Last Tuesday, while I was watching the fourth hour of Today, Kathie Lee and Hoda mentioned a recent survey on the character traits ascribed to people with certain accents. Okay, before you start being all judgy about me watching KLG and Hoda let me set a few things straight. First, I am not sitting on my couch staring at the TV crunching on a bowl of Capn’ Crunch. I am at the gym on the treadmill doing my part to keep my heart healthy. Second, watching the fourth hour of Today does not mean I have watched hours one through three because I actually never do. Third, I have a special, personal affection for those two ladies. Hoda and I share a hairdresser and have seen each other at our most vulnerable: a head full of completely frizzed out hair separated by pieces of tin foil. The fact that she has never burst out laughing at my mid-highlights, bride of Frankenstein lid has endeared her to me forever. Then there is Kathie Lee, the woman so many people mock. I don’t know why. Despite her emphasis on her faith, which I do not share, I will always have a soft spot for her. When I was an agent many years ago, she couldn’t have been more generous and gracious in my few dealings with her. For that I will always be thankful and will therefore never jump on the bashing Mrs. Gifford bandwagon.
And now, back to the survey. What was revealed was that, based on their accents, Americans assume the following about people: if you are from the south you are nice but uneducated, New Yorkers are rude and dishonest, someone from the Midwest is nice and honest, New Englanders are well-educated and intelligent and the British are well-educated and sophisticated. My lack of regional accent to one side, of course I take issue with the characterization of New Yorkers. But I suppose the gruffness of the traditional Noo Yawkese could translate to rudeness if you aren’t used to it. Personally I find that accent, now rarer as our melting pot changes, comforting. As for the other American accents, I don’t really associate anything specific with any of them. However, when it comes to the British accent, I am guilty as the survey charges.
What is it about the English accent that makes us feel we are in the presence of superior intelligence and greater sophistication? (Okay, I’m not talking about the Cockney accent which is as harsh as any you could find in the tri-state area 40 years ago.) Think of it this way, if Cary Grant had spoken with an old school Brooklyn accent would George Clooney aspire to be the next Archibald Leach? I don’t think so. Would The King’s Speech be as riveting if King George had been King of Estonia? Well, yes, because Colin Firth would have made it so, but I digress.
I recently confronted my own English accent prejudice while entranced by Masterpiece Theatre’s latest offering, Downton Abbey. Oh, it was heaven! It aired as a four-part mini-series in the US and I was despondent at the end of the final installment. Apparently in the UK each episode was half as long so they got to sink into England on the brink of The Great War for eight weeks, which I would have much preferred as I like to make any delicious thing last as long as possible.
I won’t go into details of the show because you need to watch it. It’s available online and on DVD and I am jealous of you, like a kid who finished her Halloween candy before her more disciplined sister. (Not that I would have any idea how that feels.) Suffice it to say it brings together the best of Upstairs/Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, The Remains of the Day and every other story told about an aristocratic English family and the people who work for them. Pray for a snow day and you will get lost in the world of Lord and Lady Crawley.
But here’s the rub. It is a soap opera. Filled with multiple secrets, unrequited love, plotting servants, a closeted gay footman, covered up crimes and a wicked sister, it may owe as much to Esther and Richard Shapiro (the creators of Dynasty, don’t you know?) as to Evelyn Waugh. Now, as a lifelong fan of the sudsy genre I have no problem with this revelation. However, I think those more accustomed to patting themselves on the back that the only channel their set is ever tuned to is PBS may be a bit horrified. In fact, if you took the show, set it in say, Dallas, put the men in cowboy hats and the girls in big hair, well you know what you’d have.
Yet I have bought into thinking I am watching something more intelligent and sophisticated because of that wonderful accent. Even the servants sound smart! The scenes in the kitchen are so much fun and watching the territorial cook (thank me, I’m leaving out a spoiler!) make raspberry meringues haunted me for the week after the series ended. I know I am a sucker. And I don’t care. What I do care about is that I now have to wait until fall for the next season. That is just so cruel. Between the fickleness of Mad Men Season 5 (start date is anyone’s guess) and the loss of Downton Abbey I am afraid of what will become of me. (Unfortunately I have a feeling it begins with “The Real Housewives….”) In the meantime, next month the 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition of Upstairs/Downstairs will be released. While I wait for my Amazon order to arrive, you can find me making these meringues while practicing my English accent. And for those of you searching for the perfect romantic treat, this red and white dessert hits all the notes. It's cool and creamy, crunchy and sweet and fully decadent. Happy Valentine's Day!
It's All In the Accent Meringues with Raspberries
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris, Ina Garten 2004
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3 extra - large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Stewed Raspberries (see below)
Whipped Cream (see below)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large round cookie cutter or glass and a pencil, draw 5 (3 1/2-inch) circles on the parchment paper. Turn the paper face down on the baking sheets.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed until frothy.
Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue beating on high speed until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla.
Carefully fold the remaining 1/4 cup sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, pipe a disk of meringue inside each circle. Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells. OR if you are not confident in your piping skills, use a large spoon and drop and spread enough of the meringue to fill in the circle, then using the bottom of the spoon press the meringue down in the center so that the sides build up a bit.
Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight.
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
2 half-pints fresh raspberries, divided
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
Combine one pint of raspberries, the water, sugar and zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. The juice will become a syrup and the berries will be slightly cooked. Off the heat, stir in the remaining raspberries. Set aside.
Place one meringue on each plate, divide cream between meringue and top with berries. Begin speaking to your guests in an English accent.
YIELD: 4-5 Meringues with Raspberries