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Food Descriptions in Children's Books

PUBLISHED: 09:23 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013

Children's books are timeless illustrations of our culture through the ages

Children's books are timeless illustrations of our culture through the ages

Children's classics have long provided mouth-watering descriptions of food, as June Lewis discovers

'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.'


Francis Bacon: Essays 'Of Studies' 1625


The reference to the value of books as an important part of our heritage has been penned by numerous writers over the ages: 'Books think for me' wrote Charles Lamb; 'Books do furnish a room' the English novelist, Anthony Powell declared, and Alberto Manguel devoted a whole book on interesting libraries of the world from the earliest civilisations through to cyberspace reading. His list 'of books I'd like to have but I don't even know exist' is impressive, of course, for the 'would-like' academic studies of the literary greats, but I was intrigued by the inclusion of 'a literary cookbook that draws its recipes from fictional descriptions of food'. Just the book I started writing two decades ago! And, yes, it is still in its embryonic state of yellowing typewritten pages held together with now rusting paper clips, ink spattered notes and carefully written lists of 'recipes to create' - a number of which are on separate cards and envelope backs bearing the splashes and splodges of beaten, whisked and creamed creations of long ago with sticky fingerprints punctuating the jottings of ingredients, method and cooking times as I devised and tried out my collection of Cooking from the Classics. Roly poly, pudding and pie, soups and sweets and tea time treats, buns and muffins, cake and crumpets - they were all tried and tested to give substance to the food enjoyed by my literary friends who live between the covers of my books.


It is mainly in the children's classics that the best descriptions of food are given in any detail. Beatrix Potter had the Tailor of Gloucester sending Simpkin into the city streets with the tailor's last groat and a china pipkin to 'buy a penn'orth of bread, a penn'orth of milk and a penn'orth of sausages ...'no doubt they would have been the Gloucester sausage - as famous in our regional fare as the cherry-coloured silk (which Simpkin was to have bought with the last penny of the groat). When Laurie Lee recounted the midsummer morning when he walked into a new future from his Slad Valley home, he describes the meals of his earlier days. 'My favourite was the pie - a little basin of meat wrapped in a caul of suety dough which was kept boiling all day in a copper cauldron in a cupboard under the stairs'. After adapting a Mrs Beeton's recipe for Mock Turtle Soup (that served ten people at a cost of half-a-crown in the old money of her day) that would have been acceptable to Alice in her wonderland and countless other literary lip-licking dishes, such as muffins which would rouse the Snark, according to The Baker's Tale, my cook book from the classics languished in the attic while other writing projects took priority. Then, as many another writer will no doubt have found - the book, or something similar, but on the same theme is there in print - on the bookshelves, written by another author who, according to her introduction, had the idea much later than I did, but got on with it much quicker! The book I wish I had written.


Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, a Golden Treasury of Classic Treats may now find its way to Alberto Manguel's library, fulfilling at least one of his wish-list of books. A delightful book, conjuring up the taste of all the bakes and cakes that our childhood heroes found 'scrumptious' and so worthy of full descriptions of sticky, spicy gingerbread, seed cake and fruity fruit cake, coconut cake and cherry cake, 'more-jam-than-puff jam puffs', 'proper' elevenses and suppers, tea-time, midnight feasts and picnic treats, Jane Brocket encourages children to get into the kitchen and learn how to make the food of the books whilst cooks of all ages can relive the tales and adventures of 'once upon a time'. It is also interesting that the author explores our changed eating habits and times, and even how the names of meal times have different meanings. 'Elevenses is a quintessentially British ritual and one that I, like Winnie-the-Pooh and Hobbits, am very keen to uphold. I was brought up with elevenses and an appreciation of the moment scheduled halfway between breakfast and lunch for a little sit-down and a reward.'


