I spent longer making the bloody pudding than either of these two spent in jail
I know a lot about life in prison. Not only have I had a cocktail in the Courthouse Kempinski Hotel – which used to actually be a jail, folks, so how’s that for journalistic research? – but I also watched all eight series of the surely-almost-wholly-factual prison-set drama Bad Girls. I know that prison guards are called screws and – according to Bad Girls lore – will fake their own pregnancies and miscarriages if it means keeping their job as chief of staff. From the same source I know that murderous bisexual prostitutes are just misunderstood sweethearts who had a tough childhood, and that you can have a same-sex affair with the Wing Governor in the library if you take an adult literacy course as a façade.
I also know that, apart from anything you’ve managed to smuggle in via your lady parts, all you really have in prison is time. Buckets of it. Gallons. Entire oceans stretching forward for as long as your character keeps getting re-commissioned by the series editors. Which can be the only excuse Martha Stewart has for coming up with the excruciatingly time-consuming recipes in her latest opus Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts.
Her time in the slammer is well documented – in fact it’s all she’s really known for in the UK; famous for being the Queen of Daytime TV who painted herself as the original Bree Van Der Kamp and then got put away for fraud. Presumably anyone who can outdo Ricki Lake in the ratings can also rise up the ranks to being Top Dog of their wing pretty quickly, so once she’d done that she must have used her endless days to devise these endless recipes.
I started out cheerily enough. “It’ll all be nice and carby,” I thought, flicking through the entirely pastry-based book. I’d invited two colleagues over – both beauty editors, both of whom seem to be able to deal with the mountain of cupcakes they get sent daily by PRs without gaining an ounce. If anyone could cope with Stewart’s stodge it would be them. Starting at 2pm I thought I’d be finished by 4 and have enough time to use some of the products my guests had given me over the years to make myself look fresh for their arrival.
Dead on the dot of 7pm, my first guest showed up, whilst I was still in a pastry-based panic, a flurry of flour, a full on Martha Meltdown. I’d stopped at 6pm for two minutes to pour myself a large glass of white port, desperately needing a break from all the kneading, but other than that I’d been working solidly for five long, painful hours.
The other guests arrived, and I got my boyfriend to make us all cocktails whilst I carried on with the starter. I necked my Cosmompolitans gratefully and with speed – I could see why housewives turned to the bottle as my day had been harder than any I’ve ever spent in the office.
It wasn’t that the recipes were difficult, exactly – nothing I had to do was out of the realms of possibility. It’s just that every stage had a gazillion steps, and every step involved some kind of slow drawn out process. Each dish became like a torture, a punishment that presumably Martha inflicted on her cellmates if they dared to question her authority.
And to add insult to injury, by the time it came to the eating I’d had so much medicinal booze I can barely remember how the meal turned out. I do recall thinking it was all fine, but probably wasn’t worth even half the amount of time spent on them. I also remember someone hooking the TV up to Youtube and us all screaming drunkenly for video requests, the five of us singing along happily – or more appropriately merrily – to this. I vaguely remember having a massive strop at my boyfriend when the guests had gone home and I was doing yet more washing up, about how I felt like nothing more than a scullery maid, and you know what, I just couldn’t wash another fucking thing, before slamming the bedroom door. And I have very strong recollections of being sick the next morning, my body fighting to deal as much with Martha’s carbs as with the amount of vodka I’d poured into it.
Martha’s Leek and Olive Tart
But the food? Here’s what I can recall.
The Leek and Olive tart was, erm, nice? It was the only recipe which didn’t call for me to make the pastry from scratch, which means it was my favourite by far, but I think the flavours lacked a little punch.
My version. Looks a lot more exciting than it tasted
The parmesan crisp around the side was a good touch, but I had to drizzle it in balsamic glaze before my champagne-soaked tongue even recognised there was any food in my mouth.
Her Mini Chicken Potpies with Herb Dough
By the time I’d got to the end of the zillion-stepped recipe for the Mini Chicken Potpies with Herb Dough I was also at the end of my tether – and didn’t bother with the herb garnish that you can see in the official picture. I think the result was….nice?
And mine. Roasted vegetables: Stylist’s own
The filling was really good as heated up leftovers the next day when I could finally manage food – a buttery mix of leek and chicken and mushroom and thyme and all my favourite things – but the recipe had required that I boiled the chicken for an hour, left it to cool, stripped the meat from the bones, sweated the vegetables, made the pastry, left the pastry to sit for an hour, and so on and so on until the only solution was another glass of white port. And I think shop bought pastry would have tasted better.
The life sentence that is Martha’s Butterscotch Praline Cream Pie
As for the Butterscotch Praline Cream Pie, I just checked with my boyfriend and he said “I seem to remember it was alright, but a bit too nutty, and a bit too creamy.” For a dessert that took longer than I’d have got for manslaughter, I’d hope for a little more. I have a vague memory of being disappointed that the butterscotch tasted a bit too authentic, and not enough like Butterscotch Angel Delight – now that would have been a speedier and more satisfying dessert – and also of throwing the unserved half down the waste disposal in a pique of rage once the guests had gone home, but those are all the details I can give you.
I’m amazed I could still take a photo at this point
The short end of this long tale is that Martha’s recipes are her way of inflicting imprisonment on all of us – enslaving us in the kitchen for hours at a time. I’d rather have done Community Service.
Cost of ingredients £29.02 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Starter * * Nice but dull
Main * * * It just took sooooo long to make
Dessert * Am now craving Angel Delight
Overall 3/10 Life’s too short to make your own pastry, as Delia might have said.
Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts £16.99, Clarkson Potter. Original photos by Johnny Miller