Little House in the Big Woods: Bread, Butter, and Honey

Book:
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams
1971, Harper & Row
august
August is the month of first harvests. The 1st of August is Lammas, or Loaf Mass, when people used to bless loaves of bread made from the first crops.  Although this is in some ways the longest, sleepiest month of Summer, we are already looking forward to Autumn, and gathering in the rest of the harvest.grain1If you go out into the fields now you can see what is growing.  Around here it is oats and barley.

oats & barley
Top: oats. Bottom: barley.

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Nowadays we don’t usually see the full process that turns these grains into flour.  In Little House in the Big Woods, however, harvest, like everything else, was very hands on.  In the chapter entitled “Harvest”, it describes how Pa Ingalls harvested the oats.
harvest1

Pa Ingalls and Uncle Henry helped each other with their harvests.  They cut the oats with a tool called a cradle, tied each bundle with a band of oats, stood five bundles together and then covered with two more bundles, spreading the stalks to make a roof and shelter the five underneath.  This is called a shock (as in, “the fodder’s in the shock”.).  All this had to be done before dark when the dew would fall.
grain2
The main drama of this chapter is how the disobedient Cousin Charley gets stung a by a load of yellow jackets.  However, I think the grueling description of the harvesting of the oats is more interesting.  In the next chapter, “The Wonderful Machine,” Pa sends for a newfangled horsepowered separator to help with the wheat harvest.  Pa, who is “all for progress”, is very pleased with this modernisation.

farmhouse cookery
Fodder in the shock! And a harvest picnic including bread & butter. From Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from the Country Kitchen, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, 1982

harvest2But while the oat harvest was hard work, I’m sure the result was much appreciated.
One of the best aspects of the Little House books, and one which is perhaps best enjoyed by older readers, is the detailed description of life back then.  It really is fascinating to see the hard work which used to go into every little part of life.  It provides useful perspective on our own lives.

Little House in the Big Woods is a fun and interesting read.  It is a bit long, with some technical/historical language, so it would be difficult for under eights to read on their own.  Reading with an adult would also be helpful to deal with some of the harsher realities of that time period.  For example, Laura’s family  lives with the danger of wild animals actually killing them, there is a quite detailed description of hog butchery, and there is also corporal punishment, when Laura is hit with a strap for slapping her sister.  But I think all of these things are not negatives in and of themselves, they just have to be discussed and put into the context of the time period and situation.

Personally, I am certainly not going to be harvesting my own grain anytime soon.  My family doesn’t usually eat bread, either.  But if you are going to, homemade is best, because you can choose what goes into it.  And more important than the bread, to my mind, is what goes on top.
LHBWspreadbook, bowl, butterOne of the nicest things to go on bread is honey, and that is also something that the Ingalls family harvested for the Winter.  In the chapter “Summertime”, Pa finds a bee tree, and comes running back to grab his ax, the two wash tubs, and all the pails and buckets they have.  He has to scare a bear away first, but he then is able to chop down the tree and split it open, and bring home lots and lots of honeycomb.  It should be remembered that store-bought sugar was a real luxury in those days, so everyone must have been very excited to have all that honey!

Laura is sorry for the bees, but Pa says that he has left lots of honey there, and there was another hollow tree nearby.  The bees would take the old honey, turn it into new, and store it up for the winter.
honeyIf you can it’s best to buy local, raw honey, that still has all of its goodness.  Honeycomb is a bonus!
honeycomb on toasthoneycomb on toast2Honey is really lovely with butter, and that is another thing which the Ingalls family had to make all by themselves.  This time it was Ma Ingalls who did all the work.  The chapter “Winter Days” describes what happened every Thursday, which was the day of the week for churning.  Because it takes place in Winter, the cream wasn’t yellow as it was in Summer (when the cows were eating fresh grass).  Because Ma liked everything to be pretty, she colored the butter with a carrot that she grated on the bottom of a pan that Pa had punched full of nail-holes for her.  She put the grated carrot into hot milk, poured it into a cloth, and squeezed the yellow milk into the crockery churn full of cream which had been put it by the stove to warm.  After that Laura and Mary eat the grated carrot as a treat!  Next, Ma scalded the wooden churn-dash, put it in the churn, and dropped the churn-cover on top.  She would have to churn for a long time, as the cream began to look grainy, and finally there would be a big lump of butter in buttermilk.  Ma then took out the butter with a wooden paddle, and washed it many times in cold water, working it with the paddle until the water ran clear.  Then the butter was salted.  Ma had a butter-mold with a strawberry and its leaves on the bottom.
LHBW

Laura and Mary watched, breathless…while the golden little butter-pats, each with its strawberry on top, dropped on to the plate…Then Ma gave them each a drink of good, fresh buttermilk.