Jane Brocket admits to being a proper supper-lover, too, as in the endearing picture of Milly-Molly-Mandy in her red dressing gown, with her little friend Susan, wrapped in Gradma's red shawl, sitting on stools in front of the fire eating Muvver's 'lid potatoes'. Names of mealtimes have lost their former timetabling and meaning: coffee breaks ousting elevenses at mid-morning; school dinners served at lunchtime; tea-time - maintained in its traditional English form more in tea-shops and hotels to please visitors than in home style eating, with dinner in the evening often as the main meal of the day, but a picnic must surely be the most movable feast - quite literally. And not time specific. The most famous of all picnics must be the one Rat prepared in the fat wicker basket when he took Mole into literary legend with The Wind in the Willows. 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater...' a breathtaking assemblage even if the author had given space between the words!


What a taste of books our children's classics hold between their pages; our taste in books obviously develops as we grow older and read a wider field, but the taste for books is universal as developed countries fight for a more literate society. This is the situation in Sierra Leone, a former British colony - once the second-richest country in Africa - now struggling to recover from 11 years of civil war and atrocities crippling society and individuals, leaving Sierra Leone one of the poorest countries in the world. When Claire Curtis-Thomas, a Member of Parliament and an engineer, visited the town of Waterloo near Freetown and asked people what they most wanted it was not the power plants and sanitation and hospitals infrastructure - but books. Only 20,000 library books are available in the country of almost six million people, which works out to one book for every 300 people. The schools have no books and reading is only from the blackboard. Adult literacy is a mere 42 per cent, but the hunger for learning about British culture is immense.


Claire Curtis-Thomas now chairs the charity CODEP aimed at constructing a world class library and literacy facility, supporting all levels of education, and improving the technical capacity of communities to help in the resurgence of the region. The initial aim is to establish libraries in 35 schools in the Waterloo area as a pivotal point from which the ongoing project will radiate. An appeal is now made for donations of children's books, outgrown by families, groups and schools, to help equip what is designed to be the largest library in West Africa and enable the children of Sierra Leone to have school libraries in which they, too, can experience the taste of books.


Please contact Ranall of CODEP for your nearest collection centre for March 2009. Her email address is: ranall@codep.co.uk


'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.'


Francis Bacon: Essays 'Of Studies' 1625


The reference to the value of books as an important part of our heritage has been penned by numerous writers over the ages: 'Books think for me' wrote Charles Lamb; 'Books do furnish a room' the English novelist, Anthony Powell declared, and Alberto Manguel devoted a whole book on interesting libraries of the world from the earliest civilisations through to cyberspace reading. His list 'of books I'd like to have but I don't even know exist' is impressive, of course, for the 'would-like' academic studies of the literary greats, but I was intrigued by the inclusion of 'a literary cookbook that draws its recipes from fictional descriptions of food'. Just the book I started writing two decades ago! And, yes, it is still in its embryonic state of yellowing typewritten pages held together with now rusting paper clips, ink spattered notes and carefully written lists of 'recipes to create' - a number of which are on separate cards and envelope backs bearing the splashes and splodges of beaten, whisked and creamed creations of long ago with sticky fingerprints punctuating the jottings of ingredients, method and cooking times as I devised and tried out my collection of Cooking from the Classics. Roly poly, pudding and pie, soups and sweets and tea time treats, buns and muffins, cake and crumpets - they were all tried and tested to give substance to the food enjoyed by my literary friends who live between the covers of my books.


