Literary food – Enid Blyton

As I kid, I was bit of a book worm. I really enjoyed the Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon series and I absolutely loved Enid Blyton books. I’d regularly pile up all the pillows I could find in the house on my parent’s bed and hide myself away to read – the Famous Five and Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and St Clares. So many of Blyton’s books were based around the adventures of kids my own age, most likely why they appealed so much. What connected all of those stories together though, was food (also probably why the books appealed to me ha!).

Packing a picnic for a trip to the countryside, eating at a farm house in the mountains in Wales, sneaking around for a midnight snack at boarding school – so often I would read one of her books and get so excited when the food was described. Looking back now, the food was so simple – sandwiches and a tin of fruit or perhaps scones with jam and cream.

Here’s a few excerpts:

Soon they were all sitting on the rocky ledge, which was still warm, watching the sun go down into the lake. It was the most beautiful evening, with the lake as blue as a cornflower and the sky flecked with rosy clouds. They held their hard-boiled eggs in one hand and a piece of bread and butter in the other, munching happily. There was a dish of salt for everyone to dip their eggs into.

‘I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors,’ said George.
― Enid Blyton, Five Go Off in a Caravan

Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful, golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop Cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! and you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Frannie took seven, one after the other, for she was rather greedy.
― Enid Blyton, The Magic Faraway Tree

A long, sturdy kitchen table was covered with a snow-white cloth, and on it was set the finest meal the children had ever seen in their lives.

A great ham sat ready to be carved. A big tongue garnished round with bright green parsley sat by its side. An enormous salad with hard-boiled eggs sprinkled generously all over it was in the middle of the table. Two cold roast chickens were on the table too, with little curly bits of cold bacon set round.

The children’s eyes nearly fell out of their heads. What a feast! And the scones and cakes! The jams and the pure yellow honey! The jugs of creamy milk!
― Enid Blyton, The Mountain of Adventure

Is it any wonder that so many foodies have obsessed over food in Blyton’s books too? Even now, if you Google ‘Enid Blyton and food’, you’ll come across a myriad of results from bloggers testing recipes and some just listing every item of food mentioned in a Blyton book ( I quite enjoyed reading the list).

Blyton made you want to jump into the pages and share the meal with her characters. The characters could be running from a villain, but the action always stopped for a meal.

Do you sometimes have these nostalgic moments when you feel the need to buy or do something that brings you back to that time? I know I have them. In fact, in one of those moments, I began a really long search to find a copy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket. The idea of a recipe book based on books from my childhood was just so appealing, I couldn’t help myself.

Sadly, the book didn’t contain the recipe I was dying to try: Silky’s Pop Biscuits from the Faraway Tree. In the Faraway Stories, the food was always so fantastical. Pop Biscuits would explode and from them, delicious honey would pour into your mouth. They also had Google Buns (way before the search engine came along!), with a large sherbet-filled current in the middle. There’s also the sweet I’d love to try, but may require the help of Heston Blumenthal to make: toffee shocks, the sweets that expanded in your mouth until they finally exploded into the nothing. I’m sure it would give me a fright, but it would be worth it! That, and shocking everyone else!

If you’re looking for me, I could just be hiding in my room re-reading The Mountain of Adventure (another of my favourites). I hope you’ll join me (just not in my room, I can’t share the pillow fort).

What’s your favourite book food? Harry Potter? Anne of Green Gables? Something else? I’d love to hear about it!

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My kitchen staple, Jamie’s Ministry of Food

Jamie's Ministry of foodAs a foodie, one of the things I get asked most often is, ‘what is your favourite cookbook?’, or ‘what cookbook would you recommend?’. For me, that cookbook always has and always will be Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food.

It is definitely my most used cookbook. It has pages stuck together from trying out so many of the recipes, and bits of desiccated coconut in the creases. But more importantly, this book has improved so many of my cooking techniques, and if ever I’m stuck for ideas it is always the book I reach for first.

Some other kitchen companions of mine include The Commonsense Cookery Book and Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia of food & cookery.

When I was younger, my Nanna Pat gave me a copy of The Commonsense Cookery Book which was her go-to while she was growing up (yes, this is the edition I still have on my bookshelf!), and I still do occasionally refer to it, though it’s completely falling apart! It is excellent resource for all those basic sauces, good old-fashioned chocolate cakes, jams and preserves, and 70s style casseroles.

