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.


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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.



Joanna the Cook’s Ginger Biscuits (1)

July 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
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photoYesterday’s reference to Five on Kirrin Island Again gave me the urge to bake a version of Joanna the Cook’s famous ginger biscuits. Joanna knows how to use food to make people happy and cheer them up when they’re sad. When poor George is forced to let her beloved dog Timmy stay on Kirrin Island with Uncle Quentin (he needs a bodyguard to protect him while he conducts top secret scientific experiments), Joanna directs the children towards the biscuit tin. “I made you some of your favourite ginger biscuits this morning”, she tells them, much to Dick’s delight:

‘”I do think good cooks deserve some kind of decoration, just as much as good soldiers, or scientists, or writers. I should give Joanna the O.B.C.B.E”.

“Whatever’s that?” said Julian.

“Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire,” said Dick, grinning.’

As I’m off to visit Anne later (companion on such infamous adventures as Peter’s Tower in 2010 and last summer’s wet and rainy trip to the Blytonian equivalent of Mecca, Corfe Castle) I thought I would make her a batch of ginger biscuits [Anne  – if you’re reading this, surprise!  And I hope you like ginger…].

I won’t post the recipe for these up here as it comes courtesy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket‘s excellent compendium of recipes based on food in children’s books. I’ve made several of JB’s recipes (Battenberg cake, saffron cake, pineapple upside down cake) and I have to say that they are a) delicious and b) have worked every time. Although having said that, mine look a bit pale, cracked and ugly. And they did take a little longer in the oven than JB recommends. But they taste good and that’s the most important thing, right?!

Taking the Biscuit

June 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Posted in Dick, Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games, Joan the Cook | Leave a comment

A pause in my cycling tales to alert all London-based readers to the fact that this weekend sees the exciting prospect of a three-day British Biscuit Festival. Yes! A biscuit festival! What could be better?

Get yourself down to the Brunswick Centre near Russell Square to participate in a Tea and Biscuit Social, a Build-a-Biscuit workshop, a Tea Dance and much more. But of course no biscuit festival is truly complete without the presence of Joan the Cook, whose ginger biscuits inspired Dick to award her with the OBCBE (Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire) in Five on Kirrin Island Again.

More details on the festival here.

Mince Pies and Festive Cheer

December 11, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | 1 Comment
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Another year, another mince pie recipe. I’m officially in love with Dan Lepard’s new book, Short and Sweet. Lots of detail on how to make the perfect loaf of bread but also many wondrous and unusual cake and biscuit recipes. I wonder what Joan the Cook would make of peach & saffron cake or banana blondies?

For a small festive shindig today I made mince pies, using Dan’s almond pastry, plus some dairy and wheat-free walnut, cranberry and chocolate biscuits (for a vegan guest). Both were delicious, if I do say so myself (Dan takes all the credit, not me – I was just following his sterling advice).

Clementines or some other small orange citrus fruit are also essential foodstuffs at this time of year. My local greengrocers was selling boxes of clementines, leaves and all, for a mere £2.50 so I couldn’t resist a box of these too. It was a tiny bit of a challenge to get them home on my bike but I did manage it. Eating a couple of these made me feel a tad less guilty about wolfing huge quantities of biscuits and pies. Short and Sweet also contains a recipe for clementine and oat muffins so perhaps I’ll try these next…

I hope everyone is getting as excited about Christmas as I am! x

Hot Cross Buns, Mk II

April 22, 2011 at 10:36 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | 3 Comments

The making and eating of hot cross buns on Good Friday has now joined my list of seasonal traditions. Last year’s were tasty but not as Biblically risen as I would have hoped. This time round I’m following the trusty Delia’s recipe which is available online but reproduced here, with some minor changes, for convenience. To stay in keeping with my Famous Five time period, I’m giving Imperial measurements only.

