Adorning the cloaks and garments of royalty, the colour purple was often called imperial purple due to the close association. The word purple is a derivative of the original Greek porphura, the name of the Tyrian purple dye of antiquity extracted from a spiny snail. The pigment was extremely expensive to produce and only the very wealthy could afford clothes dyed the colour of grapes and plums. As a secondary colour, purple is wedged between red and blue on the colour wheel. The tones leaning towards the blue side of the spectrum were desired due to their association with the rare blue pigment favoured by artists and craftsmen.

Benjamin Roberts, Still life of plums with a cabbage white, 1862
oil on board, 16 x 21.5 cm, Private collection

Very little research is readily available concerning the British artist Benjamin Roberts. From the date of the painting, one can gather that he was active during the Victorian movement in the United Kingdom. The delicate details of the yellow butterfly, small tendrils on the leaf and the gleaming water droplet upon the plum epitomise the art of this period. The delicacy of the painting is matched in the subtle flavouring in the recipe of the baked custard. With the mellow warmth of the nutmeg and the fragrant vanilla, this simple custard is studded with bright plum slices that are carefully arranged to fashion a purple-tipped flower.

{Baked Custard with Plums}

Yield: 4 servings

2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
200 ml heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 plum

Preheat the oven to 180C. In an oven-proof bowl, mix the eggs and sugar together, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla, nutmeg, cream and milk and mix well. Place the bowl in a roasting pan and fill with water until it is half way up the sides of the pan. Slide into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the plum in half and remove the pit. Slice each half into quarters and divide each quarter into three crescents. Set aside.

After 30 minutes remove the custard from the oven. It should still be soft but beginning to set around the edges. Arrange the plum slices in a circle starting around the outside edge and moving inwards. Put the custard back into the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes until the centre is just set. Serve warm or at room temperature.


The Colour Project