Fields, flowers and jams on Chatsworth Road

July 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy | Leave a comment
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I’ve just returned from a Sunday morning jaunt to Chatsworth Road, E5. I’ve not been down there for a couple of years and there are now so many lovely places to shop, eat and drink. Sunday (11-5) is market day. Here are a few my highlights from today’s visit:


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This lovely gentleman at the ‘From Field and Flower‘ stall very easily talked me into buying a stawberry honey creme and some pollen (it’s full of vitamins and good for the joints). My friend and I were encourage to try lots of delicious Italian (and one English) raw honeys. I’ll definitely be going back once I’ve worked my way through the stock of Welsh honey I picked up on my recent-ish trip to Hay-on-Wye.


photo 2

Some delicious home-made confectionery courtesy of The Almond Kitchen. The vanilla marshmallows were yummy and would be perfect for taking on a Famous Five expedition.


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Ditto these doughnuts from London Borough of Jam. ‘Timmy’s just silly over those doughnuts’, we find out in Five Have a Wonderful for Time. Sadly, the lady in the LBJ shop informed us that the bakery who makes them forgot to put the jam in! So only custard available today.

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But lots of jam in the shop itself. Amalfi lemon and vanilla, strawberry and rose, apricot and camomile and much more. Mmmmm. I can imagine Aunt Fanny or Joan the Cook making some delicious jams like these, using herbs and flowers from the Kirrin Cottage garden.

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And another one for Aunt Fanny, the beautiful and serene Botany, which sells plants (lots of succulents in little pots and jars), local flowers, gifts for home and garden, and a wonderful curated selection of flora and fauna-themed books including novels, histories, pattern sourcebooks, growing guides and cookbooks.

Chatsworth Road also has lots of great charity and antique shops, fruit and veg shops and stalls, plus the excellent Firefly Books, where I picked up a copy of 1000 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (still a little time for me, then) for a mere £2. Bargain.



Welsh treats

June 1, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Learning Stuff, Travel | 1 Comment
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photoLast weekend I went to Hay-on-Wye, a small and charming town on the Welsh/English border (it’s on the very edge of Wales). My trip coincided with the first weekend of the Hay Festival (it finishes today) and I managed to go to talks on a wide range of things, from the efforts of the National Trust in Wales to become more sustainable, to a history of the universe with a focus on the potential life-giving properties of comets (the Rosetta space probe is about to land on comet Churymov-Gerasimenko).

The town is always lively and bustling – Hay is famous for its second-hand bookshops – but there’s even more going on during the festival, from markets, street performers and food stalls set up near the castle. The festival site is a little way out of town and enterprising locals set up small stalls, beer gardens and cafes in their gardens on the route down to the site. My favourite of these was the lady who was selling fresh Welsh cakes for 50p each. Mmmm. These were so good I had to make some myself as soon as we got back to London.Welsh cakes Those pictured below are my own effort. The recipe came courtesy of and can be found on my recipe pages, with a couple of my own tweaks.

I also managed to do a little bit of shopping and bought a few things which I think would appeal to Aunt Fanny et al. Two types of local honey: Shenmore honey, a raw bramble honey, and a set Wye valley blossom honey; an earthenware jar from Hay Antique Market, which is now holding some beautiful Sweet Williams, a grill scrubbing brush, which is so aesthetically pleasing it almost (but not quite) makes me want to clean my grill, a 1/3 pink old school milk bottle and some original 1940’s celluloid buttons, which I can imagine adorning the Five’s shirts and blazers. It all looked so nice, I couldn’t resist taking some photos of each bit. Here they are.

celluloid buttons

1940s celluloid buttons. 10 for a pound on Castle Street

photo 2Raw bramble honey, from a garden behind The Great English Outdoors

photo 31/3 pint school milk bottle and grill scrubbing brush from Flow

Sweet WilliamsSweet Williams from Joanne’s Florist, Globe Town, London (yes, London) £2.

Needless to say, there are also some amazing bookshops in Hay, a couple of which specialise in children’s books and /or Penguin classics, Observer Guides to Trees (etc) – all great Famous Five style-fodder. My two recommendations are Rose’s Books (I was sorely tempted by early editions of Finniston Farm, Five are Together Again, and the Welsh-set Five Get in a Fix, all of which I don’t yet have) and Barnabee’s Books (where I picked up a 60s edition of the Observer Guide to Trees for £2). In short, Hay=Heaven.



