Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Did you ever think up a good idea but do nothing with it, only to discover later that someone else not only had that same idea, but acted on it, thereby making some money and getting some attention in the bargain? How maddening! That is what happened to me with this book. As soon as I heard about it I was miffed. A collection of recipes from children’s literature was my idea! I had that idea at least ten years ago. But of course since I never told anyone about it or did anything to make it happen, it’s just my tough luck. But really, it’s true. I was going to include recipes from songs, too. Ask my kids about buckwheat chocolate chip apple raisin pancakes (from the song Mother’s Day by Tom Chapin). This information may cast a light on everything I say about this book from here on. Sour grapes, you may say. As well you might.
This isn’t a bad book, and I am not claiming I could have done any better. I just think maybe it’s one of those ideas that sounded better in theory than in execution. Do we really need a recipe for baked potatoes? (Muvver’s Lid Potatoes, from the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Lancaster Brisley.) The problem with nursery food is that it is a bit boring and not very difficult to cook. (Further examples include not one but two recipes for boiled eggs, and a recipe for toasted cheese sandwiches).
What’s fun about this book is remembering the stories from which Brocket has gathered her recipes: the Mary Poppins series by P. L. Travers, Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember encountering some of these foods as a young reader and being mystified by them: what, exactly, was parkin? On the other hand, many of these books are unknown to me and to most U. S. readers. Brocket provides over 20 recipes that originate in books by Enid Blyton, but Blyton was never popular in the U.S. so the references are lost on me. I think that Blyton’s characters must have done nothing but eat!
Is this book a cookbook, or a trip down memory lane with its author? Brocket lards her text with endless reminiscences of her own reading experiences with these books and it quickly gets old. The organization is quirky—rather than writing a chapter with just cake recipes Brocket organizes her chapters situationally, that is, breakfast foods are together, and then a chapter about picnic foods and another one on treats for special occasions. Thus recipes for various kinds of cake (which everyone seems to be eating all the time) appear in nearly every chapter.
And finally, a word of warning. U. S. readers who want to try baking some of these treats may well be frustrated. The recipes are written for British kitchens (thus they use metric measurements) and include ingredients such as treacle, golden syrup, and something called strong white flour, all of which are mysteries to most U. S. cooks.
(Book 11, 2009)