I’ll start by admitting I’m nowhere close to the Columbo super-fan level of author Jenny Hammerton. But as a food lover, vintage hoarder and a 90s’ schoolchild who grew up on retro cop show re-runs, I couldn’t be more excited to receive my copy of Cooking With Columbo: Suppers with the Shambling Sleuth.
First impressions didn’t disappoint – there’s a recipe for every occasion, palate and memorable Columbo episode. Although I was sold on the concept, the only true way to review a cookbook is to try a recipe. So with a Saturday night gathering ahead of me, I set to work finding my ideal dish.
It took a while to decide given the impressive range within the book, but I eventually settled on Tyne Daly’s Key Lime Pie, from the 1992 episode A Bird In The Hand. As I say, the later Columbo series are very much my era, and with guests who’ve travelled the USA, this felt like an appropriate all-American classic. Having never made Key Lime Pie before, it was also a good test of Jenny’s recipe writing skills.
The first thing that struck me was how cost-effective this dish was to make. With butter, sugar and eggs already in the cupboard, I only needed to nip to the shop for a few items – the sweetened condensed milk being the most expensive at £1.20. Serving 8, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a generous helping comes in at under 50p.
The next plus was the variation within the recipe. Jenny gives a choice of digestive biscuit or pie base. It didn’t take much for me to settle on biscuit. The instructions for this were easily available towards the back of the book, and it felt on-theme – taking me back to the cheesecakes my parents would make for a family Sunday dinner. And besides, who doesn’t prefer the luxury of a buttery biscuit base given the option?
It was very quick to make the base, and following 10 minutes in the oven, set perfectly firm.
Next for the filling. Again, the instructions were clear and simple, with the most tricky part being the separating of the egg yolks. The consistency was perfect, giving me the confidence to add a twist of my own – stirring through the lime zest for some added colour and zing.
When it came to the topping, Jenny once more offers a choice – meringue or whipped cream. Given a dinner party should always be an indulgence, I opted for both. The meringue felt fittingly retro (and seeing as it needs three egg whites when three egg yolks have already been used in the filling, it would have been wasteful not to go for it).
The meringue didn’t peak as much as I’d have liked, but this was down to a lack of patience on my part as opposed to the recipe. It did however brown and chill perfectly – the smooth surface was purely an aesthetic point, and possibly preferable for some.
Once served with cream, the Key Lime Pie was incredibly well received. And despite the calorific ingredients, felt light and fresh following a hearty main.
My guests were not only impressed and satisfied with the food, but also entertained by the back story of the actress and episode behind the dish. In fact, from there the evening spiralled into a pub quiz-style delve into vintage TV themes, inspired by the shambling sleuth himself.
I can’t wait to try my next supper and would wholeheartedly recommend the book to any retro cookery connoisseurs. Not only did the recipe work wonderfully, but the Columbo context surrounding it made for a great conversation starter and evening’s entertainment.
Just one more thing… the leftovers were even more delicious the next day, with a night in the fridge setting the filling and meringue to an even firmer consistency.
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Photos from all recipes are all available on Jenny’s website.