Snow White: Damson Kissel

Book:
Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, freely translated from the German by Paul Heins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
1974, Little, Brown & Co.
Autumn foraging

Yesterday we went out into the fields to do our last foraging of the Autumn.  We found blackberries, rose hips, haws, sloes, and damsons.  Now is the time of year to finish storing up all the bounty you’ve gathered in for the Winter.

blackberries

 I think it’s fun to really get involved in each season.  The time around Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, and their less-remembered cousins, All Saints’, All Souls’, Samhain, and Winternights, are a reminder of how people used to view this time of year.  It was a liminal time, when it was no longer safe to go out late, because of the spirits, elves or goblins which might be about.  So instead it was the perfect time to stay in and be festive and cozy with your friends and family, and enjoy the fruits of the year.

Damsons

From A Time To Keep by Tasha Tudor
From A Time To Keep by Tasha Tudor, 1977, Rand McNally & Co.

This Hallowe’en I plan to spend doing just that.  I don’t like anything too creepy, but I think it’s a nice time to read some of the older fairy tales, which certainly had their share of darkness and weirdness.  If you look for the original Grimm’s tales, for example, they are a lot different from the ones we are familiar with.

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This version of Snow White is translated from the original German and retains all of the darker elements from the folktale.  I think we all know the basic story of Snow White, so I will focus on the ways in which it differs from the modern version.

The story opens immediately with some evocative imagery:

Once in the middle of winter, when snowflakes were falling like feathers from the sky, a Queen sat sewing by a window, and its frame was of black ebony.  As she sewed, she glanced up at the snow and stuck her finger with the needle and three drops of blood fell into the snow.  Since the red seemed so beautiful against the white, she thought to herself, “If only I had a child as white, as snow, as red as blood, and as dark as ebony.”

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The story carries on with the birth of Snow White, the death of the Queen, and the introduction of the evil stepmother Queen and her obsession with being the fairest in the land.  When she sends the huntsman to kill Snow White, however, she asks for her lungs and liver.  And when she receives what she believes to be them (the huntsman actually kills a boar), she eats them.


Snow White finds the house of the Seven Dwarfs, where there is a nice little reverse Goldilocks sequence where she eats and drinks a little bit from each of the seven plates/cups because she doesn’t want to take too much from any one person.  She then tries out several beds before she finds one the right size for her.  The dwarfs come home and perform the three bears part of the sequence by exclaiming “who has been eating from my little plate?” and “who has been lying in my bed?”  It would be interesting to find out whether this influenced The Three Bears, or the other way around, or if it was a common story trope at the time.
Sw5After that the evil Queen comes after Snow White, of course, except in this version she does it three times.  The first time she comes selling lacings for corsets.  She pulls the laces so tight that Snow White cannot breath and falls down as if dead, but when the dwarfs loosen the laces she is fine again.  The second time the Queen comes selling combs, which are poisoned so that when it is stuck into Snow White’s hair she again falls down as if dead.  But the dwarfs remove the comb and she is fine.  Each time the dwarfs warn Snow White to never, ever let anyone in when they are away, and to not take anything from anyone.  It makes Snow White seem not too bright that she keeps doing this, but the story emphasises that she is young and trusting.

The final time, the Queen makes the poisoned apple.  This one is more clever though, as she predicts that Snow White will be more cautious after being nearly murdered twice.  So she makes one side of the apple red and poisonous, and one side white and harmless.  She shows Snow White that she will eat half the apple herself, so it must be safe.  Of course Snow White gets the red half, and falls down dead.

This time, although the dwarfs try everything, they cannot wake her, so they make the glass coffin for her and keep watch over it.  Sw8
Interestingly, in this version the Prince does not wake Snow White with a kiss, which is good, but instead asks the dwarfs if he can take her away with him so he can always look at her, which is also a bit creepy, but then again she’s dead so it hardly matters to her where her coffin is.

Except when the Prince’s men are carrying the coffin away, they stumble and jostle it, and the piece of apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat.  She wakes up, the Prince immediately proposes, which she is apparently perfectly  happy with, and the wedding is arranged.  There is a bit of a different ending, however.  The Queen is invited to the wedding, but when she arrives, she is made to dance in red hot shoes of iron until she is dead.

The end!

