Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket remembers and recreates some of the wonderful foods found in classic children’s fiction. It’s a treat of a book, but a word of caution: after each chapter I found myself RAVENOUS – at one point even madly craving a roasted egg.

Despite the title, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is not just about cakes (or indeed ginger beer) – it looks at a variety of sweets and savouries found in fictional high teas, breakfasts, suppers, picnics, adventures, etc, so there are a fair few pies and breads in there too.

The book itself is a thing of beauty. It’s difficult to fully appreciate it from the cover image, but Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is a retro-look hardback, with a very pretty paper jacket, decorated in lilac and peach. If I had been bought this as a present, I’d have been delighted.

At 286 pages, excluding acknowledgements and appendices, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is a quick read, as half of the book is comprised of recipes. I enjoy baking, but I am no expert, and as such I’m in no position to critique the individual recipes, but to my novice eye, they look simple enough to recreate, with clear instructions and relatively few ingredients.

The recipe for tomato sandwiches is the only one I’ve tried out so far (no laughing – this was a superior tomato sandwich with thinly-sliced garden tomatoes, new bread, real butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, crusts cut off, served in triangular quarters – light as a feather and divine). However, when I’ve bought in some ingredients I have a whole list of things I want to try. Some highlights of the list include: Mrs Beaver’s Gloriously Sticky Marmalade Roll, Maple Syrup Candy (a.k.a ‘Sugar on Snow’ – literally), St Clare’s Eclairs, Ma’s Hand-Sweetened Cornbread, Aunt Fanny’s Treacly Sticky Ginger Cake and Anne of Green Gables’ Liniment Layer Cake (without the liniment). And who could resist Marilla’s Zero-Alcohol Raspberry Cordial? Yum.

There’s no doubt that children’s fiction contains a wealth of gorgeous foodstuffs. However, the criteria for inclusion in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer was that the food had to be real food, nothing magical or fantastical, and it had to be possible to make in an ordinary home kitchen. The children’s books that are covered are arguably some of the most well-known and well-loved titles, but the period in which they were published is quite specific:

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer covers more or less a century of children’s literature (a century that some people are bound to consider a ‘golden age’). This is because I discovered that food and treats in children’s literature change dramatically around the same time that sexual intercourse began in 1963, as Philip Larkin puts it in his poem ‘Annus Mirabilis‘. . . Novels become grittier, more concerned with realism, and specific and social issues, and they begin to reflect the changes that take place in the home, the workplace and the kitchen.

Some of the texts covered include: Little Women, The Famous Five, Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, Mallory Towers, Milly-Molly-Mandy, The Borrowers, Chalet School, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wind in the Willows, Ballet Shoes, Swallows and Amazons and many many more. I only wish I had read this book before the Vulpes Libris Children’s Week, as so many of the titles discussed in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer are favourites of the Bookfoxes and VL readers.

If you like baking, and enjoy classic kids’ fiction, you’ll love this book. It’s rather amazing that nobody thought of the idea earlier, because as Jane Brocket puts it in the chapter titled “Apples and Attics” (which remembers Jo from Little Women curled up on a sofa in her attic, where she ‘loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book’):

There is a very close connection between eating and reading, consuming both food and the written word, that makes the marriage of the two activities quite heavenly.

Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN-13: 978-0340960899, 312 pages, £16.99, hardback.

7 comments on “Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket

  1. RosyB
    August 12, 2008

    Hmmm. No jelly beans that taste of vomit then?

    You’ve inspired me to have a “superior” tomato sandwich now myself! There was a book I used to love as a child called “Bread and Jam for Frances” just for the fabulous description of another pupil unpacking their lunch at school…I loved all the detail of all the different appetising things being laid out.

    I do have to say this book looks very pricey though and, whilst it is a lovely retro-looking thing, quaintness and novelty alone wouldn’t really be enough to persuade me to part with that much cash for it. Does it offer anything else but recipes based on kid’s books? Is it a nostalgia item really?

  2. Lisa
    August 12, 2008

    A nostalgia item indeed. And yes a lot of the recent Hodder hardbacks are quite expensive at £16.99 (the Picoult too, although I think you can buy them for around a tenner from the online retailers) but this one is a beaut, and what with the cakes and the sections on the original children’s books, it could have been made for me.

    This one is riding quite high in the Amazon chart. I can see why – it’s a really charming, happy book. The day it arrived my mum nabbed it and read it straight off, and is now claiming it for herself… Tsk.

  3. Charlotta
    August 12, 2008

    Lisa this book sounds amazing!!!!!! I wish I could actually cook. I wish it had been around when I was a child! I was obsessed with the Mallory Towers midnight feasts (is it me or did they eat an awful lot of sardines?)

    I’m now desperately trying to think of someone worthy to give it to as a present…. hmmm.

    PS the tomato sandwich sounds yum – hope the crusts went to the birds tho 😉

    PPS What’s a roasted egg?

  4. Lisa
    August 12, 2008

    They did eat a LOT of sardines. I think even once they had sardines dipped in cake…Eww.

    Crusts went to a certain black and white dog with a very waggy tail…

    On the subject of roasted eggs, they are a lost art. A character called ‘Dickon’ in The Secret Garden apparently makes a mean roasted egg. You wet it and then make a tiny whole with a needle in each end of the egg and then roast it in the embers of a fire, just like you would with a potato. A cool oven will do if you don’t have a fire. You leave it there for about an hour (they don’t crack or explode) and then peel it and apparently it’s lurvely, and best served with baked potatoes, salt, butter and fresh milk. I’m going to try this November 5th.

    Maple Syrup Candy (Sugar on Snow) is another weird one. You boil up maple syrup and then drizzle it in artistic squiggles onto a plate of fresh snow (or crushed ice) and the hot syrup cools before your eyes into this waxy, chewy candy, which you can pull into different shapes. I am so trying that.

  5. Charlotta
    August 12, 2008

    Oooh the maple syrup thing sounds yum! Roasted egg a little less so, but still intriguing… this book looks seriously fascinating. Am definitely getting it, even if I never make a single recipe.

  6. Lisa
    August 13, 2008

    Ooh, buy it, it’s definitely worth the money. Let me know if you do try any of the recipes!

  7. Jackie
    August 16, 2008

    My mom has told me about doing the maple syrup thing in her rural Depression-era childhood! I’m surprised a book of this type hasn’t appeared long before this, it would seem to fill a natural niche. I always want the food the characters are having in whatever book I’m reading at the time. Is it the ultimate way of relating to the characters or just the power of suggestion?

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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