DEVOURING BOOKS AND THE FEASTS WITHIN
A few days ago my husband sent me a link for an article on The Guardian website entitled ‘Food in books: breakfast rolls from The School at the Chalet’. This opened a whole new realm of possibilities for me as I discovered that the piece was just one post in Kate Young’s The Little Library Cafe and that I could also find recipes for treats as fantastic as Mr Wonka’s Whipplescrumptious Fudgemallow Delight and Christmas Pavlova from the wonderful Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.
As ever, I am late to the party again but on this occasion it’s only because I was having a whale of a time at another, rather similar, party amongst the pages of Jane Brocket’s Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A golden treasury of classic treats. I was so excited when I found this book which, unlike Kate Young’s blog, deals exclusively in sharing the secrets of the edible nostalgia of children’s books. I am sure you can remember longing to join in the same midnight-feast or picnic, Christmas dinner or birthday cake the characters were tucking into as you read. Many obvious examples come to mind like the realm of pure sugary madness in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which actually doesn’t have enough chocolate-based treats in it for me!) or the almost endless contents of Ratty’s picnic basket in The Wind in the Willows but we all have our own specific memories. I remember reading in a fascinated half-repulsion of the sardines pressed into gingercake and cans of condensed milk munched after lights out by Enid Blyton’s schoolgirls; wondering at the unknown delights of ‘molasses pies – baked in saucers – each with a brown top and crisp, candified edge, which tasted like toffee and lemon-peel, and all sorts of good things mixed up together’ packed by Aunt Izzy for the Carr children and Cecy as a special treat in their first ‘Paradise’ picnic basket of the spring and ‘Debby’s Jumbles’ at the top of the Carr sisters’ Christmas box at the awful ‘Nunnery’; and imagining the blue jellies of ‘The Land of Birthdays’ at the top of ‘The Faraway Tree’ long before such things were readily available online from the USA.
Jane Brocket’s marvellous book is jam-roly-poly-packed with recipes that will allow you to realise the realities of these previously page-bound delicacies. The molasses pies and Debby’s jumbles are in there, along with Amy March’s pickled limes, Edmund’s Turkish Delight, Marilla’s raspberry cordial, The Swallows’ squashed-fly biscuits and a veritable banquet of other gorgeous confections. There is even a recipe from one of my daughter’s favourites, The Little White Horse, ‘Marmaduke Scarlet’s Saffron Cake’.
To be honest, I enjoy reading this book almost as much as cooking from it and, I am ashamed to say, I still haven’t tackled very many of them. This is partly because my daughters and I made ‘Melbourne Morning-Tea Walnut Cake’ from the Australian classic Back to Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce and it has proved to be such a favourite that it is hard to persuade them to try anything else, especially as my elder daughter daily tests my faith in her relationship to me by hating most varieties of cake and my younger daughter brings a whole new level to the word ‘particular’ besides being a vegetarian. Seriously, though, that Billabong coffee and walnut cake is really very delicious!
Another way my children have really enjoyed celebrating the food they have read about is with a Blyton-esque ‘midnight’ feast. Setting up the feast in their bedroom close-ish to bedtime, eating in nightclothes and alongside various selected soft-toys and wearing ‘school badges’ all made for a memorable meal. A Wonderland Tea Party is another fairly easy way to enjoy food and books together; you can even squeeze in a bit of exercise, too, if you have a go at croquet or the Lobster Quadrille. Last summer’s school homework projects included the option of making a meal or treat from a Roald Dahl book which prompted my younger daughter to come up with a ‘vegetarian animal’ menu option for Fantastic Mr Fox and to make her own ‘Merry Berry Smoothie’ and ‘hazelnut and horse-chestnut’ ice-cream sundae and for my elder daughter to come up with her own recipe for Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight. Now I have started thinking about it I feel inspired to catch up on Kate Young’s previous blog posts, have another flick through Jane Brocket’s recipes and get thinking about new ways we can share stories and snacks!