Hot Cross Buns

2 oz caster sugar, plus 1 level tsp

1 level tbsp of dried yeast

1lb of plain white flour (I used half and half plain and strong white bread flour)

1 level tsp salt

I heaped tsp of mixed spice

5 oz of mixed dried fruits and peel

1 ½- 2 fl oz hand-warm milk

1 egg, beaten

2 oz butter, melted

For the crosses

2 oz plain flour

2-3 tbsp water

For the glaze

2 tbsp of granulated sugar

2 tbsp water


Stir the tsp of caster sugar into 5 fl oz of hand-hot water. Add the dried yeast, give a quick stir and leave to sit for ten minutes or so until it froths.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar and dried fruits [At this point Joan the Cook would maybe slip a raisin or two to Mischief the Monkey]. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and then the warm milk, beaten egg and melted butter. Mix, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands (add a little more flour or more milk if the mixture is too wet or dry). Turn the dough out onto the table and knead for about 6 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

Return to the bowl and cover with a piece of lightly oiled cling film. Leave to rise for an hour or so, until the mixture is doubled in size. Turn it out and knead again so the dough returns to its original size.

Divide the mixture into 12 round portions and arrange them on a baking sheet on top of a piece of greaseproof paper, allowing room for them to expand. Using a sharp knife cut a deep cross on each bun. For the crosses mix the flour and water together, roll out and cut into thin strips and arrange in crosses on the top of the buns. I’ve halved the quantities Delia gives as I ended with far too much cross mixture.

Leave to rise for another 25 minutes. Pre-heat the over the gas mark 7/425ºf/220ºc. Bake the buns for about 15 minutes. While they are in the oven make the sugar glaze by melting the sugar and water together. Brush this over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven to make them nice and sticky.

Joan the Cook’s Famous Mince Pies

December 23, 2010 at 10:38 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | Leave a comment
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The Famous Five at Christmas time. Given their legendary appetites, could there be a better excuse for a literary culinary bacchanalia? Perhaps surprisingly, the descriptions of Christmas feasting in Five Go Adventuring Again are not too over the top. This could in part be due to the relative lack of exercise the Five have in this story. Enid is usually careful to balance her characters’ prandial indulgences with physical exertion and descriptions of larger blow-outs are usually dispersed across the course of the book so the reader is never left with the feeling of ‘too much’. In Five Go Adventuring Again the Five go for the odd walk and throw sticks for Timmy to chase across a frozen pond, but as it’s winter and cold (to say nothing of the fact they have to spend their mornings studying with their villainous tutor, Mr Roland) they are a lot more house-bound than usual. So in this book the food is present and comforting without being excessive in volume – for example, the light but delicious elevenses provided by Mrs Sanders over at Kirrin Farm – ginger buns and hot milk; jugs of cocoa and homemade shortbread.

Back at Kirrin Cottage, Joan the Cook, who loves an excuse for a bake-a-thon, prepares a hearty store of Christmas food: ‘Joanna the Cook was busy baking Christmas cakes. An enormous turkey had been sent over from Kirrin Farm, and was hanging up in the larder. Timothy thought it smelt glorious, and Joanna was always shooing him out of the kitchen’. I think the pleasure gained from this is more about the anticipation than it is about the eating itself – apart from the carving of the turkey we are only told that ‘the children gave themselves up to the enjoyment of eating a great deal’. In many books and films with a Christmas setting it’s the build up to Christmas rather than the day itself that contains the most atmosphere and magic – think of The Children of Greene Knowe, The Dark is Rising and A Traveller in Time, to say nothing of Five Go Adventuring Again in which Christmas Day is swiftly forgotten once everyone’s retired for the night and the adventuring plot starts to take off in earnest.

Anyway, I am straying away from my original intention, which was to write about mince pies. You will note that in the above description of Joan’s culinary preparations, mince pies do not get a mention. Why not? We know these are in her baking repertoire as she provides the children with a big square tin of mince pies in the Easter-set Five Go to Demon’s Rocks (Dick describes these as her ‘famous mince-pies’). This did make me wonder if out-of-season eating of traditional baked goods is nothing new – surely hot cross buns would have been more appropriate to have taken to the Demon’s Rocks lighthouse? –  but clearly mince pies are, and historically have been, firmly associated with Christmas.

For a potted history of mince pies throughout the ages (going back to the days when they did really contain meat) and a selection of pie recipes from different periods, check out the fascinating Historical Foods website. This tells you everything you need to know about making different types of mincemeat from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and provides plenty of photographs of both the processes and the finished products.

