Brambly Hedge: Rhubarb Crumble

Books:
The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by  Jill Barklem
1990, Philomel Books

yellowflowersThe other day we went to the first country show of the year.  It’s always a lot of fun, with tractor and hedgelaying displays, dogs, falconry, sheep shearing, sheep herding, and much more.


bh2I was excited to see that the May was in bloom, which means it really is properly Springtime!


Where we live it takes a long time for the warm weather to arrive, and even when it does, you can never trust it to stay nice, so we take advantage of the sunshine whenever we can.  And one of the best ways to do that is to have a picnic, like the mice do in the “Spring Story” in The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge.
BH7The Brambly Hedge stories involve the daily lives of a community of mice.  Kind of like Redwall, but without the fighting and violence.  The edition of Four Seasons that I read has an interesting introduction which includes the author’s description of how she came to write these stories.  She says that one of her favorite pastimes as a child was to observe the tiny lives of little creatures in the grass, which is something that I used to do as well.  Another interesting point is that she cites Arthur Rackham and Leonardo da Vinci as her main influences.  Arthur Rackham is a wonderful illustrator, but it was da Vinci who inspired her architectural and technical interests.
machine
Apparently all the various dwellings and technology in Brambly Hedge was designed to actually work in real life, “apart from the occasional problem of scale.”  Everything the mice use could in theory be provided by the countryside in which they live.
bh3You can see this thought and attention in the lovely illustrations, which are fun to pore over to try to see every little minute detail.
bh5I thought the introduction was very interesting, and while the stories themselves are obviously for younger children, older children who are interested in illustration, writing, or general world building might find it useful.
bh4But on to the story!  “Spring Story” is the tale of what happens in the mouse community on a Spring day which happens to be the birthday of young Wilfred Toadflax.  The rest of the mice conspire to make a surprise picnic for him.  That is the gist of the plot, but the appeal is in the details of the various characters, their homes, and the exciting comestibles they come up with for the picnic.

This chapter is a fun read, and while the text may be difficult for under sevens to read on their own, the pictures are really the star of the show anyway and should be interesting for all ages.  And it would be good inspiration for young children to invent their own world, maybe inspired by watching the minibeasts in the grass.  It is certainly a great inspiration for a picnic.

BH8
The mice seem to really like jam tarts.

Just some of the things described in this story are: bread and bramble jelly, buns, cheese, bramble brandy, hazelnut cake with cream, and primrose puddings.  Bread and jam, buns, cake, and cheese are all great picnic foods.  And it would certainly be interesting to make a primrose pudding! BH6However, without a community of people to carry the picnic, and without access to such ingredients as primroses or clover flour, I think it’s better to pack something simpler.  Here are two picnic menus that can be carried by one person.
picnic2
Picnic 1: Cream Tea
(serves 2 )

  • Small jar of jam
  • Small jar of clotted or thick cream
  • 4 crumpets, toasted
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • A pinch of coarse salt in a screw of wax paper
  • A bottle of raspberry cordial
  • A bottle of May wine

picnic3
Pack in a hamper with two spoons, cloth napkins, and a container for the egg shells.  May wine (or Maiwein or Waldmeisterbowle) is a wine steeped with sweet woodruff which might be difficult to get hold of outside of mainland Europe, plus it is not for the kids, obviously.  You could substitute any other floral drink like elderflower cordial.


picnic4
Picnic 2: Sausages & Crumble
(serves 1 )

  • Italian sausages fried with onions & peppers, and topped with fresh basil
  • Rhubarb crumble cooked in a mini ramekin with a lid
  • Bottle of water or apple juice


Pack the sausages, onions and peppers in a ramekin or tiffin with a flat lid. Put the rhubarb ramekin on top of the other tiffin.  If you don’t have these exact containers you could use any sort of stackable containers.  Put the stacked containers and cutlery (a spork is most useful) on top of a large cloth napkin and tie two corners tightly on top, and then the other two corners over again, like a furoshiki.  This is really convenient and easy to carry.


picnicb
Another thing to consider is entertainment.  In Brambly Hedge, after the picnic the grown-ups napped while the children played hide-and-seek, which is totally valid depending upon the circumstances.
BH10
But you can also bring a book, which is another benefit of having a hamper.

englishfolksongs
English Folk Songs edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin Books Ltd., 2009

I brought a book of folk songs because it seemed appropriate for a country show in May.
robinhood&thepedlarFor the second picnic I packed a rhubarb crumble, which is definitely seasonal and an easy dessert.  This one is grain-free.

Grain-Free Rhubarb Crumble

Ingredients
4 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp butter or other fat
1 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup raw honey or sweetener of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 c. coconut sugar or other coarse sugar
2 Tbsp gooseberry liqueur or gooseberry jam (optional)

Rhubarb has such pretty Springy colors.
Rhubarb has such pretty Springy colors.

Method
Put the chopped rhubarb in a baking dish (you can also put some in little ramekins like I did for the picnic; everything else is the same, it just cooks in about a 3rd of the time).
rhubarbramekin
Dust with the ginger and dot with the honey.  Drizzle over the vanilla and the liqueur or jam if using.  Put the rhubarb in the oven under the grill for 5 minutes, just until it starts to soften a bit.  For the topping, mix the butter into the almond meal with your fingers until it is fully incorporated, then add the sugar.  Sprinkle over the top of your rhubarb.  This makes a soft, English-style crumble, if you prefer crunchy you could add flaked almonds, coconut flakes or oats.  Bake at 175 C or 345 F for 20 to 30 minutes (10 to 15 for a ramekin).  The crumble is done when it is golden and a little bubbly.
rhubarbramekin2


With Summer on the way and a long weekend this week both in the UK and the US, now is a great time to pack up your picnic of choice and go find someplace to enjoy the sun.