I would love to have a butter-mold!  But even without one you can make butter at home.  And you don’t need a churn either.

Home-made Butter

Ingredients
1/2 pint heavy (double) cream
Salt to taste

Method
There are various ways to churn the butter.  You can use a mixer or a blender, but my preferred method is the good old-fashioned jar.  Just pour your cream into a jar which is big enough to leave at least a third of the jar empty.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake!  It’s a bit of a workout, but it actually only takes a few minutes before you will feel that the cream is not sloshing around anymore.  When you check, you’ll find the cream has thickened right up.  Keep going a little longer, and you will see the cream has become granular.
butter1-2.jpgThis is normal: those are actually tiny grains of butter!  Eventually they will coalesce into larger lumps and a milky-looking liquid. 

butter3
You have your beautiful yellow butter!  Now it’s time to wash the butter, pretty much like Ma Ingalls did.  Pour off the buttermilk into another container.  Don’t throw it away!  You can use it in baking or just drink it (Note: this traditional buttermilk, so it is not sour like the cultured buttermilk you can buy in stores)!  Put the butter in a bowl and add cold water.  Swish and mash the butter around in the water with a wooden spoon.  The water will turn cloudy.  That’s OK, it’s the last of the buttermilk coming out.  Pour the water off and add fresh water.  You may have to repeat this a few times until the water stays clear.  butter3-4.jpg
Pour off the last of the water and your butter is done!  You can salt it to your own taste, then all there is left to do is shape the butter.  Since I don’t have a butter press or mold, I packed it into a silicone cupcake case and left it in the fridge to harden up.  In a couple of hours it was ready.LHBWspread1bread&honeyMaking butter may seem superfluous nowadays, however I can promise you that homemade butter tastes a million times better than store bought!  It is also a fun, easy Science or Home Ec project for kids that doesn’t take more than 20 minutes altogether.
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LHBWspread2

Make some bread to have with your butter and honey, and have a harvest feast.  It tastes even better when you have done the work yourself!grain3
beeRemember to thank the bees!  They need our help!

Brambly Hedge: Honey Creams

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

dahliaWe are in the dog days of Summer.  The garden is a jungle, and the freezer is full of popsicles.  In The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge, the Summer Story begins with a description of how the mice spend their time by the stream to keep cool.

 

BHSaBy the banks of the stream was the dairy mill, powered by the flowing water.  Poppy Eyebright looked after the Dairy Stump.
BHSb
BHSdFurther down the stream was the flour mill, run by Dusty Dogwood.

BHSc

The two meet walking by the stream and eventually get engaged.  What follows is the story of the preparations for the wedding, which is on Midsummer’s Day.
BHSe

Brambly Hedge Wedding Menu:
Cold watercress soup
Fresh dandelion salad
Honey creams
Syllabubs
Merengues.
Huge baskets of wild strawberries
Primrose, meadowsweet and and elderflower wine

The first drama of the story is when the groom (“Dusty by name, dusty by nature”) accidentally gets flour all over himself and his best man.  But of course, as in real weddings, once everything gets started those sort of things don’t matter.

BHSf
BHSgThe wedding is held on the stream on a bark raft.  The second drama is that during the reception the enthusiastic dancing causes the raft’s moorings to break and they drift in to the stream.  But this doesn’t cause alarm either, the dancing carries on and eventually they catch on some rushes and forget-me-nots and are able to tie up again.  When evening falls, the party breaks up and heads home  Poppy and Dusty slip away to the primrose woods, to a cottage surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle, “the perfect place for a honeymoon”.
honeycream8Summer Story is a sweet little story and the perfect representation of an old-fashioned Summer wedding.  Like Spring Story, it is suitable for all ages and has very interesting illustrations.  The flour mill and the dairy mill pages in particular are fun to pore over, trying to see how they work.