The Commonsense Cookery bookAs for Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery…Warning! This is a thick (and heavy) book which takes up plenty of room in your bookshelf. This book is so important in my collection as it revolutionised how I cook my scones. Unfortunately I do not have a family recipe that I go to, or use lemonade, or crazy amounts of bicarb and baking powder to make it rise, my simple trick is to use Margaret’s recipe which is just self-raising flour, milk and butter! It is so simple and it has never failed me! Go on, give it a go!

So back to Jamie’s Ministry of Food.

Whether you’re after a quick and easy meal, or need to impress family, friends or that special someone you can find it all in this one book. It also has so many everyday recipes, to which Jamie has added his special flair, that makes them not only really achievable but taste fantastic! Some of my favourite dishes are the Quick Salmon tikka with cucumber yoghurt (page 28), Pot-Roast Meatloaf (oldie but a goodie, page 161), Lasagne (seriously easy and so tasty, page 169) and lastly, a consistently good gravy (best you will EVER make, page 205).

The reason I would recommend this book to anyone is because of the value of the contents. Even a foodie like me will appreciate his basic ‘how to make perfect light and fluffy rice’, and what to do to ‘jazz it up’ a little more. He has a great concept for easy salad dressings which can all be made in a jar and great salad recipes, packed with flavour, to suit the dressings.

The Margaret Fulton's Encyclopedia of food and cookerything that gets me the most with this book, and my main selling point when recommending it, is the roast section. Jamie explains how to cook every type of roast to PERFECTION! I kid you not, the reason I am famous for my Sunday Roast Pork is thanks to Jamie. I will now always stack my meat on a selection of veggies to increase the flavour of my gravy (which is another thing I am known for, thanks to Jamie).

So if I haven’t sold it to you already, why not check some of the recipes from the cookbook that are available online.

So, what’s your favourite cookbook or go-to kitchen companion? Would love to hear your thoughts!

 

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The One with the Jam

Remember when you where a kid and your Mom would drop you off at the movies with a jar of jam and a little spoon? – Joey Tribbiani (Friends, s3, e3)

Ok, no one ever dropped me at the movies with a jar of jam, but sometimes I wish that could have been me! Jam is amazing, and extraordinary jam is like ambrosia.

My grandmother (on Dad’s side) can make jam out of everything. Whenever I visit France and stay with her, I could seriously go through a jar of jam in two weeks because I’d be slathering it on brioche every morning. And, I don’t believe in scrapings of jam, it’s got to be thick, baby!

I quite enjoy making jam – my favourite is probably apricot, followed by cherry and then plum. Then the others, of course! When I was in France at the beginning of the year, I found an apricot and lavender jam and was so excited! I didn’t get to try any of it though, because in the process of packing I dropped it! I wasn’t even angry about having to clean up, just really disappointed I didn’t get to try the jam (I may have contemplated sticking my finger in the mess on the floor before wiping it, but the fear of broken glass made me change my mind).

I’ve been thinking about making a strawberry jam since my order of dried rose petals came in the post, but sometimes it’s just not worth it at $2-3 a punnet if you’re doing a big batch. This weekend, the strawberries were about $1 a punnet and it was then I knew that it was jam making time.

I bought six punnets, which worked out to about 1.3kgs once I’d hulled them. I didn’t work to an exact recipe, only what I knew about jam – fruit and sugar and a bit of tartness. Here’s what I did:

1.3kg strawberries, quartered
500gms sugar (about half was my stash of vanillin sugar that I keep in the cupboard)
Juice of two lemons (I squeeze into a sieve to make sure no pips find their way in)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tab dried rose petals

I put the ingredients into the pot and on a low heat for about 30 minutes or so.
Then, I popped it on medium to get things moving for about 15 minutes.
Then back on low for another 30 minutes or so.
Make sure you’re stirring regularly.

Ideally, your fruit should be plenty broken down by this stage and it’s then up to you when you stop the cooking process – some people like a runny jam and others like it be quite set. I’m in the middle somewhere, so I just keep checking the mixture by picking some up on the wooden spoon and letting it slide off – if it comes off thick, it’s ready. You can also do soft drop tests etc. Be careful not to overcook, it can become quite dark and the taste isn’t awful, but you can tell it has been overdone.

The result was a lovely jam that wasn’t too sweet. The vanilla notes weren’t too strong, but you can definitely tell it’s not just strawberry and sugar. I was disappointed though, at the lack of rose scent. I’ll probably try with fresh petals next time!

I’ve never bottled jam, though I’d like to give that a go one day. I usually portion it up and give the jam to friends and family, keeping just the one jar for myself. I took some to work for a colleague and she told me it was was the best she’d ever had, which made me very happy.

Are you a jam fan, what’s your recipe?

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