The first time I met Helen here in London soon after I arrived from New York, she roasted a whole suckling pig for supper and I was very impressed. We were very young and very ambitious about our cooking and entertaining.
Many years later, children now grown, she and her painter husband created the perfect life - summer in the southwest of France from May through September and then summer in Sydney, Australia (where they were both from) from October through the following April.
They bought an old farm deep in the French countryside complete with tableware, furniture and forgotten bottles of home made eau de vie in the barn. Having built a studio for him and a kitchen for her, Helen plunged into cooking with all the wonderful farm to table produce in the markets and ancient, romantic little villages in the hills around her.
In those seemingly endless French summers, the table was almost always laid on long trestles outside the big folding doors to the barn studio, set with treasured old white linen tablecloths bought in the brocante markets and an assortment of mismatched chairs, each with a story behind its discovery. Flowing beneath us, spectacular views down the valley to the nearby hills.
Loyal to her Australian heritage and her husband's birth city (Cairo), she named one of her favourite deserts "Cleopatra's Pavlova" and for really big gatherings would triple layer it, as in this photo (taken quickly before everyone plunged in) - repeating the original recipe three times over and then maybe putting a flower on the top. Here is her recipe as she gave it to me.
8 egg whites
2 rounded tablespoons of caster sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
1 teaspoons vanilla essence,
Note: If you want the inside to have a softer marshmallow consistency you can add a teaspoon of cider vinegar.
Whipping cream (double cream here in the UK)
Strawberries or raspberries (or other fruit in season)
Heat oven to 140 C.
Beat egg whites until there are white peaks. Beat in sugar spoon by spoon until very stiff. Fold in cornflour, vanilla essence and the cider vinegar if required. Spread on a large round tray covered with baking paper and smeared with a light oil to stop it sticking to the paper. Make a dip in the middle so that the cream and fruit can be served inside when cooked.
Place in the oven and cook at 140.c. for only 10 minutes and then for an hour at 100.c .Turn off the oven and leave it to cool down completely in the oven or even overnight.
Remove the paper from the bottom of the Pavlova and place on a large round plate. Whip some double cream, spread it in the middle of the meringue and pile the strawberries and/or raspberries on the top.
Note: sometimes I make a coulis of berries and pour it over the fruit too.