Poppy and Dusty’s wedding menu of “cool summer foods” offers a lot to choose from, but I decided to make honey creams, because I had never heard of them.  It turns out most people haven’t!  In the end the only recipe I found was this one, which reveals honey creams to be a sort of ice cream.

honeycreams1Honey Creams

Ingredients:
4 Tbsp thick honey
4 egg yolks
Half a pint whipping cream
1 Tbsp honey liqueur (optional)

The original recipe calls for grated chocolate, but i didn’t use it because I don’t think they have chocolate in Brambly Hedge.

honeycreams2

Method:
Heat the honey in a pan until it is a bit runny.  Let it cool slightly.  Beat the egg yolks and drizzle in the honey, mixing until it is a bit thick and pale yellow. Whip the cream.  You could use pre-whipped cream or thick cream as well, depending on how light you want your creams to be.  I just put it in a jar and shook it until it was thick, which led to very set ice cream.

Whip together the egg yolk mixture and the cream mixture.  At this point you can choose whether to add the liqueur.  The original recipe calls for 4 Tbsp of whiskey, but I omitted that in case people wanted a less boozy dessert.  I divided the mixture in two and made a plain a version and one with 1 Tbsp of honey liqueur.  Divide into ramekins.  I used silicone cupcake moulds for ease of removal.  Freeze for at least 4 hours, until set.

honeycream7Without the booze, this is definitely ice cream.  I have never made a proper ice cream with egg yolks before, and the combination of the rich custard with the honey is delicious.  Be aware that this does contain raw eggs.  Here in the UK most eggs are safe raw, but be careful anyway.

The way I made them (without proper whipped cream) the honey creams are very dense, like those ice cream blocks you can buy for ice cream cakes, but they only take a couple of minutes to thaw enough to eat, and in fact melt pretty quickly, so if you are bringing these somewhere you will need a portable cooler.  They are very sweet and taste strongly of honey, so I might recommend only using 3 Tbsp honey if you don’t have a sweet tooth.  Both the plain and the liqueur version are equally nice.

You could add any topping you want; I added blueberries.  Overall they are an amazing and luxurious Summer treat, perfect for a day on the river.

honeycreams11
Take your ice cream outside and enjoy it in the Sun, preferably by a body of water, or even a paddling pool to rest your feet in.


 

 

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Summer Party: Fairy Bread and Bubble Tea

Book: 
Summer Party  by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
2002, Aladdin Paperbacks
Poem:
Fairy Bread by Robert Louis Stevenson
sprinklesSPb
How is everyone’s Summer?  We haven’t had many nice days here.  It’s been rather cold.  But Summer is fleeting and you have to make the best of it!  We have had a couple of barbecues and similar festivities.  One Sunday we even got out the pool but it was too chilly!

Recently I read a book about making the best of things.  Summer Party is about Lily, Rosie, and Tess (a pair of sisters and their cousin, all aged nine) who live with their Aunt Lucy for a year while their parents are travelling with the ballet.  They get to live in an attic and it’s all very bohemian and charming.
SPd
Although this is a short book, a lot of detail is put into every character.  Rosie is the most sentimental, Lily writes poems, Tess wants to be an actress, etc. Aunt Lucy has a flower shop, and her boyfriend Michael, who is from a wealthy family but is studying to be a botanist, always looks a bit shy and crumpled.

As the story opens the girls are all quite sad because when their parents get back they will have to leave their aunt and each other.  They are feeling very conflicted and weepy in the first couple of chapters.
But their aunt and Michael try to help them cheer up, not by ignoring their feelings, but by addressing them in an active way.  Their aunt says that a good way to do this is to find something to look forward to and make plans for the future.  The girls realise that they will be able to have reunions with each other and the whole family every year.  They are also encouraged to do something fun now, and so they plan a summer party.  The girls plan the food and the entertainment as well.  Lily writes a poem, Tess plans a song, and they make little funny fortunes to go at each table place.  Rosie wants to make “little vegetable people” although she eventually changes her mind, thinking they will wilt.
SPe
Here is their menu:
Pink lemonade with colored ice
Cookie cutter sandwiches
Lemon cookies
Fudge
A punch called the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction
SPcThe girls are nervous to see their parents after so long, but when they arrive everyone is happy.  The party is a great success, and at the end Michael proposes to Lucy.  Although everyone is still sad to say goodbye, the last line of the book is “There was so much to look forward to!
SPfThis is quite a fun little book.  It is not long, but it is a chapter book and might be difficult for under sevens to read on their own.  The subject matter is interesting and could be helpful in discussing with children how to deal with sadness, particularly that of a friend moving away, or themselves moving away.  The children’s feelings are acknowledged, and they are helped to think of things that they do have control over, such as making the party and arranging meetings in the future.  Aunt Lucy’s mantra of “Be brave.  Have hope.  Make plans for the future!”  is pretty good advice for that stressful situation (and many others).  Since we are moving house in a couple of months, it was certainly helpful for me to think about.

