…and ready to set off for Caen, Normandy via London Waterloo, Portsmouth and Brittany Ferries. Plastic Timmy is raring to go, as am I, especially as I will be riding my brand new (to me) bicycle, an early 80s British bike built by Mike Kowal and restored for me by the brilliant Rob Sargent of Sargent and Co. More on all of this to follow.
Tags: E5 Bakehouse, hot cross bun, Spence Bakery
Every Easter I endeavour to make hot cross buns (you can see some of my previous efforts here and here. Oh, and also here). This Good Friday has been a little too hectic for the soothing activity of kneading dough, piping crosses and enjoying the wafting scent of fruited buns baking in the oven. This is mostly because tomorrow I set off for France for 3 days of cycling around Calvados and Camembert country and a few last minute preparations have been necessary, including the purchase of an inflatable sleeping mat and the slightly failed attempt to make my sleeping bag roll up a little bit smaller than it wanted to (this has been taking longer than you might think). Yes, camping is on the cards…
Anyway, back to buns. Where I live I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a number of makers and purveyors of fine hot cross buns. The E5 Bakehouse does an excellent one, as reported last year, but this year I have also discovered the joys of the soft, sticky and generously sized Spence Bakery bun. Mmmm. The buns are normally £1.30 each but during Easter week they’re on special offer and going for 2 for £2 or 6 for £5. My cousin and I ate ours toasted, with plenty of butter, for breakfast this morning. If you happen to live in London I suggest hot footing it over to Stoke Newington Church Street right away. Happy Easter everyone!
Tags: Bara Brith, Five Get into a Fix, St David's Day
It’s been quieter here at Famous Five Style than the winter term at Gaylands School. I’m a little bit horrified to see that my last post was written nearly half a year ago. Since then I’ve been busy moving house, hibernating and becoming enamoured with many things Welsh. With this last in mind, I thought I’d bake something traditional to celebrate St David’s Day this Friday, 1 March. It also gives me an excuse to at last write something about the Famous Five’s trip to Wales in Five Get into a Fix.
It’s the depths of winter and the Five have been sent to Magga Glen Farm to recuperate from bad coughs and colds that kept them in bed (and – horror of horrors – appetite-less) over the Christmas hols. Their legs feel like jelly and poor George is looking particularly rough, with black rings around her eyes and a terrible hacking cough. The family doctor recommends that the children go somewhere cold with a high altitude to aid their recovery before they have to return to school. Switzerland would be ideal but is too costly. Happily, old Jenkins the gardener comes up with the perfect solution:
‘Jenkins came in, carrying a basket of ripe, yellow apples, and some plump, yellow-brown pears.
It certainly is, and before you know it, the cousins have packed up their skis and toboggans and are off to stay with Jenkins’s Aunt Glenys (aka old Mrs Jones) up in the snowy Welsh hills. They arrive at Magga Glen tired and weary after a long day’s drive. The description of their arrival at the old farmhouse and their bedrooms is incredibly enticing:
‘”Go through that door, look – and up that little flight of stairs [said Mrs Jones]. The rooms up there are all yours – no-one will disturb you.”
The Five went out of the door and found themselves in a stone passage, lighted by a candle. A narrow flight of stone steps led upwards to a small landing on which another candle burned. The steps were very steep, and the children stumbled up them, their legs stiff after their long drive.
Two bedrooms opened off the little landing, opposite to one another. They seemed exactly alike, and were furnished in the same way too. There were washstands with basins, and in each basin was a jug of hot water, wrapped around with a towel. Wood-fires burned in the little stone fireplaces, their flames lighting the rooms almost more than the single candles there’
Ever the romantic, Anne decides that “I shall go to bed early, and watch the flames”.
And Mrs Jones is, of course, a top notch cook and the Five eat extremely well during their short stay at the farmhouse [although after Timmy has a run in with the farm dogs the Five retreat to a chalet up in the hills and start feasting on tinned food and cocoa made from melted snow and finished off with a good glug of thick, fresh cream]. Mrs Jones gives them crusty fresh bread (home-made), new-laid boiled eggs, ham, and apple pie (also home-made) plus an ‘enormous’ cheese (maybe a good Caerphilly?). Sadly though, there is no mention of either Welsh cakes or bara brith, both of which would be perfect to sustain the Kirrin cousins during a long day of winter sports and mystery-solving in the Welsh hills.