The Joy of Baking (Bread)

May 18, 2014 at 10:07 am | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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breadsFor last year’s Christmas gift countdown challenge, I suggested the gift of a Bertinent bread-making class for Aunt Fanny. Well, I should have actually recommended the classes run by my local bakery, the E5 Bakehouse. After some (I thought quite subtle, but apparently not, hints), my very own Quentin got me a day of learning the secrets of sourdough for my Christmas present. I booked some time ago but due to the popularity of the classes only embarked upon this initiation on Thursday. Anyway, it was brilliant.

We had a very good teacher called Pete. Pete is is a baker at the Bakehouse. Over the course of the day he taught us how to make 4 different breads, all with a sourdough starter. The breads were a 66% rye, ciabatta, bagels, and the Bakehouse’s signature loaf, the Hackney Wild. The bagels and ciabatta use the same white starter, but the rye and Hackney Wild have their own made with different proportions of rye, wholemeal and white flour.

The class assembled at 11am for coffee, bread and marmalade. A couple of us were locals, but many people had travelled from afar, including one gentleman who had left Darlington at 5am to make it to London in time. We spent the morning getting our different doughs going, giving them the occasional fold, and learning more about the history of sourdough, bread in general, and the heritage wheats that the Bakehouse likes to use (since the 50s, a hybrid, bred, type of wheat is generally used for bread-making, but many smaller growers are trying to revive older grains). One thing I didn’t know was that the name ‘ciabatta’ (meaning ‘old man’s slipper’) was only coined fairly recently, as an Italian reaction to the invasion of other foreign breads (baguettes and the like) into Italy.

rye breadAfter a bread for lunch (locally foraged and grown salad, including delicate and delicious wild garlic, and sandwiches made with Bakehouse bread, of course) we began shaping our loaves. We learnt how to be gentle with the bread, shaping round loaves with a little gentle lift and squeeze (oh yes) before popping them in a banneton (a cane basket that helps the bread develop and keep its shape during the time it takes to prove).

Bagel were interesting to make. Pete, our teacher, showed us two techniques for this. One involved rolling a sausage of dough and then squeezing this firmly together and giving the dough a roll with the palm of your hand until the join is sealed. The second was fun too. This consisted of poking a hole into a round piece of dough and then using your index fingers to roll and stretch the hole out from the inside. After the bagels sat and proved for a bit we poached them in boiling water and bicarbonate of soda before dressing them with salt, sesame or poppy seeds and popping them into the bread oven to bake.

3 startersThe ciabatta, rich with olive oil, was silky and slippery to roll and stretch out, while the Hackney Wild and the 66% rye were nice and firm and satisfying to shape. One valuable lesson we learnt was about to how to recreate some of the qualities of the bread oven at home. Key to this is introducing some element of steam. This prevents a crust forming too quickly which restricts the development of your loaf. Some ways to do this are by putting a tray of water, or some ice cubes, into the bottom of your oven while the bread bakes. Another interesting method that Pete demonstrated to us is to bake the bread inside a cast iron cooking pot. The bread produced its own steam and is able to swell and rise evenly before you take the lid off for the final 10 minutes of cooking time. Pete made two loaves – one in the pot, one just on a tray –  and the difference was remarkable.

my haulI came home laden with lots of bread and three pots of starters (plus a snazzy E5 scraper/cutter). As I write, there is still one ciabatta, a quarter of rye and two bagels left, plus a frozen Hackney Wild dough in the freezer. Whew! But to keep in practice, I’m currently creating a new rye leaven from my starter (you add a bunch more flour and water and leave it out of the fridge to spring to life) so I can bake some more tomorrow.

Artists Textiles

May 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Fashion | 1 Comment
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A largely visual post today, after my visit to the penultimate day of the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. The exhibition focuses on the work of 20th century artists such as Picasso, Alexander Calder, Barbara Hepworth, John Piper, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy and many others, exploring their work in the area of textile design. This was one way in which ordinary people were able to engage with, purchase and surround themselves with modern art – fabric for curtains, printed scarves and cotton print dresses were much more affordable and practical than large sculptures or paintings. Everyone could own a Picasso after he finally agreed to produce some designs for Dan Fuller of Fuller Fabrics in the 1950s.