Although I am sure Joan and Aunt Fanny own a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management I don’t think Mrs B’s traditional sweet beef mince pie would be the recipe used at Kirrin Cottage. This traditional pie recipe dating from c.1900 is more like the modern conception of the mince pie, the meaty version having faded from fashion during the Victorian era. I am going to admit right away that my own mince pies are made with bought mincemeat. It is home-made mincemeat – just not made in my own home –  and was produced by Jackie Stern’s company ‘Cakes and More’ and sold by A. Gold on Brushfield Street, Spitalfields. A Gold are also selling their own mince pies this week but if you are in the area I would also recommend the pies from St John Bread and Wine’s bakery. They are a whopping £2.20 each but are most substantial and also quite delicious.

Postscript: As I seem to have made it my business to sample every mince pie in town I can now add Konditor & Cook’s pies to the list. Golden pastry, light mincemeat, and only £1 a pop. Mine was freshly baked and still warm as I ate it outside in the bitter cold this afternoon. It wins the ‘Best Mince Pie of 2010 contest’. Sorry Joan, maybe next year…

Chateaux et Chocolat

December 22, 2010 at 1:48 am | Posted in Dick, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Julian | Leave a comment
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‘”We got fed up with French food,” said Dick. “I came out in spots and Julian was sick”‘ (Five on a Secret Trail)

When Julian and Dick crave a good old-fashioned English ham and mustard sandwich (no sandwich au jambon et moutarde for them) they hotfoot it home from France to join George, Anne and Timmy who are camping on the common behind Kirrin Cottage. It’s odd that Dick doesn’t appreciate French cuisine but perhaps in a few years’ time, when his promising tastebuds develop to their full potential, he will be ready to enjoy a delicious meal at the Hôtel Restaurant du Vieux Pont in Belcastel, France.

Belcastel is a very picturesque village with a castle perched on top of a hill (pictured in the post below) and with Nicole and Michèle Fagegaltier’s restaurant nestling by the river down below. It is a regular haunt of my host of last weekend, who, for the purposes of this blog will be known simply as Mr Lenoir (of Five Go to Smuggler’s Top fame). Mr Lenoir took Professor Hayling and me to the Hôtel Restaurant du Vieux Pont for lunch on Sunday afternoon. We opted for the ‘decouverte de gourmandise’ menu which was 54 euros for five courses  – six if you count the not-insubstantial petit fours served with coffee – or 44 euros for four courses. I didn’t take a picture of each one but the photograph above is of my dessert: ‘Le chocolat en sucré, salé, acide, amer (mousse caramel-chocolat, cigarette à la fleur de sel, moulleux au citron, lait glacé gentiane)’. This, and especially the lemony chocolate fondant cake in the middle, would have sent even Dick and Julian into raptures.

Joan the Cook might not hold with such fancy presentation, however…

Christmas gifts for the Kirrins

December 5, 2010 at 11:03 am | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, George, Joan the Cook, Julian, Timmy, Travel, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
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Here are this year’s suggestions for Christmas gifts for members of the Kirrin Family, or your own equivalent George, Aunt Fanny etc.

Julian is interested in archaeology and the Romans, as we know from Five on a Secret Trail. He also prides himself on his map-reading and path-finding skills. So how about this English Heritage Hadrian’s Wall Archaeological map? It details the whole length of the famous Roman frontier, built by the Emperor Hadrian from AD122, and points out temples, bath houses, kilns etc in addition to the wall and its fortifications. To complement this, Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel, The Eagle of the Ninth. A proper boy’s own adventure story (but so much more than this too) in which a young centurion sets out to discover what happened to his father’s legion when it marched into the mists of Caledonia in AD117 and never returned…

“Who’s this from? I say who gave this to me? Where’s the label? Oh – from Mr Roland, how decent of him! Look Julian, a pocket knife with three blades!” A classic Swiss Army knife for Dick would be an infinitely useful gift. For Dick’s modern equivalent, perhaps a version that includes a memory stick?

A stylish bicycle bell for George. She might also like a sturdy basket for her bicycle as she always has to carry a heavy, smelly bone for Timmy whenever the Five go off somewhere.

