Book: The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
1991, Penguin Books Ltd
Day 3and we are still in full festive mode. We ventured out once to play in the snow, but the rest of the time is best spent snuggling up with hot chocolate and books.
The Jolly Postman is a deserved classic, and the Christmas sequel is just as fun. For anyone unfamiliar, the Jolly Postman delivers letters to various fairytale characters, and all of the letters come in “envelopes” in the pages and are removable.
The Christmas version allows for the addition of Christmas cards (such as one from Goldilocks to Baby Bear) and gifts. Humpty Dumpty receives a puzzle from all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. The Gingerbread Boy receives a tiny book with an even tinier book inside it from Pat O’Cake Bakers. Red Riding Hood receives a board game from Mr Wolf. All of these are removable and playable.
Part of the fun of this book is all the careful little details that make up the mix of fairytales and English village life, such as the Cat and the Fiddle pub, or the milkman delivering to King Cole’s castle. The illustrations are very lively and fun to pore over.
The Jolly Postman’s Christmas Mince Pie Tally
2 mince pies
24 miniature mince pies
1 cup ginger beer
1 miniature bucket of tea
1 cup of tea
1 glass sherry
1 slice Christmas cake
The Postman finishes his day with a Christmas cake and sherry, but you could just as well have tea and mince pies, or hot chocolate. Anything that makes you feel warm and snug!
Books: Squashed by Joan Bauer
1996, Orion Children’s Books A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor
1977, Rand McNally & Company
Happy 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.
Undoubtably 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.
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.
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!
The 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.
Spiced Maple Apple Cider
Spices to taste: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, ginger, cardamom
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
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.
Enjoy hot in the most cozy fashion you can manage! 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:
To 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:
Book: Nursery songs & rhymes of England illustrated by Winifred Smith
1895, D. Nutt
Glad Midsommar! Last week was Midsummer, and it might have been a very festive one for you if you live in certain countries, particularly Scandinavian ones. It is not so much a thing in my neck of the woods, and I have had a busy couple of weeks with lots of work, but I wanted to do something to honor the festival. Last weekend we went to our local Pick Your Own farm, and brought home a punnet of gooseberries, a punnet of raspberries, and a punnet of strawberries.
A common food at Midsummer parties is strawberries, and I thought I would make something that would be satisfying without being too much work (or involve turning on the oven — we are having a heatwave here!).
I was inspired by this nursery rhyme:
contains most of the classic nursery rhymes, in all of their strangeness, alongside beautifully pristine black and white illustrations. “Curly Locks” itself is fairly straightforward, although it’s not clear whether it is aspirational on the part of Curly Locks herself, or whether she is not buying her suitor’s line. It might be a fun assignment to write her response to the proposal. As it is, it is pretty convincing. Of course, I can get curly locks with the help of rag curls, I already sit on cushions a lot and I definitely can’t sew a fine seam. But strawberries, sugar and cream? I’d sure like to try that.
Clearly, strawberries, sugar and cream are the ultimate in luxury. Now, there are two ways to have strawberries and cream. The best way is to come home with some strawberries freshly picked by yourself, immediately douse them in cream, and tuck in. But you might want to be a little fancier, maybe for an occasion such as the 4th of July this weekend. Strawberries, Sugar & Cream
1 cup of the nicest-looking strawberries, topped and halved
Sugar to taste (I used 1 tsp)
1 cup extra-thick (or whipped or clotted) cream
Fresh mint to garnish
Place the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle sugar to taste on the cut halves. While I like the strawberries tart, the sugar helps draw out the juice. Leave for 5 minutes to let the sugar work and then cover the lot with cream. This dish is best left to marinate, so put it in the fridge for 2 – 6 hours, stirring a couple of times to incorporate the juice. Serve in a glass with mint leaves.
Eat in the garden and feel very luxurious since you are not currently washing dishes or feeding swine! To make further use of the strawberries, I also made some Pimm’s. This is for grownups only! Pimm’s is very popular in this part of England, and people do end up drinking a fair bit of it in the Summer, both the real stuff and knockoff versions. There’s lots you can do with Pimm’s, but the usual is (fizzy English) lemonade with additions as various as strawberries, mint & cucumber, sometimes with apples, lemons and/or oranges as well.
Pimm’s (no substitute for non-UK people, I’m afraid. Apparently it is gin-based but it does not taste like gin to me. You could try a dash of rum or brandy)
Fizzy lemonade or other lemony soda
Fresh mint leaves, torn
Other garnishes as desired
Pour the Pimm’s and add the lemonade, in a ratio of one part Pimm’s to 3 parts lemonade. Add garnishes to taste. Pimm’s is best made in a big pitcher and put in the fridge for half an hour or so, because it improves with time, the drink absorbing the flavours of the fruit and mint, and vice versa. It’s almost too hot to sit outside…so I might need to jump in the sprinkler setting on the garden hose before I enjoy my strawberries two ways!