The exhibition is beautiful and often works are on open display, enabling you to get up close to see the textures and colours of the fabric. Here are just a few of my favourites – all picked with the tastes and interests of Aunt Fanny, unsung hero of the Famous Five, in mind.

Marcel Vertes, ‘Radishes’, c. 1945

Vertes Vegetable PatchMarcel Vertes, ‘Vegetable Patch’, 1944

I think Aunt Fanny would appreciate these. She’s a keen gardener and as a woman of the 1930s/40s/50s/60s would have thought nothing about growing produce to feed her (very) hungry family. Vegetable Patch is actually a screen printed silk headscarf. Can’t you just imagine her donning this to pop down to the Kirrin shops?

Chagall textileMarc Chagall, ‘Belles Fleurs’, 1956

This is a furnishing textile by Chagall. Maybe Fanny would like to cover her sofa, or make a nice pair of floral curtains for the bedroom from this. We know she enjoys flowers.

Rockwell KentRockwell Kent, ‘Harvest Time’, 1950

Country woman Fanny would probably drawn to this evocative harvest image of American Rockwell Kent’s screen-printed furnishing fabric. Kitchen curtains perhaps?

Piper textileJohn Piper, ‘Chiesa De la Salute’, 1960

Perhaps Uncle Quentin took Fanny to Venice for their honeymoon? If so, she would no doubt like to be reminded of more romantic times by John Piper’s characteristically atmospheric screen-printed fabric, produced for Sanderson.

Sutherland dressesGraham Sutherland, fabric designs for Horrockses dress, c. 1949

The Fashion and Textile Museum has previously devoted a whole exhibition to the Lancashire off-the-peg fashion company Horrockses, whose dresses were worn by royalty and housewives alike (Princess Margaret was frequently snapped in affordable Horrockses outfits). Aunt Fanny would have almost certainly owned frocks made by the company, who were hugely popular in the 40s and 50s. Here are details from these two dresses, in roses and snowdrop patterns. Mmmm.

Sutherland rose detail


A Blyton lunch

January 18, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, George, Julian, Timmy | 2 Comments
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My friend and work colleague Wendy pointed out this enjoyable feature on lunchbox sandwiches in the Guardian yesterday with the  instruction “scroll down”.

Ha ha! I was very pleased to see ‘The Enid Blyton’ given its full due as a valid lunch option. Sandwiches with sides of radishes and hard boiled eggs are excellent lunchtime fare, my only quibble would be to suggest that for a more aesthetically pleasing, and authentically Blytonian, experience you should wrap your dipping salt up in a little screw of paper rather than use tupperware. The sandwiches that the authors of this article and The Little Book of Lunch suggest are watercress – very tasty and classy  – but Enid has a wonderful knack for making the humble sandwich sound like the most appetising thing ever, even when it includes such retro delights as Spam. So here are a few more canonical suggestions:

‘”Cucumber dipped in vinegar! Spam and lettuce! Egg! Sardine! Oooh, Mr Luffy, your sandwiches are much nicer than ours,” said Anne, beginning on two together, one cucumber and the other Spam and lettuce” (Five Go Off to Camp, sandwich-maker: Mrs Luffy).

‘”Aunt Fanny cut dozens and dozens of sandwiches,” said Anne. “She said if we kept them in this tin they wouldn’t go stale, and would last a day or two till we went back. I’m hungry. Shall we have some now?”

They sat out in the sun, munching the ham sandwiches. Anne had brought tomatoes too, and they took a bite at a sandwich and then a bite at a tomato.’ (Five on a Secret Trail, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny, with improvisation by Anne).

Potted meat (devoured ravenously and even two at a time by a malnourished Uncle Quentin) (Five on Kirrin Island Again, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny).

‘They had a magnificent lunch about half-past twelve. Really, Mrs Johnson had surpassed herself! Egg and sardine sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, ham – there seemed no end to them!’ (Five Go to Mystery Moor, sandwich-maker: Mrs Johnson, of Johnson’s Riding School).

‘”I made [Timmy’s] sandwiches myself.” [said George]. And so she had! She had bought sausagemeat at the butchers and had actually made Timmy twelve sandwiches with it, all neatly cut and packed. (Five Get Into Trouble, sandwich-maker: George).

