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 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.