And if it is cold outside I think it is perfectly fine to have a Summer Party inside!  I was inspired by the cousins’ menu but made a few changes.  I didn’t make the little vegetable people, although that would be fun, particularly with children.  To make the cookie cutter sandwiches even prettier, I made fairy bread.  For anyone unfamiliar, fairy bread is just bread with sprinkles on top.  I made some the usual way (as in just one slice), and some as sandwiches with the sprinkles then added to the top.
SP_5
Cookie Cutter Fairy Bread Sandwiches

Ingredients
Bread of choice (I used Schär’s gluten free seeded loaf)
Sandwich filling of choice (I used Nutella)
Sprinkles of choice (these should be small and colorful.  Too big and they won’t provide even coverage)
Whipped cream
SPa
Method
First make the sandwiches (I figure you all know how to do that!).  Then cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters.  You may have to be very careful extracting the sandwich from the cutter if it is a complicated shape.  Don’t waste the crusts you cut off, just save them for bread pudding or something!  Then spread the whipped cream on the top of the sandwich.  Butter is traditional but I wanted something that would preserve the white color of the bread and also spread very easily, without being soggy.  You need a thin, even layer all over the top slice.  Then cover with sprinkles!

Yes I made Stegosaurus fairy bread.
Yes I made Stegosaurus fairy bread.

The second idea that I had was to attempt the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction.  Presuming this does not contain actual crayons, I wanted to create something that contained multiple bright colors, and the only way I could think to do that was bubble tea.
FullSizeRender_2
Cousins’ Crayon Concoction Bubble Tea

Ingredients
3 black tea bags or equivalent in loose tea
4 cups milk, almond milk or coconut milk
3 -4 Tbsp honey to taste
1 1/2 cups colored tapioca pearls or boba, preferably multicolored.

The uncooked tapioca pearls
The uncooked tapioca pearls

Method
First make the milk tea.  Boil a cup of water and steep the tea for 5 – 10 minutes.  Remove the teabags, add honey to taste, and let the tea cool for another 15 minutes or so.  Then add the tea and the milk (I used coconut milk, but if you prefer it not to taste coconutty, then use something different) into a large container with a lid.  As you may guess this makes a very weak tea, but I did not want the color of the tea to interfere with the color of the boba, so I intentionally made it pale.  You can make it stronger by using less milk or steeping the tea longer.  Put the tea in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours.  You could add ice and have it ready right away, but I prefer it this way.  While the tea is cooling make the boba or tapioca pearls (If you can’t find multicolored ones I would recommend looking in an Asian grocer or online, but any color will do).  Boil a large pot of water, add the pearls slowly, and stir.  In a minute or so they will float to the surface of the water.  Cover the pot and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.  Turn off the heat and simmer another 2 -3 minutes.  Strain the tapioca and rest in cold water for half a minute, then strain out and roll in a little sugar or honey.

The cooked tapioca pearls
The cooked tapioca pearls

Next, take out your cold tea and give it a good shake. You can use a cocktail shaker, froth it with a mixer or just shake it in the jar.  Put a portion of tapioca pearls in the bottom of each glass and top up with the tea.

SP_bobatea1
And if you are me, you then add whipped cream and sprinkles, just because!


And lastly, the pink lemonade.  I used this recipe from last Summer, but I added 1 1/2 cups pureed strawberries.  You can use a blender, but if the strawberries are ripe you can also use a mortar and pestle.  I personally like to have a little strawberry pulp in there.
SP_strawberriesThe only thing to remember is that you might need less sugar if the strawberries are very sweet.

The full spread!
The full spread!

Enjoy your Summer party and remember, there is so much to look forward to!

