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A Bowl of Chilled Nectarine SoupI suppose there are people in this world who cannot appreciate the charms of a trans-Atlantic crossing on a grand Cunard liner. Personally, I cannot conceive of a more delightful way to pass a week than cruising the north Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, revelling in her aura of timeless magnificence and posh tradition.

Good-bye to New YorkAn Atlantic crossing is the most thrilling of journeys. It differs from more popular cruise itineraries, such as Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Alaskan, in that you don’t stop at ports along the way. There’s an inspiring irrevocability about such a voyage. Once you’re out of sight of New York, that’s it. The boat is your entire world until the morning you wake up in Southampton.

Sunrise on the AtlanticOf course, if the sight of endless expanses of ocean bores rather than exhilarates you, then I guess I can see why such a trip might not be for you.

Early Morning on the Bow of the QM2But still, even if being on deck didn’t excite you, there are so many other things to do. Your fellow passengers, of course, are a source of tremendous interest. And possibly because of a feeling of “we’re all in this together and have to put up with each other’s company for at least a week,” they are usually inclined to be chatty. You never know who you might meet. I sat at lunch one afternoon with a couple whose nephew is sous chef at The Hand and Flowers in Marlow (you know, that pub with the two Michelin stars).

Ah, yes, lunch. Even supposing that ocean views, ballroom dancing, deck games, table tennis, swimming pools, and a packed schedule of classes and lectures cannot keep you entertained, the dining alone is reason enough to book yourself a passage.

Gorgeous NectarinesI’ve always been puzzled as to why guidebooks and travel publications do not praise the cuisine served on the Cunard line more emphatically. I have been on five of their trans-Atlantic crossings, in a period spanning eleven years, and the food has never been anything less than superb.

The Most Beautiful Fruit to ChopNow, thirty years ago, I can imagine people feeling that the haute cuisine on board ship was, although expertly done, a bit hum-drum. They’d had it all before. It failed to dazzle any longer. But today, as most of us do not get to eat crepes Suzette, tournedos Rossini, and the rest of the canon of classical French fare on a regular basis, Cunard has, by refusing to completely throw over the old fare, become wildly exotic. They’ve updated the menus, true, to represent more ethnic cuisines and cater to the demands of modern diets, but these new additions are not what intrigue.

The QE2 CookbookIt was not the beef curry with poppadoms on the lunch menu of the afternoon referenced above that excited me (although it was delicious . . . )—after all, what is exciting about something that I can find in hundreds of restaurants in villages across England? Beef wellington, that old bastion of cruise ship cuisine, has much more of an allure. It sparkles, not with the glamour of a foreign country, but a bygone era.

Chilled Nectarine SoupThe soup course, I feel, is Cunard’s staunchest tie to the genteel dining culture of past times. I took my first crossing in 2003, aboard the now-retired Queen Elizabeth 2. I was eleven at the time and had just recently determined that the culinary field was to be my future life. The shipboard dining fascinated me. One dish in particular, a bowl of chilled nectarine soup, created a profound impression.

Nectarine-Prosecco SoupTo my young, twenty-first century mind, soup meant heart-warming cock-a-leekie, chunky minestrone, and possibly a spicy bowl of tortilla soup with crisp chips and shredded cheese. Cold soup meant somebody had kept dinner waiting, nothing more. That bowl of refreshing, stunning orange puree opened my eyes to an entire new meaning of the word.

QE2 Nectarine SoupHeritage recipes are popular today. They have risen, almost of necessity, along with the local food movement. People especially have an interest in rediscovering the humble dishes of their ancestors; they bring nostalgia and comfort and security. But don’t overlook the patricians of our culinary past. There are treasures waiting there, too.

CookBlogShareOnce again, linking up with Supergolden Bakes #CookBlogShare.

New York, New YorkChilled Nectarine Soup

Adapted from The QE2 Cookbook

Ingredients:

1 lb. nectarines
1 cup (240 ml) water
¼ cup (50 g.) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
½ lemon
175 ml sparkling white wine, chilled
Plain yogurt, for serving
 

Technique:

  1. Peel and stone the nectarines. Cut the flesh into small cubes and place in a saucepan along with the water, sugar, and spices.
  2. Use a paring knife to cut away half a dozen long, thin strips of the lemon rind. Add to the pot and squeeze in the juice of the lemon as well.
  3. Bring up to a simmer and cook gently until the fruit is soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pieces of lemon rind and pour the mixture into a blender. Puree until smooth.
  5. Pour through a sieve into a bowl and chill thoroughly. Mix in the sparkling wine.
  6. To serve, ladle into small bowls and swirl a dollop of yogurt on top of each serving.
  7. The soup can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, and indeed, tastes all the better for a day’s melding before serving.

Yield: 4 servings, as an appetizer

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