Perhaps the best sandwich-making and eating in the Famous Five books comes in Five on a Hike Together. The process of making the cheese, pork, ham and egg sandwiches (4 different types – not all together!) is stretched across no less than five pages (the children do ask for eight sandwiches each so it takes a while) and then there are seven pages of expectation and build up before the children finally sit down in the heather on Fallaway Hill in the late autumn sun to munch their sandwiches while gazing across the lonely moor.

‘At last the sandwiches were finished and the old woman appeared again. She had packed them up neatly in four parcels of grease-proof paper, and had pencilled on each what they were. Julian read what she had written and winked at the others.

“My word – we’re in for a grand time!” he said.’

(Five on a Hike Together, sandwich-maker: un-named ‘shop woman’ aka ‘old woman’ aka ‘Ma’)

Tea with Biddy

March 20, 2012 at 12:21 am | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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It’s all about food here at the moment I’m afraid. I couldn’t resist sharing this picture of afternoon tea from Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich: a lavender scone, lemon curd and Darjeeling tea. A bit fancy for the Famous Five, I think. This is a tea for Aunt Fanny.

A Pinch and a Punch…

March 11, 2012 at 12:38 am | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Today we visited VOC, a modern day version of a 17th century punch house. VOC stands for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the Dutch East India Company) and the drinks have a Dutch and/or nautical feel with barrel-aged rums, genevers and punches with plenty of exotic herbs and spices of the sort traded from the East back in the day. I was hoping to channel something of the spirit of H.J.K.: Henry John Kirrin, great-great-great-grandfather of George and captain of the ship which, long ago, was wrecked at the mouth of Kirrin Bay upon its return from a sea voyage. H.J.K. was bringing back gold bars rather than the sort of commodities the Dutch and British East India companies generally traded but it’s hard to link the Famous Five to everything so please go with me on this.

Situated near King’s Cross, VOC is small but perfectly formed with comfy sofas, excellent glassware and maritime-inspired decor and objets trouvés scattered about. There’s an extensive and imaginative drinks menu too which includes three types of punch as well as unusual cocktails and a selection of barrel aged drinks including spiced rum and bergamont grog. We restricted ourselves to punch, sampling first the Old Dutch Punch (“Bols Genever barrel-aged with lemon oils and zest, Dutch tea, bitters, cloves and honey – served over hand-cracked ice”) (pictured above) and then the Rack Punch (“Ceylon Arrack rested with citrus oils, coriander seed, cloves, cinnamon and sugar”). The Old Dutch was the nicest, I thought.

The drinks were excellent but when we decided to sample some of the food offerings, listed on the menu under the enticing heading ‘In the heat of battle: Dishes eaten cold’, we were sadly disappointed. It wasn’t that the sherry-washed cheeses with bread, the vermouth cured olives, or the sailor’s bruschetta failed to live up to expectations but rather that we were told these had been replaced with a Japanese menu. Now, in ordinary circumstances I adore Japanese food but in the context of VOC it seemed a bit strange. True, the the Dutch East India Company was one of the few European organisations to have (very limited) contact with Japan during its Edo period of seclusion, but it’s pretty tenuous – even more so than my effort to link this bar visit to the Famous Five – and you can’t really do a 17th century punch house concept in a half-hearted fashion, can you?

Anyway, the mystery was solved when we visited the conveniences before leaving and stepped into an entirely different world behind the bar door – a huge Japanese restaurant with drunken girls taking pictures of each other in the toilets. Most surreal and a bit of a mood breaker. So, while I liked elements of VOC very much I have reservations too. However, I feel I may be able to overcome them in order to go back to try the Raspberry Shrub cocktail (“Pampero Especial bottled with fresh lemon juice, sugar and fresh raspberries – bottle matured for at least one week’) – surely something that would appeal to the palate of Henry John Kirrin’s great-great-granddaughter Fanny. She’s a dab hand at growing and bottling raspberries and I imagine she’s sorely in need a stiff cocktail from time to time to cope with her eccentric husband and adventurous daughter, nephews and niece.

A Famous Five Christmas 2011

December 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Dick, George, Julian, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment

Well, it’s now December so it’s time for the annual suggestions of presents for the Kirrin clan or for similar-minded folk.

For Anne: 60s animal stamps from retro stationer Present and Correct or (for a time of less austerity) an adorable bunny tuck box to take back to Gaylands school.

For Julian: Also from Present and Correct, these stylish and useful map crayons for Julian who loves to boast about his excellent map reading skills and well-developed bump of locality. Or from Temple of Commerce, a corrective grammar sticker pack so he can put the grammatical world to rights.