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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.


 

 

Best of British Summer 2015

Poem:
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

One thing that we do a couple of times a year is what we call Best of British.  This started one day years ago when we were in a pub.  We saw that they were having a little food festival called Best of British.  But it was rather expensive.  I said, “I could make us all that for a lot less!”  So I did, and we’ve been doing it ever since.  Anyone could do it with their local cuisine, and it’s a lot of fun if you like to cook.  Here is this Summer’s menu.

menus

bob2015starterAs you can see the first one is quince-themed, and as we’ve been talking about “The Owl and the Pussycat”, we read that poem at dinner (sorry about the ham, Pig Robinson).  It’s one of the more accessible Lear poems, and has a lot of fun wordplay and evocative imagery.  It’s also very easy to memorize.

Here is a recipe for the piccalilli, which is a nice old-fashioned pickle.

Easy Piccalilli

Ingredients
1/2 Tbsp vinegar
3 Tbsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1/2 Tbsp sugar
3 tsp garlic paste
1/3 of a zucchini (courgette), diced
1 onion, diced
1 sweet pepper, diced,
1 carrot, diced
1 cup broccoli & cauliflower, broken into florets

Method
Put the mustard, vinegar, garlic and sugar in a pan and simmer .  Add the vegetables and allow to soften only slightly.  Then take off the heat and allow to cool, stirring now and then. Store in a jar in the fridge.

Eat with quince and dance by the light of the moon!

pr5
From The Tale of Pig Robinson

 

 

 

The Tale of Pig Robinson: Clotted Cream Truffles

Book:
The Tale of Little Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter
1987, F. Warne, New York NY, USA.

beach

Goodbye Summer!

We didn’t have a very hot August, which is a shame, because I find it is so much more fun to look forward to Autumn when there is a nice transition between heat and crispness.  But since it’s still reasonably warm, I thought we could fit in one more summery read.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson is quite unusual for a Beatrix Potter book. It is quite long (123 pages), and a chapter book.  The setting is based upon her own seaside holiday in a little harbour town.  The structure is also unusual.  The story begins with a cat named Susan who goes down to the harbour to get herrings.  We learn her history, and the history of Stumpy the dog.  Susan sees a pig on the deck of a ship and wonders how he came  to be there, but the narrative follows her home.  The next passage is very evocative:

Sam ate his supper and smoked a pipe by the fire; and then he went to bed. But Susan sat a long time by the fire, considering. She considered many things—fish, and ducks, and Percy with a lame foot, and dogs that eat mutton chops, and the yellow cat on the ship, and the pig. Susan thought it strange to see a pig upon a ship called the “Pound of Candles.” The mice peeped out under the cupboard door. The cinders fell together on the hearth. Susan purred gently in her sleep and dreamed of fish and pigs. She could not understand that pig on board a ship. But I know all about him!  (p.25)
tidepoolThe narrator then explains that this story is a prequel to “The Owl & the Pussycat” by Edward Lear, which explains how the pig that they meet at the end of the poem came to be there:When that pig was little he lived in Devonshire, with his aunts, Miss Dorcas and Miss Porcas, at a farm called Piggery Porcombe. Their cosy thatched cottage was in an orchard at the top of a steep red Devonshire lane.”(p.26)  The next section of the story is a very long and detailed description of journey which the pig, whose name is Robinson, makes to market at Stymouth, and his misadventures trying to run errands there.   The details are charming in a historical context and useful to get a feel for another place and time period, however, it is so long and dense that I think it would make it a trying read for a young child…it was a little trying for me.  It might be better for 8 and up if they had an adult to help contextualize and learn about the historical vocabulary with them.

Another thing to keep in mind with Pig Robinson is that there are a few scenes and themes that could be upsetting to a sensitive child.  The text baldly states of Robinson’s aunts that their end was bacon.  The odd situation of anthropomorphic animals living independently amongst humans and yet still being eaten is a feature of many Potter books, but it is rarely so directly addressed.  Also, Robinson’s journey though town is somewhat scary, with someone yelling “Come in, fat pig!” from a pub, and him seeing a ham in a window.