It is mainly in the children's classics that the best descriptions of food are given in any detail. Beatrix Potter had the Tailor of Gloucester sending Simpkin into the city streets with the tailor's last groat and a china pipkin to 'buy a penn'orth of bread, a penn'orth of milk and a penn'orth of sausages ...'no doubt they would have been the Gloucester sausage - as famous in our regional fare as the cherry-coloured silk (which Simpkin was to have bought with the last penny of the groat). When Laurie Lee recounted the midsummer morning when he walked into a new future from his Slad Valley home, he describes the meals of his earlier days. 'My favourite was the pie - a little basin of meat wrapped in a caul of suety dough which was kept boiling all day in a copper cauldron in a cupboard under the stairs'. After adapting a Mrs Beeton's recipe for Mock Turtle Soup (that served ten people at a cost of half-a-crown in the old money of her day) that would have been acceptable to Alice in her wonderland and countless other literary lip-licking dishes, such as muffins which would rouse the Snark, according to The Baker's Tale, my cook book from the classics languished in the attic while other writing projects took priority. Then, as many another writer will no doubt have found - the book, or something similar, but on the same theme is there in print - on the bookshelves, written by another author who, according to her introduction, had the idea much later than I did, but got on with it much quicker! The book I wish I had written.


Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, a Golden Treasury of Classic Treats may now find its way to Alberto Manguel's library, fulfilling at least one of his wish-list of books. A delightful book, conjuring up the taste of all the bakes and cakes that our childhood heroes found 'scrumptious' and so worthy of full descriptions of sticky, spicy gingerbread, seed cake and fruity fruit cake, coconut cake and cherry cake, 'more-jam-than-puff jam puffs', 'proper' elevenses and suppers, tea-time, midnight feasts and picnic treats, Jane Brocket encourages children to get into the kitchen and learn how to make the food of the books whilst cooks of all ages can relive the tales and adventures of 'once upon a time'. It is also interesting that the author explores our changed eating habits and times, and even how the names of meal times have different meanings. 'Elevenses is a quintessentially British ritual and one that I, like Winnie-the-Pooh and Hobbits, am very keen to uphold. I was brought up with elevenses and an appreciation of the moment scheduled halfway between breakfast and lunch for a little sit-down and a reward.'


Jane Brocket admits to being a proper supper-lover, too, as in the endearing picture of Milly-Molly-Mandy in her red dressing gown, with her little friend Susan, wrapped in Gradma's red shawl, sitting on stools in front of the fire eating Muvver's 'lid potatoes'. Names of mealtimes have lost their former timetabling and meaning: coffee breaks ousting elevenses at mid-morning; school dinners served at lunchtime; tea-time - maintained in its traditional English form more in tea-shops and hotels to please visitors than in home style eating, with dinner in the evening often as the main meal of the day, but a picnic must surely be the most movable feast - quite literally. And not time specific. The most famous of all picnics must be the one Rat prepared in the fat wicker basket when he took Mole into literary legend with The Wind in the Willows. 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater...' a breathtaking assemblage even if the author had given space between the words!


What a taste of books our children's classics hold between their pages; our taste in books obviously develops as we grow older and read a wider field, but the taste for books is universal as developed countries fight for a more literate society. This is the situation in Sierra Leone, a former British colony - once the second-richest country in Africa - now struggling to recover from 11 years of civil war and atrocities crippling society and individuals, leaving Sierra Leone one of the poorest countries in the world. When Claire Curtis-Thomas, a Member of Parliament and an engineer, visited the town of Waterloo near Freetown and asked people what they most wanted it was not the power plants and sanitation and hospitals infrastructure - but books. Only 20,000 library books are available in the country of almost six million people, which works out to one book for every 300 people. The schools have no books and reading is only from the blackboard. Adult literacy is a mere 42 per cent, but the hunger for learning about British culture is immense.


Claire Curtis-Thomas now chairs the charity CODEP aimed at constructing a world class library and literacy facility, supporting all levels of education, and improving the technical capacity of communities to help in the resurgence of the region. The initial aim is to establish libraries in 35 schools in the Waterloo area as a pivotal point from which the ongoing project will radiate. An appeal is now made for donations of children's books, outgrown by families, groups and schools, to help equip what is designed to be the largest library in West Africa and enable the children of Sierra Leone to have school libraries in which they, too, can experience the taste of books.


Please contact Ranall of CODEP for your nearest collection centre for March 2009. Her email address is: ranall@codep.co.uk

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