When he was introduced he understood why, for Miss Honeychurch, disjoined from her music stool, was only a young lady with a quantity of dark hair and a very pretty, pale, undeveloped face. She loved going to concerts, she loved stopping with her cousin, she loved iced coffee and meringues.
A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
At school, I was the type who read the set texts before we went back each January. I have always identified strongly with Hermione Granger, a girl who was comforted and reassured when armed with knowledge. We'd be sent home with our book lists each Christmas - plays for Drama, novels and poetry books for English, textbooks for Science and Maths. I would dutifully stack them in height order, cover them in sticky plastic and, stopping just short of working my way through my Maths book, familiarise myself with all of them. I liked to be prepared. I remember arriving in Year 11 Drama with a colour-coded, detailed outline of Much Ado About Nothing, including all of my favourite quotations and the reasons why Beatrice was the most exciting part in all of Shakespeare's works (I still believe this).
And so, when I was 14, I spent the summer reading and re-reading Forster's A Room with a View, which was on my Year 10 reading list. I completely adored it We'd won a trip to Europe two years earlier, and I'd spent a week in Tuscany blown away by the beauty of the vineyards, the architecture and the food. I could well imagine how it might encourage one to do crazy things, like snog a young man you hardly knew when on a picnic.
I was desperately romantic at that age. I had just had my first 'proper' kiss, with some Year 11 lad in a white singlet (his name now escapes me) while 'Hey Mickey' blasted from the speakers at a school dance. I spent the summer reading Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre, alongside A Room with a View, and I wanted more than anything to fall in love myself. George Emerson seemed an ideal candidate, and I couldn't imagine anything better than being Lucy Honeychurch. I returned to school for Year 10, the book under one arm, eagerly anticipating discussing it at length. I've picked it up many times since.
The quote that inspired these meringues is part of one of my favourite character assassinations in any book. Mr Beebe, the local Reverend, having just been transported by Lucy's passionate performance of Beethoven on the piano, is desperate to meet her. He is disappointed to find that she 'loved' his sermons, and is, when in Italy, dependent on her Baedeker. He sees beyond this, and memorably states: "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her". What follows is us watching her start, inch by inch and then finally with a big leap, to do just this.
Before she does though, she is the sort of young woman who likes meringues and iced coffee. At the risk of labelling myself a 'basic' Lucy Honeychurch - for this, of course, as my friend Sarah pointed out on Twitter, is what Me Beebe (and Forster) is saying - I love meringues and iced coffee. And so, last week, I made some.
They were just lovely. Basic, in the best possible way.
Iced Coffee and Meringues
Makes iced coffee for two and plenty of meringues
A slice of lemon
1 egg white
55g golden caster sugar
40ml double cream, or other filling of your choice
Dash vanilla extract
250ml very strong freshly brewed coffee (from a cafetiere, stovetop or other coffee maker of your choice)
60ml whole milk
Electric hand whisk or mixer
Glass or stainless steel bowl
Baking tray and greaseproof paper
Coffee maker (of whatever sort suits - see above)
1. Preheat the oven to 100C. Rub the slice of lemon around the inside of the bowl, getting rid of any traces of fat. Tip the egg white into the bowl and whisk until it forms stiff peaks.
2. Continue to whisk on a low-medium speed, adding the caster sugar one spoonful at a time. When the meringue forms glossy, stiff peaks, and the sugar has dissolved, transfer it to the piping bag. Line the baking tray with greaseproof paper and snip a half-centimeter hole in the piping bag.
3. Hold the piping bag at a 90 degree angle to the baking tray, and pipe little meringues, 2cm in diameter. I think they end up looking lovely if you keep the piping bag close to the tray, and allow the meringue to spread from a central point, rather than swirling it around. Make them stand proud by slowly pulling the bag away from the board, squeezing all the time. They're not going to spread, but do give them a little breathing room.
4. Bake the meringues for an hour, until crisp on the outside and still soft in the middle. Turn the oven off, and leave to cool in the oven for another hour. Meanwhile, make the coffee and pop it in the fridge.
5. Whisk the cream until soft and use it to sandwich the meringues together (try and pair similar sizes if you're a bit rubbish with consistency - as I was). If you'd prefer jam or icing or something else instead, then use that instead.
6. Add some ice to a glass and pour the chilled coffee over the top. Add a dash of milk or cream, stir, and enjoy with the meringues.