The other sensitive aspect is that this is basically the story of a child being kidnapped.  Robinson’s aunts warn him to stay away from “ships’ cooks, and pantechnicons, and sausages, and shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax” (p.33) but in town Robinson is offered snuff by a strange sailor.  Apparently Robinson’s one fault was that he could not say no, so instead of saying ‘no thank you’ and going straight away, he ends up being lured onto the ship by the sailor (who, as it transpires, is a ship’s cook!), and which point it sails off.  There is a rather sinister scene of various people who might have recognised Robinson and saved him being distracted by other things and not noticing.  On the other hand, it would be a good opportunity to have a discussion about safety, the importance of being able to say no, and what to do when we first start going places on our own.

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However, the story is not so dark that Robinson is mistreated on the ship, thankfully.  He is treated well and fed a lot (we can guess where this is going, but Robinson doesn’t, even though the ship’s cat tries to warn him). The cat itself is the one from “The Owl and the Pussycat”, who is upset on being separated from the owl.

Eventually Robinson overhears that he is meant for the Captain’s birthday dinner — as the main course!  At this point the cat helps him to escape in a boat.  It is a shame that the adventure only really gets going right before the end, but this section is quite exciting and also well-written, as the author describes the tropical seas with their phosphorescence, and the moon like a silver plate.

When Robinson gets to the island, he finds a rather fantastical scene.

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Acid drops and sweets grew upon the trees. Yams, which are a sort of sweet potato, abounded ready cooked. The bread-fruit tree grew iced cakes and muffins, ready baked; so no pig need sigh for porridge. Overhead towered the Bong tree. (p.120)

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According to the narrator the island is very like the one in Robinson Crusoe, only without its drawbacks.  The Owl and the Pussycat visit it (for their wedding, as described in the original poem) and later Robinson is visited by some dogs from Stymouth who find him disinclined to return.  So there is a happy ending.

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As you can see this is a pretty strange book.  You can check it out here, if you’d like to see for yourself.  However I would still recommend a look, particularly for older children who might enjoy searching for the various references to other works.  There are a couple of references to the nursery rhyme about this little piggy (one goes to market, two stay home…although there is no reference to roast beef), and Robinson himself goes “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all the time.  Obviously it is a prequel to “The Owl and the Pussycat” which also ties in Robinson Crusoe (Robinson refers to himself as “Pig Robinson Crusoe” at one point, so possibly Robinson Crusoe the book already exists in this universe).  Finally, there are a couple of mentions of shoes, ships, sealing wax, etc., in what must be a reference to “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  It’s amusing to think of this story as some kind of unified theory of pigs/desert islands/ships.

Pig Robinson was quite a greedy pig, and he really liked sweets, so I thought I would make truffles (although chocolate truffles probably are not good for pigs).  I found this recipe, and adapted it a little to make it more fantastical.  It suits the playful nature of the story.

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Clotted Cream Truffles

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups clotted cream
1 1/3 cup dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), crushed into smallish pieces
1/2 cup shredded (desiccated)  coconut

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Method
Melt the chocolate slowly in a bain marie or microwave.  I put it in a Pyrex bowl and put the bowl in a pan of simmering water.  Stir the clotted cream into the chocolate and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.  Then take out tablespoonfuls of the ganache and roll into balls, then roll them in the coconut.  You could use cocoa powder, powdered (icing) sugar or any other topping of choice instead.  I also put on some pink edible glitter powder to evoke the colourful  setting of Robinson’s island.  Chill again for another 3 hours.
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Enjoy with the last of the warm weather!

 

 

1 is One: Lemon Curd

Book:
1 is One by Tasha Tudor
1986, Aladdin Books, New York.
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Last Friday (August 28th) would have been Tasha Tudor’s 100th birthday, so I thought we’d have a cream tea on the weekend and read some of her books.
Tasha and her family were very much into having iced tea in the garden.

 


But we need some reading material.  1 is One is a little rhyming counting book.  It would be great for very young children, and useful for learning how to count 1 -20.


Adults and children alike can appreciate the beautiful and detailed illustrations, in both color and black and white.  The subjects of the pictures are simple and relatable.
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For our Tasha Tudor tea, we had iced tea, saffron buns, clotted cream and lemon curd.  I made a fancied-up version of iced tea to go with the occasion.
icedteaingredients
Iced Tea

Ingredients
2 fruity black teabags or loose tea in a tea ball
1 lemon
2 Tbsp honey or sweetener of choice
4 fresh mint leaves

Method
Add hot water to teabags.  Let steep for 5 minutes, then add sweetener to taste (you could use sugar, honey, or stevia.).  Cut the lemon into slices, and add the slices and a squeeze of lemon juice, as well as the mint leaves. Pour into a large jug, adding cold water to fill, and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

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For the lemon curd I used this recipe, but roughly halved it.  I’m the only one in my house who eats dairy so it often makes sense not to make too much!

