of cream and pour the whole lot into a cold bowl. Once cooled com­pletely, strain the mix­ture into your ice-cream maker and churn it.

To make the bis­cuits, whisk the egg whites very lightly and com­bine with the oth­er ingredi­ents. Pour a little of the bat­ter into well-buttered fairy cake tins or lar­ger tart­let tins if you prefer. I used tart­let tins approx­im­ately 12 cm in dia­met­er which pro­duced 9 bis­cuits. Bake at 200 degrees C for around 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and ease the bis­cuits gently out of the tins with a plastic knife.

To make the mango milk­shake, com­bine equal quant­it­ies of mango pur­ee and ice-cold milk. If you feel that an authen­t­ic milk­shake needs a few bubbles, froth it with a milk froth­er.

After I laid on my first night per­form­ance of Six Ingredi­ents in Search of a Recipe, my son — who’s no pushover — announced that it’s now his num­ber one favour­ite ice-cream. And this from a teen­ager who would hap­pily eat my chocol­ate and pea­nut but­ter ice-cream sev­en days a week. The fla­vour of the ice-cream is per­fumed and creamy, with a subtle and del­ic­ate prom­ise of lem­on. The mango is the per­fect coun­ter­bal­ance and the bis­cuit provides a much needed ele­ment of crunch.

Man­icomio or para­dise? Try it and let me know.

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16 thoughts on “Six Ingredients In Search Of A Recipe

  1. I’ve nev­er seen any­thing like it before, i always thought lem­on was best savoury, but this may have changed my mind.

  2. I’m feel­ing optim­ist­ic that you’ll like it — but on the oth­er hand, that’s what Pir­an­dello thought when he fin­ished his play…

  3. Glad it worked although rather inter­ested in the pro­spect of your fam­ily storm­ing the kit­chen wav­ing rolling pins. The icecream looks beau­ti­ful — even appeal­ing to a non-lov­er of the cold stuff!

    • I’m always doubly delighted when you like the look of an ice-cream, Sally, because I know you don’t like the stuff

  4. Clev­er as always! Lem­on­grass com­mit­ting sui­cide? I can see the head­lines now. I will be curi­ous to know what you think of the play now; I am intrigued. And what glor­i­ous, per­fect ice cream! It sounds won­der­ful, and even bet­ter on the pretty little tuile cups. Smart to bake them in tins to form little cups. I am not a mango fan, but that ice cream sounds and looks like it would make me extremely happy.

    • I’ll let you know how the per­form­ance goes, Jam­ie — it will cer­tainly be harder to get right than the ice-cream, which is a doddle!

    • I appeared in a Ger­man Expres­sion­ist play at the Edin­burgh Fringe once — also unper­form­able, at least it was the way we played it!

  5. The tri­umphs con­tin­ue to come thick and fast. Take your word on Pir­an­dello — and on the ice cream and everything else as usu­al. Stun­ning pic­tures of course too.

    • I’m intrigued by the feas­ib­il­ity of Pirandello’s play, hav­ing read it at uni­ver­sity. I’m hop­ing against hope that I like it. The ice-cream I def­in­itely like…

    • A cheer­ing remind­er that spring is on its way — some­times it’s easy to for­get. Let me know what you think, if you try the ice-cream. I’d love to know

    • The fab­rics come from the Vic­tor­ia and Albert Museum — they’re cop­ies of 18th and 19th cen­tury quilt­ing fab­rics. I love them.

  6. This ice cream sounds won­der­ful and not a rolling pin waved in sight! I love rose­mary and lav­ender used in sweet recipes, so will be inter­ested to find out how my lem­on thyme does.
    I’d totally for­got­ten about Pirandello’s play until now — we also stud­ied it at uni­ver­sity, but luck­ily nev­er tried to per­form it. I think it’s still lurk­ing on a dusty top shelf — I may have to pull it down and reac­quaint myself with the six mad­house char­ac­ters, just out of curi­os­ity. How was the per­form­ance?

    • The per­form­ance was excel­lent actu­ally — a very dif­fi­cult play to get right. But noth­ing will ever rival the stu­dent pro­duc­tion of Tit­us Andronicus I once saw. Des­pite its fright­ful themes and grue­some viol­ence, it was per­formed so badly that the audi­ence laughed like drains all the way through.

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