For Aunt Fanny: a beautiful bedspread from vintage retailer Horrockses. These are based on original 40s and 50s patterns. I like this one which is called ‘Betty’.

For George: A dog lamp that will recall the hi-jinx of Five on a Secret Trail. Note that Pedlars actullay describe it as a ‘collar of shame’. So perhaps this is actually quite an insensitive present (and again not an austerity gift)…

For Timmy: Well, I confess I’m struggling a bit here. In previous years I’ve suggested a studded collar and a fake bunny for him to chase and there’s only so much variety you can introduce into doggy gifts. Perhaps George could get him this bone shaped biscuit cutter so that Joan the Cook could make some of her legendary biscuits just for him?

For Dick: Gourmand and gourmet Dick might like to enjoy his ice cream out of one of these gold ice cream bowls, also from Pedlars.

For Uncle Quentin: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing should keep Uncle Quentin quiet and out of the way on Christmas Day. Although I’ve blatantly taken this image from Amazon, I of course suggest that all bookish presents are purchased from your nearest non-chain book shop. I’ve already been to the wondrous Broadway Bookshop for some of my gifts…

For more suggestions, see ‘Christmas Gifts for the Kirrins‘ and ‘Christmas with the Famous Five: Gifts

The Urban Physic Garden

June 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Learning Stuff | Leave a comment
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I often like to ramble on about Aunt Fanny’s (potential) skills and interests as a country housewife, mostly because this gives me an excuse to write about making fruit syrups, how to use milk to remove freckles and how to make traditional remedies for all manner of ailments. Following this line of imagination, I suspect Aunt F. would very much enjoy the Urban Physic Garden which opened today on Union Street, Borough, London.

This pop-up garden has been created on a plot of urban wasteland and was built by a team of designers, gardeners and volunteers. Last year the space became the Union Street Urban Orchard, and as well as a fine array of fruit tress, it boasted some excellent avian action too (see my post on Bankside Birds). This time the planting and construction has been inspired by the medicinal, as the project website states: ‘a physic garden is a place where medicinal properties grow. For thousands of years people have been using plants to cure all ills’.

Today was the official opening of the garden, neatly timed to coincide with the London Open Garden Squares weekend. We arrived around lunchtime while the finishing touches were being put in place – plants in pots were being set out on newly-built shelves and information sheets outlining the properties and uses of various plants were being pinned up. Knowledgeable ladies were handing out homemade mint and ginger tea, elderflower ‘champagne’, gooey liquorice and a particularly delicious (and sticky) toffee-type creation made from liquorice and sage.

The raised planting areas are organised into ‘wards’ based on their healing powers (orthopedic, respiratory, dermatology, psychiatry etc) and there’s also a plant orphange, a decommissioned ambulance-turned-cafe, a consultation area and (somewhere) a compost toilet. The garden is open until 15 August and there are various events taking place over the summer including consultations, walks, talks as well as bread-making and drawing classes and a pop-up ‘Rambling Restaurant’ based out of the aforementioned ambulance. NB This is positioned somewhat close to the ‘Poison Cabinet’ but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

Pan Paperbacks and Cocktail Parties

April 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Remember those fabulously lurid Pan paperback books from the 1970s? Well, the publisher’s slightly earlier non-fiction list seems to be guiding my life at the moment. This is no bad thing. A couple of months ago I picked up The Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners (1962) in Oxfam and a couple of days ago a friend sent me a copy of Booth’s Handbook of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks (1966). Etiquette is penned by a lady called Susan Maclean who was also a contributor to Woman magazine; Booth’s by John Doxat, ‘publicity controller’ for Booth’s gin and apparently something of a bon vivant.

Both books are full of numerous pearls of wisdom. Etiquette was definitely written with a female audience in mind, although rather endearingly my copy has a bookplate with the name ‘John Trett’ inscribed. I wonder what Mr Trett made of the chapter entitled ‘The Men in a Woman’s Life’? Perhaps he actually bought it for the insight it could offer into the feminine mind? This chapter contains the answers to all sorts of queries, for example, who pays on a date? Should you give your gentleman friend a goodnight kiss if he has paid for everything during the course of the evening? In case you’re wondering, the answers are: on the first date you can generally expect a chap to treat you but thereafter you should always offer to ‘go Dutch’. On the kissing issue, Miss Maclean says ‘though there are men who think in terms of a return for their money they rarely respect a girl they suspect of thinking along the same lines. Take the money spent on you as your due, thank him for a lovely evening, but don’t kiss him unless you want to.’