Lemon Curd

Ingredients
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2.5 Tblsp lemon juice
2 Tblsp butter
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest

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Method
Whisk together all the ingredients in a metal or glass bowl.  Place the bowl over the top of a pot or pan of water and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently to prevent curdling.  It may take about ten minutes.  Eventually the mixture will thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the butter and whisk well.  Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge.

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Assemble your tea and eat in the garden (under a crab apple tree if you have one).  Hopefully it will be a delectable elevenish party!

Also read: A Time to Keep.
Also read: A Time to Keep.

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Two in a Tent: Clotted Cream

Book:
Two in a Tent by Molly Brett
1969, The Medici Society Ltd., London.

book & picnic
I’ve been away for a while, partly due to busyness, but also because we went on holiday!  We rented a car and drove down to North Devon, where we stayed in a tent.  When it came to what book to bring, Enid Blyton was a little too obvious, so I brought along Two in a Tent.

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Two in a Tent in a tent!

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Two in a Tent  would be suitable for children of all ages.  It tells the story of Susan, who goes to visit her cousin David in the country.  They are allowed to sleep in a tent in the orchard by his house, they encounter lots of animals (which Susan invariably either misidentifies or is afraid of), and they even have an adventure when the orchard floods.

My copy evidently once belonged to a small child with an orange crayon.
My copy evidently once belonged to a small child with an orange crayon.

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Susan and David learn a lot about the animals they encounter.  The text includes a lot of information, so that it could be very useful in a unit about animals, biology, ecosystems, the countryside, etc.  It was published in 1969, so some of the information is not correct (don’t give hedgehogs milk!  And don’t take in baby deer!), but much of it is still factual, and the illustrations are extremely accurate.  Molly Brett’s artwork manages to be sweet, whimsical and yet almost scientific.  On the back cover of my edition, there is a guide to some of the birds and flowers in the book, if you have not identified them already.

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We two in a tent did some of the things David and Susan did (although we spent most of our time at the beach).  We didn’t make our own fire, but we did cook sausages.

We didn’t go on a “midnight march” (although we meant to), and I for one really enjoyed the “hot baths and supper” we had when we came home!

In Devon I was excited to buy copious amounts of clotted cream, which we had with yeast buns and jam.

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beach picnic2clotted creamOnce home, I was looking forward to using it in various ways.  However, I’m not sure how easy it is to find clotted cream outside the UK.  You could use extra thick double cream instead,  or shake double cream in jar for a couple of minutes until it thickens up, but it wouldn’t be exactly the same, so I thought I would put up a recipe for those of you who can’t get ahold of it.  Clotted cream is traditionally made by heating cream on very  low heat for a long time.  I looked around and found this recipe, which uses a slow cooker.  Ingenious!  I cut down on the amount of cream, because I already have two big tubs of clotted cream in the fridge!

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Slow Cooker Clotted Cream

Ingredients
3 cups heavy or double cream

Method
Pour the cream into the slow cooker and leave on low or warm for 8 – 10 hours.  It is a tricky business because you do not want the cream to go above 180 degrees F (82 degrees C).  My slow cooker tends to be quite hot, so I left it on warm.  Then, transfer the whole thing to the fridge (you don’t want to disturb the crust on top of the cream!) for at least 4 hours.  When it is chilled, scoop off the top layer, which should be thick, not runny.  I found that there was still some runny cream, but it tasted fine, so I scooped it all into a dish and then added the crust part of the cream back on top.

 

Done!
Done!

After a few more hours of chilling, the cream should all set up to proper thickness.

Enjoy in a traditional cream tea with scones and jam, or eat with a spoon (that’s what I did!).

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Lemon curd recipe to follow another day!

 

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Jelly from Indicknowle farm in Devon

Even if you don’t have an orchard, if you have a bit of garden, sleeping out in the tent is a fun activity for kids and adults.  You could make a fire and cook some sausages, and have a “midnight march”.  And if you can’t get to the beach, you could always set up a paddling pool!