To make up for Mrs Jones’ failings in this respect, I decided to make a bara brith. The name means ‘speckled bread’ and it’s basically a sticky tea loaf which can be made as a yeasted bread or as a fruit cake without yeast. One benefit of the latter is that the brith lasts longer – ideal if you want to take it with you on a winter break far away from civilisation. It’s also very simple to make, although you do need to plan ahead and soak your dried fruits in black tea the night before.
Here’s the recipe, adapted from the ever-reliable Great British Book of Baking:
Welsh Bara Brith
250g mixed dried fruit
100g dark brown muscovado sugar
225ml hot strong black tea (no milk)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tbs dark rum or brandy
1 large egg, beaten
250g self-raising flour
Put the dried fruit and sugar into a mixing bowl. Brew up some tea, pour over the fruit and leave overnight (or for a minimum of 6 hours). When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas mark 3 and butter a 450g loaf tin. Line the tin with one long strip of paper to cover the bottom and the two short sides of the tin; this will make it easier to get the loaf out later.
Add the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, and beaten egg to the tea-soaked fruit. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then sift in the flour. Mix well and then transfer to the loaf tin ensuring the mixture is spread evenly. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before turning out and wait (if you can) for the brith to be completely cold before slicing and eating it with a generous spreading of butter. A cup of tea goes quite nicely with it too.
Tags: King's Cross Ice Cream Festival, Sorbitium
Here are some pictures from the King’s Cross Ice Cream Festival which took place last weekend. There were many ice cream stands and it was all terribly English as multiple huge queues snaked around the area in front of the new Central St Martin’s. It was something of an ice cream frenzy as people joined their places at the back of queues while still eating their previous treat. The stall making ice cream with liquid nitrogen was very popular:
We ended up opting for ice cream from Sorbitium which was offering up tempting flavours like strawberry and buttermilk, dark chocolate and chipotle, sea-salted caramel and macha tea and bronte pistachio. Sadly we arrived too late to sample the greengage and hazelnut crumble (sold out!) and too late for cones (sold out!):
I’m not actually that bothered about cones so was more than happy with my tub of strawberry and caramel:
It wasn’t just about eating. There was also a science boffin stand where you could mix your own ice cream, a faux cow for milking (I’m not sure if there were real cows too, I missed that if so) and a giant ice sculpture (very impressive but I hope no-one tried licking it – cue comedy moment).
I was delighted to visit the Camberwell College of Arts end of year show this evening and see that one of the MA conservation projects was a c.1900 cookbook, complete with recipes for ginger beer, ginger pudding and Bath buns. Famous Five heaven! (and beautifully conserved too, of course)
Tags: Canal Museum, Carlo Gatti, hokey pokey, ice, ice cream, King's Cross Ice Cream Festival
With a bit of luck – for me, if not for you dearest readers – this will be the first of two or three posts on the glories of ice cream. As the summer nears its end I’m suddenly very aware that I’ve not used my ice cream maker this year and should really crack on and make something while there are still lots of nice fruits available (although the idea of autumn ice cream is appealing too), plus next weekend sees the staging of the King’s Cross Ice Cream Festival. More on this anon, I hope (and hopefully it will be better than the Bloomsbury Biscuit Festival – so much promise but sadly such a let down).
Yesterday I took a trip to the London Canal Museum, a charming little old school museum housed in an old ice warehouse by Battleship Basin near King’s Cross. Here you can learn about the history of canals, especially those of London; step inside a canal boat to see how tiny the cabins really were; admire the castles and roses motifs and patterns of canal art; learn how to tie proper knots; have a go at opening a miniature lock – the list goes on and on.
Because of the history of the building, you can also learn a little bit about the history of ice and ice cream in London (what follows is cribbed from the museum and its website). Before the 1800s ice would be gathered from frozen ponds, rivers and canals and kept in underground ice houses; from the 1820s it was increasingly shipped from Norway as there was no mechanical refrigeration until the turn of the century. The Canal Museum building was originally constructed by Swiss Italian Carlo Gatti in the 1860s to house the ice he shipped over from Scandinavia. The ice was brought by sea, river and then canal up into the heart of London where it would be stored in a deep ice well (which you can peer down into from the ground floor of the museum) before begin delivered all over London in Gatti’s distinctive yellow horse-drawn carts. The ice was sold to fishmongers, restaurants and other food suppliers to keep their goods cold. A happy effect of the large scale import of ice was that the price came down making the production of ice cream for the masses became economically viable.
Before this it was the preserve of the rich and was not necessarily the smooth and creamy delight we know today (it could be quite gritty with large ice crystals). According to one of the museum’s information boards, the earliest recorded description of ice cream, or at least a type of iced milk, is from China and the first record of ice cream being consumed in the England was at a feast at Windsor Castle in the 1670s where the King was the only one lucky enough to get some.