There are also tips on office etiquette for working girl, how to address a letter to royalty, what to wear to a film premiere or a night at Covent Garden, and how to host a cocktail or bottle party. Needing little excuse to drink cocktails and force others to do so too, I’ve decided to host my own soiree later this month, following Miss Maclean’s suggestions. These include advice on the correct form of invitation – the ‘at Home’ card, what to drink and how to look after your guests. The Pan Book of Etiquette is, strictly speaking, probably a little too late to have been used by Aunt Fanny when planning a drinks party (while George and her cousins were safely out of the way at boarding school). However, as the book was published within the span of the Famous Five books being written I therefore claim license to imagine similar guiding principles being used by Mrs K. Incidentally, [FF illustrator] Betty Maxey’s version of Uncle Quentin, complete with 70s moustache and flares, would almost certainly have read Pan’s 60s and 70s editions of the James Bond novels, his earlier Eileen Soper incarnation would probably have enjoyed and partially identified with Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room, which focuses on the work of scientists (the ‘back room boys’) during the Second World War.

As a wonderful RSVP to my ‘at Home’ invitation, one of my guests-to-be very kindly sent me Booth’s Handbook of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks. Commissioned by Booth’s, the legendary distillers of London gin, the book actually covers all sorts of alcohol and gives recipes for classics as well as now lesser-known cocktails. I particularly like the chapter on bitters and vermouths, having a penchant for Campari and its ilk (one cocktail I’ll be serving will be the Negroni – 2 parts dry gin, 1 part Campari and 1 part red vermouth, poured over ice, topped up with soda and garnished with a twist of orange peel).

To return to Pan books, they actually have a really excellent list and are compulsively collectable (and more affordable than early edition Blytons it must be said). I’ve got an almost full set of the Bond novels plus my small but growing set of 60s lifestyle guides. You can find out more about Pan via this collector’s website and I will leave you with some cocktail party tips, courtesy of Mr Doxat and his chapter ‘A Bar of One’s Own – Let’s Give a Cocktail Party’ (all direct quotes):

  • You don’t need a bar in order to give a Cocktail Party, although if you do have a bar you are bound to […] Decide on a basic one or two Cocktails, say a dry one and a sweet one, or a Cocktail plus a Cup or Punch. There is nothing wrong in preparing these a little in advance and storing them in a refrigerator, although you may prefer to mix these in front of your guests.
  • One thing you will need is more ice that any normal household can provide: in plenty of time, order some from your fishmonger, and rinse it well. To break it up you need a sharp pick […] If set out in an ice bucket for use in Cocktail-making or by guests, a splash of soda-water over it prevents the lumps sticking together as if cemented.
  • Send your invitations out well in advance. These can range from an extravagant engraved personalized gold-edged card to a simple do-it-yourself handwritten invitation. I suggest a card of elegant (non-gimmicky) form which you can buy at any decent stationers. Get one clearly marked RSVP (or definitely requesting a reply)
  • Do not try to get in more people than your room(s) will comfortably hold. Remove your more frangible ornaments and put them out of reach. Set out every ashtray you can find.
  • Children, unless precociously well-behaved, are not an adornment at these essentially adult events.
  • Friday is usually an excellent day for a party, a good run down to the week-end, although I know people who choose Mondays as they reckon it brightens the beginning of the week.
  • You will need to provide some small snacks. The lazy, expensive way is to buy these in a delicatessen. In place of the usual canapés – which I have elsewhere described as ‘scraps of offal on soggy toast’ – I prefer the following simple, easily prepared ‘eats’: really spicy little sausages; plain whole green olives; a good paté on crisp little biscuits; home-made cheese straws; cubes of New Zealand [why?] cheddar cheese; there is an infinite variety of nibbles one can dream up or get from books.
  • Simplicity [in food] is the thing to go for; and nothing that needs more than two bites. Place ‘eats’ around so those that want to can help themselves; don’t lunge at your guests with possibly unwanted nourishment.
  • A thoughtful host might provide some of those small mild cigars that are increasingly popular
  • Be mindful of those you know to be driving when they leave you and do not press on them that most fatal of all British drinks, One For the Road.
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