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In the Forest: Raspberry Buckle

Book:
In the Forest by Marie Hall Ets
1967, the Viking Press, New York.

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I haven’t had time to walk in the forest lately, but our garden is looking pretty jungly at the moment.  You can imagine there might be some lions or bears in here.


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In the Forest is a cute little vintage book which would be suitable for children of all ages.
intheforest
intheforest1 It tells the story of a child who goes for a walk in the forest, and along the way he encounters many animals, including kangaroos, a lion and some bears.  He isn’t afraid, however, and they don’t seem very fierce. They all decide to join him and parade through the forest.
intheforest2 They stop for a picnic of peanuts, jam, ice cream and cake, and then they play games (Drop-the-Handkerchief, London-Bridge-is-Falling-Down, Hide-and-Seek).  Eventually the boy’s father finds him and takes him home, but he knows he will come back and play with the animals again.
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It is a very sweet little story with charmingly simple illustrations.  It could work very well for teaching English because there is a lot of repetition and text which is suitable for performing actions (the lion combing his hair, the parade, the games, etc.).

For a simple story I thought I would make a simple little cake.  The one in the picture appears to be some kind of bundt cake, but I thought one that took advantage of seasonal fruit might be nice.  A buckle is an old-fashioned cake/pudding which often has a streusel topping, but I just used a Victoria sponge mix.
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Raspberry Buckle

Ingredients
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup butter
1 Tbsp honey
1 small punnet of raspberries
Ice cream or cream to serve.

Method
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.  Line an 8 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.  Combine all the ingredients (except the raspberries) with a wooden spoon or mixer until you have a soft batter.  Do not overmix.  Arrange half the raspberries on the bottom of the cake tin, and pour the batter over the top.  Then press the rest of the berries into the top of the batter, and drizzle a spoonful of honey over them.  Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until golden.  Turn out when cool. To make the cake more portable for picnics in the forest, you could punch out individual mini cakes with round cookie cutters and wrap them in wax paper and string.  They can be enjoyed hot or cold with ice cream, although I had mine with cream.
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Take on a walk in the forest and play hide and seek!

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Don’t forget the peanuts and jam for the bears!

The Days are Just Packed: Lemon & Limeade

Books:
Lemonade sun: and other summer poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
1998, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press
The Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson
1994, Warner Books

While sadly, the kids here in the UK are still in school, they still get to take advantage of the outdoors when they can.  I’m lucky enough to be involved in Girlguiding, so I try to provide that experience when I am able.  Last weekend I took some of the girls on a trip to do some Forest School/minibeast hunting things.  It was a bit damp (typical) but we still had a great time.

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Recommended activity: staring at raindrops

One of the highlights was the giant bubbles, made with a loop of rope strung between two sticks, dipped in water mixed with dish soap (washing up liquid).  Here is a rather blurry, rainy picture of one of the girls running after one.  As you can tell, giant bubbles are super exciting!

bubbleI don’t have giant bubble wands at home, but I actually think I might have a little tube of bubbles somewhere.  So step one is the sit in the garden and blow bubbles.  Next I am taking inspiration from another poem in Lemonade Sun.

summer greetings

As you can see there’s lots to do!  I do have a jump rope, actually.  I think everyone should if they are able to skip.  It’s great exercise, and actually fun.  But if I get tuckered out from skipping rope, I think I will sit in the garden with a glass of lemon & limeade, “reading books outside at last.”

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Mini Recipe: Lemon & Limeade

Method
Follow the recipe for Old-Fashioned Lemonade, but substitute two limes for one of the lemons.  That’s all!

2Enjoy outside with a good book!
I would recommend The Days Are Just Packed.  Not only are Calvin and Hobbes suitable for kids of all ages, they are even more suitable, I would argue, for adults, because they will be attuned to some of the more poignant, philosophical and mature material which runs under the surface of many of the comic strips.  It also is a great way to remind oneself of the vivid imagination and endless energy of a childhood Summer.

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3Activities: blow bubbles, jump rope, read books…maybe climb a tree.  Do I have time for all that with job interviews, paperwork, volunteering, cooking and cleaning?  Probably not.  But I will fit in one or two, and make them really worthwhile.

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