Two centuries later ice cream had become a more democratic pleasure. The mass arrival of Italian immigrants, combined with the increasing availability and affordability of ice from the mid 1800s, led to the popularisation of ice cream. It could be bought as a scoop in a re-usable glass (known as a ‘penny lick’) or as a slice cut of a large block and wrapped in paper (a ‘hokey pokey’). The museum has a fun selection of ice cream paraphernalia on show including a variety of licking glasses (eventually banned in the 1920s for spreading diseases), machines and moulds for shaping hokey pokey, scoops, adverts, menus and even an old ice cream bicycle (first used in the 1920s) with the famous slogan ‘stop me and buy one’.
By the time the Famous Five were roaming the countryside with their enormous appetites, refrigeration was much more common (the import of ice stopped in the 1920s) and ices were widely available in shops, cafes and from mobile sellers in vans and on bicycles. For the Five, ice cream is a staple, especially in the summer and the sound of ice cream bell elicits an almost Pavlovian response. In Five on a Treasure Island they hear ‘the tinkle of an ice-cream man’s bell [...] in the distance’ and rush off to purchase ‘four fat chocolate ice cream bars’. Often the proffering of ice cream is used as a gesture of inclusion and/or to stop arguments, and even thought he generally woolfs his all in one go, Timmy is never left out (George gives him some of hers if her doesn’t get a whole ice to himself). Joan the Cook ( a treasure herself if ever there was one) also makes a very good ice cream and I’m sure she would enjoy the events lined up for the ice cream festival next weekend which include milking a cow, meeting ice cream producers from the south east, seeing nitrogen being used to make ice cream and of course plenty of opportunities for tasting. More info on this here.
You can read more about the history of ice cream here.
Tags: cycling posters, London Transport posters, Transport for London
There couldn’t be a better time to start cycling if you live in London. Yes, that pesky event called the Olympics means that cycling is now officially the best way to get to work (if, indeed, it wasn’t before). Everyone must be underground, off on holiday or at one of the Olympic venues because the centre of town and the roads leading in have been exceptionally quiet over the past few days. Obviously this depends on where you live but I for one will be making the most of it (random torrential rain storms aside).
The Transport for London cycling pages have some useful tips on routes etc, plus they are showing a cute little film in cinemas eulogising the freedom of the bicycle. But readers beware! It’s not all a utopian dream, as these transport posters from 1916 and 1933, respectively, suggest. So ride, but ride carefully…
Sorry the text of the one on the left is so small. It reads:
‘DON’T hold on to other vehicles when they are in motion or stationary, and especially don’t hold on to Motor-buses. You may meet with an accident.
IS IT SAFE? THAT IS THE QUESTION
DON’T cut in past vehicles on the near side, they may pull in and you will find yourself jammed.
DON’T try to ride in congested traffic when the speed is too slow to make keeping your balance easy’
The red text on the bottom of the right-hand poster says:
‘Read and obey the Highway Code. Observe the rules of the road’
Timmy on the chain ferry between Sandbanks and Studland
Timmy on the steam train from Swanage to Corfe
*No dogs were harmed during the making of this photo album
Spotted near London Fields on my way home from work last night – a pop-up ice cream shop, the Five would be pleased. I like the way the sign is strategically positioned to catch the eye of passing cyclists in particular.
Tags: chocolate mould, Famous Five Diet, Josh Sutton
Apparently there are quite a few people out there who are interested in what the Kirrins eat. Food writer Josh Sutton has done an actual statistical analysis on the foods consumed in the Famous Five books which a) is very interesting b) makes me feel a lot less geeky for keeping a spreadsheet with a record of what gets eaten when and where. Sutton’s data is available in spreadsheet form but also in this fabulous visualisation (click on the picture to be take to an interactive version which you can explore in more detail).
Sutton has grouped the Five’s meals and snacks into food groups and has concluded that actually they eat rather healthily – there are plenty of radishes, crisp lettuces and plums in amongst the ginger beer, ices and buns.
As well as validating my decision to regularly eat like the Five, it’s also intriguing to see what foods crop up repeatedly and which only make a one-off appearance e.g. the chocolate mould which will be a one-off on my dining table too. Unbelievably, ginger biscuits only crop up once, as do egg sandwiches, but regular favourites include bread, ham, biscuits and tomatoes (lashings of).
Read Josh Sutton’s article on ‘Why the Famous Five had the Perfect Austerity Diet’ here