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.
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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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Starting Simply: Lemonade for Summer

Books: A child’s calendar by John Updike. 1999, Holiday House. Lemonade sun: and other summer poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. 1998, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Summer is here!  The sun is out, the leaves are green, and today seems as good a day as any to begin.

buttercups Personally, I never was a huge fan of Summer overall.  Where I grew up in the US, it was hot, sticky, muggy and buggy.  Gross.  But living now in the UK, where we are lucky if we get a couple weeks of heat, I do miss those sticky, humid days.  So when today was a lovely sunny day, I decided to embrace it, and make the Summeriest thing I could think of: lemonade. 2And to go with the lemonade, a selection of poetry for children about Summertime. lemonade title I had not read Lemonade Sun by Rebecca Kai Dotlich before, but it is a charming collection which really harkens back to a simpler time, when Summer meant running around outside all day.  That is certainly what I did as a kid. lemonade sun The poems are very simple and suitable for young children, and could be used to introduce poetry and use of rhyme, rhythm and descriptive and action words.  I like the simplicity and brevity of the poem “Lemonade Sun”.  It reminds me of eating popsicles/fudgesicles on a boiling day.  I liked the natural popsicles with pips, and also creamsicles and push pops.  They don’t really have those here, so perhaps that is a recipe for another day.  “A Circle of Sun” is my favorite; it really captures the vibrant, alive feeling one has as a child, the boundless energy.  I used to run down the streets at breakneck speed, never minding a skinned knee or two.  That gets lost as an adult, when you don’t have that long, luscious Summer ahead of you, and you’re always tired and feel creaky even in your 20’s, if you’re me anyway. But Summer days are still long, and anybody should get out in the Sun a little bit!  The Sun is good for you!  I’m sure most of us in Northern climes are probably at least a bit deficient in vitamin D.  So, plan for tomorrow: get out in the Sun and run down the street at breakneck speed (or as fast as you can manage).  Eat a popsicle, messily.  Be “a piece of the sky in a circle of sun”. downland The second book of poems is A Child’s Calendar by John Updike, illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Trina Schart Hyman. title Today I looked at “June”. june This poem addresses those “long green weeks” which never end, a wonderful feeling to see them stretching before you.  Of course, it is different for the poor kids here in the UK, who have to go to school until well into July.  Sickening, I know.  But this poem captures everything that Summer could be and should be.  Little League, hopscotch, the creek.  I had a creek when I was little, and it was a big deal.  I hunted caddis fly larvae and water skippers and tadpoles.  One of the nicest feelings is the feeling of cool, smooth river pebbles under bare feet. Overall it is a lovely poem, with a fun simile at the end. bleeding hearts I don’t have a creek now, but I can make the most of a beautiful day by making old-fashioned lemonade.  Here in the UK most beverages called “lemonade” are in fact a citrusy, carbonated beverage that to me, does not qualify.  You can get “cloudy lemonade” in small amounts, but I wanted more than that.  I browsed the internet for recipes, but had to improvise a bit based on the number of lemons I had. 1 Old-Fashioned Lemonade Ingredients: 5 cups water 1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I used 2 ½ lemons) 3/4 cup sugar Method: Juice the lemons (I used a wooden hand juicer), and mix in the sugar.  Mix and mix.  Eventually it will dissolve.  Add the water.  The proportion of water/lemon juice/sugar is something that will vary according to taste, so add ingredients until it tastes right to you.  Chill.  This recipe made enough for me to fill a large pickle jar and a small glass bottle. I can’t remember the last time I had home-made lemonade, and oh boy, is it good.  It tastes so amazingly fresh, vibrant and alive.  It’s the nectar of Summer, best enjoyed through a cute straw in a frosty glass bottle. 3 Enjoy in the Sun!