Anne has expressed her desire to learn to paint and draw. As the Five take in some truly stunning scenery on their numerous adventures, a portable pencil and watercolour paint set might come in handy.

Present choices for canines are somewhat limited. As Timmy got a sexy studded collar last year, perhaps his passion for rabbits could be indulged this Christmas? He’s strictly forbidden to chase real bunnies so this running rabbit toy could be a suitable substitute. It squeaks and is double stitched for extra strength.

I have previously mused on Aunt Fanny’s hypothetical reading tastes, so what could be nicer for her than a beautiful Persephone book? There are some suggestions for books to match every taste on the Persephone website and you can even buy someone a book a month for a whole year. NB On the 14th and 15th December there will be a Christmas open house at Perspephone’s Lamb’s Conduit Street shop. All books will be gift-wrapped free of charge and there will be mulled wine and mince pies all round. Wizard!

Like many Uncles and other random male relatives, Quentin can be tricky to buy for. There’s a lot to be said for the classic gift of a good pair of socks or a tie. Quentin is usually quite scruffy – his work is more important than sartorial elegance. But when he finally presents his scientific gift to mankind he’s going to need a decent tie to wear for meeting the Prime Minister, receiving the Nobel Prize etc etc. This one from Old Town is quite nice.

Joan the Cook. After working flat out to produce a massive Christmas lunch, plus numerous puddings and cakes, Joan deserves to put her feet up for a while. As we know from Five Fall into Adventure, she has a bit of a soft spot for a man in uniform. When the police visit Kirrin Cottage to investigate a burglary they manage to eat up all of Joan’s home-made buns during the course of their preliminary investigation.

‘”You’d better stay in and give the policemen a good tea,” said Julian. “They’re coming back with a photographer.”

“Then I’d better do another baking,” said Joan, pleased.

“Yes, make one of your chocolate cakes,” said Anne.

“Oh, do you think they’d like one?” said Joan.

“Not for them Joan – for us, of course!” said George.’

That night Joan ‘dream[s] of policemen eating her chocolate cakes’. So, some classic British cinema in the form of the Ealing Studios production The Blue Lamp could tickle her pink.


September 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy | 1 Comment
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‘”Does anyone know what happened to the sausages that were in the larder?” [asked Mother]

“Sausages – sausages, let me think!” said Julian, frowning. Anne gave a sudden giggle. She knew quite well what had happened.

Well, Mother – you said we could get our own meal last night, as you were out,” said Julian. “So we poked about and decided on sausages.”

“Yes, but Julian, two whole packets of sausages!” said his mother. “I know Georgina came over to spend the evening – but even so…!”

“She brought Timmy,” said Anne. “He rather likes sausages too, Mother.”‘

This weekend I visited a friend in Tunbridge Wells and we were invited to a barbeque. As I accompanied Julie to ‘The Sausage Shop’ to get provisions, I couldn’t help but recall the opening scene of Five Have a Mystery to Solve. Poor old Mother! The Five eat her out of house and home during the school holidays and without Joan the Cook to provide a constant stream of buns, biscuits and cakes, sausage supplies get seriously depleted. I worry about the stock at their local butchers too – despite having polished off a substantial quantity of sausages, when Mother asks the children what they’d like for dinner you can guess the reply: “SAUSAGES!”. There would be no problem if the Sausage Shop was on their doorstep. It has ample supplies of delicious sausages including ‘Kentish Village’ (pork, sage, mace and nutmeg), ‘Firecracker’ (with green and red chillis), ‘Somerset Pork Apple and Cider’ (sic), and Pork and Stilton. Just don’t tell Curly and Benny…

A Famous Five High Tea

May 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | 1 Comment
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A chilly Bank Holiday Monday (too cold, wet and windy for a picnic) offers up the perfect opportunity to make a Famous Five High Tea. I don’t think you can be too prescriptive about what constitutes high tea, as opposed to afternoon tea, but I would say that it is more substantial as it can double up for dinner as well, and is therefore served slightly later (between 5-6 o’clock, rather than the 3-5 o’clock for afternoon tea). The Tea Council of Great Britain (yes, there really is a Tea Council of Great Britain) suggests that high tea generally consists of bread, meat and cakes, served with hot tea.

