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.

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 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.
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Damson Kissel

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

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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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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!