by Susan Finlay
We were regulars at Birds, a chain of bakeries that also hail from the Midlands area. This meant that the waitress would look briefly up at us as we entered, and then begin to prepare ‘our usual’ as we sat down. For my father it was coffee (in those days there was just one type) and for me a ball of something close to Yorkshire pudding, but with cream inside, and chocolate sauce on top.
The other customers pronounced mille-feuille as ‘milly-phew-illy’, or else asked for custard slices. My father, seemingly as oblivious to them as he was to me, would read the newspaper in silence, and occasionally sip his coffee. Whereas I would eat without stopping, and then wipe my hands across my thighs. In retrospect, this strikes me as an aristocratic gesture.
Now more familiar with the French language, and other topological equivalents to the aforementioned pastries, many a rainy day éclair, Sunday morning religieuse, and Friday night Saint-Honorés, plural, has been consumed under what I like to think of as their auspices. Likewise, my local supermarket now includes crème brûlée in their essentials range, and a post-Bake Off ‘crème pât’ will no doubt soon follow.
Yet the feeling of intense, European sophistication that the, what has since been rebranded as an English choux-bun, once provoked, was the direct result of its having seemed far from usual – and to my then somewhat jejune sensibilities, mature – despite the frequency with which it, within the context of my childhood, occurred. Accordingly, I do not long for Waitrose, or even Paris, but what used to be called an elephant’s foot.