 

 

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The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher: A Dish of Sardines and Cress

Books:
Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter
1997, Frederick  Warne
Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor
2008, Simon & Schuster

eggshell1To further explore the verdant theme and make use of all the cress now growing on my kitchen windowsill, I reread The Tale of Jeremy Fisher, which is an extremely watery, green sort of story, perfect for a rainy day.
JFaThe story concerns Mr Jeremy Fisher (a frog), who lives in a “damp house amongst the buttercups at the edge of a pond.”  So close to the edge, in fact, that the water gets into his larder, but Jeremy Fisher doesn’t mind that; he likes getting his feet wet.
JFd He also is pleased when he sees that it’s beginning to rain.

“I will get some worms and go fishing and catch a dish of minnows for my dinner,” said Mr. Jeremy Fisher. “If I catch more than five fish, I will invite my friends Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton. The Alderman, however, eats salad.”

JFcJeremy Fisher does indeed go fishing, but the rest of the story is a series of misadventures.  He fails to catch anything for a long time, so he decides to have his lunch of a butterfly sandwich (!).
JFeBut while he is eating he is pinched by a water-beetle and hears a mysterious splash which he is afraid might be a rat.  Then he catches, instead of a minnow, Jack Sharp the stickleback, who flaps around with his prickly spines, and a shoal of other little fish laugh at Mr Jeremy Fisher.  Worst of all, Jeremy is then eaten by a big trout.  Thankfully, the trout doesn’t like the taste of Jeremy’s a mackintosh and it spits him out.

Poor Mr Jeremy Fisher can’t offer his friends minnows for dinner, but it turns out all right in the end.  Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise brings a salad in a string bag, and Jeremy serves roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce, on the subject of which the author comments:

“which frogs consider a beautiful treat ; but I  think it must have been nasty.”

JFfThis story is fun for all ages, although it does have a little bit of peril for Mr Fisher.  Though he had a bad day, he managed to persevere, adapt and make a nice dinner for his friends anyway.

It would also be a good opportunity to learn about frogs and pond life.  This is a good time of year to look for frogspawn.
tadpoles
You could organise a child’s tea party with “butterfly sandwiches” and “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”  For now, I decided to see if I could make a dish of minnows for myself and a guest.  I wanted to make a salad of leeks and eggs, similar to this one in Citrus and Spice:
c&s2
But obviously it had to be a fish dish.  For the minnows I used sardines, and had them with a bit of toast, a duck egg and a salad of cress.EGG&CRESSa

Dish of Sardines and Cress

Ingredients
2 slices sourdough bread (I used Schär gluten free seeded loaf)
2 eggs (duck eggs if you can get them)
2 handfuls mixed baby spring greens
2 large snips of cress or mustard & cress
1 tin sardines
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp good butter
2 Tbsp young leeks, sliced.
1 sheet nori or kombu
4 fillets anchovies
Squeeze of lemon juice
Mustard and hot sauce to taste
duckeggs
Method
First make the salad: arrange baby spring greens on two plates, and top with cress, chives, and a couple of anchovy fillets (these are very salty so use caution!).  Then cut the nori into one inch strips and sprinkle on top (these are salty too so you only need two or three).  If you like you can cut them into shapes — I cut them to look like butterfly wings.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil.  Next fry the leeks and slices of bread in the butter on medium heat, or you can also use olive oil.


When the bread is golden, set aside and fry the sardines.  Be careful with the sardines as they may fall apart if handled roughly.  After a couple of minutes, when they are hot and slightly crisp, remove them and the leeks to a hot plate and fry the eggs.  Duck eggs are preferable because they are very rich.  They also should take only a minute or two to cook.  Try to keep the yolk a bit runny.  Add the fried bread to the plates with the salad, and top each slice with a couple of sardines.  Then put an egg on top of the sardines.  Sprinkle with a bit more cress and chives.  At this point you can add a squeeze of lemon, although my sardines came in a tin with lemons, so I just drizzled a little of the lemony oil onto my eggs.
egg&cressbServe immediately with hot sauce and mustard.
sardines&cress1


Of course, maybe your guest is more like Ptolemy Tortoise and doesn’t want fish.  In that case, you could make this cute mini stacked omelet.
omeleta
Cheese & Cress Omelet

Ingredients
1 handful baby spring greens
1-2 Tbsp cheese of choice (I used unpasteurized Red Leicester), grated
1 Tbsp milk or cream
A dash salt and pepper to taste
1 snip cress or mustard & cress
2 eggs (preferably duck eggs)
1 tsp butter or olive oil for frying
omeletb
Method
First add the spring greens with a dash of oil or butter to a medium pan to wilt.  This should take less than a minute.  Remove and set aside.  Add the cream to the eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk them up and pour half the mixture onto a medium hot pan.  If you have a mini frying pan you can use that, or you can pour the eggs into a metal cookie cutter to help them keep their shape.  Flip the omelet when it starts to bubble in the middle (it should only take about a minute).  After another minute, remove the omelet to a hot plate and pour the second half of the egg mixture onto the pan.
omelet1
While this is cooking, top the first omelet with the wilted greens, cress, and cheese.  When the second omelet is cooked, place on top of the first and scatter with a bit more cress, cheese, and baby greens.  Serve at once.
omelet3If Jeremy Fisher’s misadventures don’t put you off, never mind the rain and go fishing! 

Whether you fish or not, have friends round for dinner, and cook something with a lot of green.  It doesn’t have to be grasshoppers!sradines&cress6
grasshopper