Saturday, March 26, 2011


My great grandmother was a caterer. My mother often spent weekends and holidays with her, helping in the kitchen at various events – including at Freemasons' dinners. At the Freemasons' hall they were confined to the kitchen. There my great grandmother would prepare dinner; but, lest she observe their goings-on, men would carry the meal into the hall, and later return with the dishes.

After dessert, any traffic between kitchen and hall would cease and the door be carefully locked. My great grandmother would wait a few minutes, then beckon to my mother; the two of them would creep over and take turns peeping through the keyhole to watch the men strutting about in their aprons. 'Look at those silly men, Ruth,' she'd whisper, and they'd giggle and peek, their own far more functional aprons stuffed into their mouths to silence the sound; when it became too much, they'd tiptoe back to the sink to chortle softly over the dirty dishes.

My great grandmother was, by all accounts, a magnificent woman, and not just in spirit. She had a mighty chest and bulging biceps. In the days before mix masters were common, she'd whip up wedding cakes and pavlovas and gallons of cream, and all by hand.

My chest may be mighty, but my biceps do not bulge; in fact, I may be developing fedoobedahs. So to counter this, and in homage to my great-grandmother, I have been whipping: cream, egg whites, hollandaise, and, of course, mayonnaise. They may not be the ideal foodstuffs to develop shapely arms and Buns of Steel™, but they are a great way to get protein into my fussy five year old. At least, that's my excuse.

This mayonnaise is nothing like the gluey white substance found in a jar. This is the real thing: a soft yellow glop, and absolutely delicious. Use it anywhere: blanketed over lightly boiled eggs, smeared on a sandwich, tossed through coleslaw, drizzled over asparagus, or mixed through a celeriac rémoulade.


- 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 tbs lemon juice plus more to taste
- 1 tbs seeded mustard (or not if you want a more gentle mayonnaise, or Dijon if you want your mayonnaise to be zingy but not seedy)
- 1 tbs chopped parsley or tarragon (optional)
- about 200ml olive oil
- salt to taste

Place a heavy bowl on a damp cloth on the bench; the cloth will stop the bowl from sliding around. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard and a pinch of salt into the bowl, and whisk. The bigger the balloon of the whisk, the easier this is.

Add the olive oil just a drop, and I do mean just a drop, at a time, whisking frantically all the while. This job is made infinitely easier if you have an oil nozzle on the bottle and hold the bottle up high above the bowl. When you have added enough oil so that it is beginning to look like mayonnaise (a couple of tablespoons), you can start adding the oil in a thin stream, still whisking continuously (I use my left hand to drizzle, and my right to whisk; you could also use an apprentice to drizzle as long as the apprentice understands that they must not slosh it in). When most of the oil has been added and you have a lovely soft glop, taste for lemon and salt and correct as needed.

If the oil is added too quickly, the mayonnaise can split. If it does, place another egg yolk into a clean bowl and whisk it. Gradually add the mayonnaise a little at a time, whisking frantically all the while, until it is combined and all is right with the world. Alternatively, you can whizz it in the food processor ('shock horror,' say the purists – it won't be as light, but it will certainly have amalgamated).

The photograph shows mayonnaise with seedy mustard and no herbs – perfect for celeriac rémoulade!

(Backyard: eggs, lemons. Local: olive oil. Not local: mustard, salt.)

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