The Tea Council offers a historical overview of the practice of taking tea in this country, tracing the ritual of afternoon tea back to Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford (left) who is said to have originated it in the early 1800s. As tea became more and more popular (often as a substitute for gin and other alcoholic beverages), working and farming communities began to have high tea, ‘a cross between the delicate afternoon meal enjoyed in the ladies’ drawing rooms and the dinner enjoyed in houses of the gentry at seven or eight in the evening.’

There are high teas aplenty in the Famous Five books (to say nothing of the extreme high teas of the Willow and Cherry Tree Farm books), although these are not always accompanied by cups of tea. After their hard day’s cycle to Billycock Farm, Mrs Thomas (mother of Julian and Dick’s friend Toby) prepares the children a substantial tea:

‘The four visitors wished they had not had such a big lunch! A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish. On the sideboard was an enormous cake, and beside it a dish of scones. Great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk were there, too, with honey and home-made jam.’

It’s a hot day and the children all plump for milk rather than tea, feeling that ‘nothing could be nicer than icy-cold, creamy farm milk from the dairy on a hot day like this’ (conversely, the Tea Council’s FAQs highlight the scientifically-proven refreshing qualities of a cup of tea when it is warm outside). Mrs Thomas serves up another tea at the end of Billycock Hill, after an adventure which has involved stolen airplanes, an intrepid ‘pigling’ and a pair of ‘queer’ butterfly men. In the words of her son Toby this is so good it ‘isn’t a meal – it’s a BANQUET!’

As Samuel Pepys observed in his famous diaries, it is ‘strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everyone’ (9 November 1665), and the concept of the post-adventure feast crops up frequently in the FF books. I have referenced the memorable breakfast in Five on a Hike Together and Joan the Cook’s well-appreciated Secret Trail dinner in previous posts; both of these repasts give the children the opportunity to replenish themselves after various excitement and hardships, and debrief each other and/or their parents on what has gone before. Today has actually been relatively adventure-free but as I’ve been out of town for a day or two it’s nice to catch up with friends while making them eat retro and slightly kitsch foodstuffs. So, here is my suggestion for:

A Famous Five High Tea

First up, Joan the Cook’s stuffed tomatoes from Five on a Secret Trail. The recipe for this comes from Lucy H Yates’ The Country Housewife’s Book, first published in 1934 [my variations in brackets].

‘Take half a dozen ripe, but not over-ripe tomatoes [or one giant ‘Jack Hawkins’ (yes!) or similar tomato per person]. Cut in halves and remove the seeds. Prepare a forcemeat of a breakfastcupful of breadcrumbs and one tablespoonful each of grated cheese, chopped onions [or spring onions] and kitchen herbs (parsley, with basil or lemon thyme) [plus some of the flesh of the tomatoes, but no seeds]; moisten with one egg. Stuff the tomatoes; breadcrumb them and crown each with a nut of butter, or a few drops of olive oil. Fry or place in a baking dish or a quick oven.’ [220°c for about 20 mins]

Serve with new bread and butter, and salad. Technically this should be the Secret Trail salad but quite frankly, I think this is just too much, the Secret Trail salad being a small meal in itself. We ate our tomatoes with spinach, rocket, watercress and avocado with ricotta, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. Incidentally, and perhaps ironically, I wouldn’t recommend tea with this and would instead opt for a glass of wine.

For afters, Carnation Milk Strawberry Jelly. Nestlé’s milk (in this context please pronounce ‘nessels’ rather than ‘neslay’) is a staple foodstuff for many of Blyton’s adventuring children, so even though I’ve not yet come across the Kirrins eating this particular dish, I think it has a place in a Famous Five High Tea.

Dissolve one packet of strawberry jelly (other flavours – lime for instance – would work well too) in 150ml of very hot water. When it has cooled down, slowly add one tin of evaporated milk, whisking gently as you do so. Pour the mixture into small dishes and leave to set for 2 hours. Garnish with fruit and gratings of chocolate [NB if you avoid Nestlé’s milk for moral reasons, many supermarkets sell own brand evaporated milk].

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