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Obviously this book is not for very young children, even though it is a picture book with fairly simple text.  But older children can enjoy the creepiness and discuss why tales like this were told long ago.  It is clearly a cautionary tale for young people about letting in strangers or accepting gifts, but also an aspirational story about being rewarded for kindness. It perhaps also is about the perils of being obsessed with physical beauty.

The illustrations, by Trina Schart Hyman, have a great moody, dark quality to them which complements the story.  They are fun to pore over on a gloomy evening, to see all the details she put in.

To go with a dark story, I have made a dessert which is both red as blood and dark as ebony.  It is not made with apples, but with damsons.  If you cannot find damsons, you can use any other dark fruit instead, but you may have to thicken it more and adjust the sugar (as damsons are very tart).  Kissel is a sort of syrup, popular in Eastern Europe and Russia, which can be either a drink, or a dessert with pancakes, ice cream, or cream.
Kissel1

Damson Kissel

Ingredients
1 lb damsons
4 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp potato flour, cornflour or arrowroot
kissel2

Method
Wash the damsons and put into a pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer until the fruit is soft.  Push through a sieve or squeeze in a cheesecloth or jelly bag to remove the stones and skins.  At this point I had about 2 cups of purée.  Add the sugar and warm in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Put the cornflour or substitute into a bowl and dissolve in tablespoon or so of warm water, add it to the fruit puree and stir over a low heat until it is like a thick syrup.  Pour into bowls and serve at room temperature, with yogurt, cream, pancakes, porridge, or milk kissel, which is pretty much the same thing but made with milk instead of fruit.

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If you use a bit less cornstarch, this would be a very fun, slightly gruesome-looking drink for Hallowe’en!  And as a syrup there are so many uses for it.
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Happy Hallowe’en!

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Snapshots: October 10th, 2016

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Book:
Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
2015, Clue Publishing
Poem:
Old October by Thomas Constable

So where have I been?  Well, I’ve been moving house.  We moved from one county to another, as well.  As I’m sure you guys know, moving house is THE WORST, we’re still living out of boxes, and so I haven’t been reading a lot or making much food that doesn’t come out of a box or a tin.

However, I thought a little update was in order.  So here is what I have been up to lately.

Books

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but my favourite thing to read, besides kid’s books, is a good Golden Age mystery.  And while I do prefer paper books, the Kindle app can be useful during busy times.  I’m currently reading this:

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Seven Keys to Baldpate by the interestingly-named Earl Derr Biggers. Image from Amazon.com.

I’m only a couple of chapters in, and I’m not sure what I think of it yet.  While it’s hugely entertaining and has a great tone and sense of humour, I’m not quite sure where it’s going.  It was written in 1913, and one of the chapters seems to be anti-suffragists, but that’s a risk you run with old books.  Also, that chapter is narrated by a character who may be being made fun of by the author himself, so you never can tell.  I am still really enjoying it, but I am thinking of waiting to finish it until the Winter, because I like my books to be seasonal, and it has a great snowed-in atmosphere.

I do recommend reading mysteries in the Fall.  They are an inexhaustible resource; even when you have got through Christie and Sayers there are so many more obscure authors to read, and you might find a hidden gem.  Seven Keys to Baldpate, for example, is free on the Kindle app, and you never know what you might find cheap by having a nose around Amazon or your library book sale.

Food

We are having to be very frugal in our new circumstances, but two things which are cheap and comforting are tea and oatmeal.  If you don’t eat oats I still recommend the lovely comfort of a hot bowl of something: soup or broth, for example.  And tea is the best for making you feel like you are treating yourself!  It does not need to be fancy.  Here I am having Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea which is maybe the yummiest tea ever made.  And for bedtime you cannot beat Sleepytime.

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The pumpkin spice cookies are from a mix so we won’t talk about them 🙂 Although I did make the frosting with honey, butter, and pumpkin spice liqueur.

Life

As I said, moving takes over everything so we haven’t had time for much. But we have made time to explore the countryside around our new house. We are so lucky to be able to live in the cutest little village now, with lots of fields and hedgerows. But no matter where you are, there is usually a field or a park or a pick your own or a community garden where you can:

img_2654It’s a bit late in the year and a lot has been picked over, but we found rose hips, haws, sloes, bullace, damsons, and of course blackberries.  There will hopefully be enough to make at least one jar of hedgerow jam or chutney for the Winter.  And it is just fun to do!

What are you reading/eating/doing this October?

I will hopefully be back with another post before the end of October, as things settle in.  As soon as the books are unpacked I will have to have another read of Squashed, for sure!

I’ll leave you with a poem for those of us who are all about this time of year and the coziness it brings!

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Squashed Part 1: Spiced Maple Apple Cider

Books:
Squashed by Joan Bauer
1996, Orion Children’s Books
A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor
1977, Rand McNally & Company

autumnleavesHappy Autumn!   I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post!  I recently got a new job which is keeping me terribly busy and tired.  Too tired to really enjoy many of the delights of my favorite time of year.  But just because I can’t do everything I want to this Fall, it doesn’t mean I can’t do the most important things.

apple tree 2squashedUndoubtably my most reread book of all time is Squashed by Joan Bauer.  I read it every October.   This is obviously a book for somewhat older children and teens.  It deals with a lot of the issues of young adulthood, but in a very lighthearted and humorous way.  The protagonist is Ellie Morgan, a 16-year-old girl in a small town in Iowa, whose dream is to grow a giant pumpkin big enough to win first prize at her local fair.  Along the way she has to deal with a father who doesn’t understand her ambition, her struggle with her weight, the death of her mother, pumpkin thieves, and competition with her rival giant pumpkin grower, the “deeply despicable” Cyril Pool.  It’s nice to have a well-written female protagonist with such a specific and unusual passion as pumpkin growing.

sqashed2

The novel begins in August, with forty-six days to go until the annual Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In and Harvest Fair.  I’m not sure how accurate the descriptions of giant pumpkin growing are (do people really feed their squash buttermilk?), but the writing is incredibly engaging and funny, particularly when Ellie is talking about her pumpkin, Max:

Noble Max, whose ancestors sustained the Pilgrims through their first winter in America.
That first winter must have been a bust, and you can bet the pumpkins weren’t appreciated right off.  Vegetables never are.  The Pilgrim children were probably crabbing by December (‘Oh no, pumpkin again!’), never realizing a pumpkin had all those disease-fighting nutrients and was a key dietary staple since it was too big to be lugged off the settlement by wild, rabid bears.  It just goes to show you that even ancient people couldn’t appreciate something right under their noses, which is probably why the Pilgrims went extinct.  There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially my father.
(p.15)

Ellie is also a great cook, and there are lots of descriptions of food to choose from: Irish soda bread slathered in plum preserves, butter pecan seven-layer cake, baking powder cheese biscuits, split pea soup with sausage, and sautéed cinnamon apples.

However, since this last weekend was our local Apple Day,  I’ve got a big thermos full of fresh apple cider to use up: the ultimate October treat.  Cider is always a sensitive subject for me, since here in the UK you cannot find cider in the American sense.  “Cider” is alcoholic cider.  They have imported the Pumpkin Spice Latte, but not the Caramel Apple Spice…and I don’t like coffee!  Misery!

ciderThe good news is that if you can get yourself to an Apple Day there will no doubt be someone with an apple press squeezing out delicious, unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider.  I usually wait a day for it to ferment just a little, and then it’s time to enjoy it — hot, cold, mulled.

apple day

spices
Spiced Maple Apple Cider

Ingredients
Spices to taste: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, ginger, cardamom
Cinnamon stick
1/2 cup extra-thick or whipped cream (optional)
2 pints fresh apple cider (or cloudy apple juice if you can’t find it)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup

Method
Pour the syrup into a medium hot pan with a dash of water.  Add the vanilla.  If your spices are whole, crush them slightly with a pestle or something heavy.  You can add them to the pan as they are, or put them in a tea ball and then add.  Finally, pour in the cider and bring to a simmer.  Strain into a jar.  If your spices are in a tea ball you can continue to steep them.  When cool enough to drink, top with whipped cream if desired.

DSCF2051Enjoy hot in the most cozy fashion you can manage! 
shopping apples
This October, see if you can find an Apple Day, visit an orchard or a PYO farm, or go scrumping for wild apples!

A Time to Keep‘s October section shows how little the wholesome activity of cider-making has changed:

ttkmaking cider

apple treeTo add to the coziness, my husband made a split pea soup.  Not with sausage, like Ellie’s, but still warming and hearty.  He used this recipe, from a book we got last Christmas:

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Looking forward to Hallowe’en! Who has a costume picked out?