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.

Rosehips and Quinces

November 14, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | 1 Comment
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I have previously hypothesised about Aunt Fanny’s skills and knowledge as a countrywoman. Did she make the cough mixture George rubs on Timmy’s chest in Five Go Adventuring Again, for instance? One thing that she would almost certainly have made is rosehip syrup. High in vitamin C, as well as A, E and D it would surely qualify as a ‘superfood’ in modern day parlance.

Rosehip syrup was supplied by the Ministry of Food during the war and a spoonful of this was much more palatable to young tastebuds than the also compulsory cod liver oil (see Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recollections of this in her Ministry of Food cookbook).

Sugar rationing aside, it would have been (and still is) easy enough to make your own rosehip syrup if you were/are able to forage the hedgerows. There are many recipes for this online (Jane F-W also gives an enticing sounding recipe for rosehip jelly), although I am surprised to see no mention of it in Lucy H Yates’ Country Housewife’s Book.

Miss Blyton also talks a little bit about rosehips in her chapter on ‘How Seeds Seek their Fortunes’ in Round the Year: Autumn. Here we go:

‘A great many fruits make themselves juicy, sweet and bright-coloured. The apple is one of these. Right inside it are the little brown seeds, very well protected by the fleshy apple outside. Until the seeds are ripe the apple is green, hard and sour, and no bird is likely to peck it, or human being to eat it. But as soon as the apple is ready there are no lack of eaters! We eat the sweet, juicy part and throw away the hard core that protects the seeds. This is what the apple meant us to do. “Scatter my seeds for me and I will give you a feast!” it says.

The hips and haws do the same for birds. They prepare a brightly coloured, juicy outside, a feast for the thrush and blackbird, but inside they pack their precious seeds, which are not to be eaten by the birds – or, if they are, will pass right through the bird’s body and be cast out far from the parent plant. The hip makes its seeds hairy, so that the birds do not want to eat them [but it makes its] outsides enticing and sweet, to persuade the birds to peck them.’

I’d love to say that I am busy preparing rosehip syrup as I write this but I am not. This post was inspired by the purchase of some delicious rosehip cordial from the fine A Gold, purveyors of traditional English food stuffs. In my defence, I am currently poaching quinces (and jolly nice they smell too), purchased yesterday at the London Fields School off-shoot of Broadway Market (at the bargain price of £1.50 for approximately 1lb). The English quince is in season between October and December and as an everyday food has become rather neglected in recent years (the exception being quince jelly or membrillo). This is possibly because it is nigh on impossible to eat when raw. It is as hard as a rock.  Given this obstacle, I am sad to say that amongst the plants and trees Enid discusses, she does not mention how the quince in particular manages to spread its seeds.

The Latin Spring of Mrs Kirrin

March 21, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Learning Stuff | 3 Comments
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It is officially spring. Saturday marked the vernal equinox, the point at which day and night are of equal length. If the Kirrins worked hard at school after Five Go Adventuring Again (when they needed Mr Roland’s help to translate an old Latin parchment), they would know that this derives from Latin: ver=spring, aequi=equal, nox=night. With state education not being what it was seventy years ago, I confess that I did have to look that up in my Oxford English Dictionary. The Mayor of London has something to say about this – not about me personally, but about Latin and the school curriculum [NB ‘curriculum’, from currere, to run, a course. ‘NB’, nota bene=to note well. Ok, I’ll stop].

Continuing the classical theme, Saturday seemed like an appropriate day for a (soggy) cycle ride to Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street, the vernal equinox being the day on which the mythical Persephone emerges from the Underworld to spend a happy half year above ground before returning to her morbid husband Hades (Incidentally, Enid Blyton’s excellent Tales of Ancient Greece introduced me, as a child, to this terrifying story of abduction, rape and pomegranates).

Persephone Books republishes forgotten and out-of-print works by twentieth century (mainly) women writers. I’ve read about ten of their books so far and have enjoyed every one. Each book is also a thing of beauty, with a dove-grey cover and a carefully chosen patterned endpaper which has some thematic link to the book itself. I decided to indulge my inner Aunt Fanny and bought The Closed Door and Other Stories, a collection of short stories by Dorothy Whipple, a popular writer of the interwar years; something practical – The Country Housewife’s Book, by Lucy H Yates; and Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, which could probably be classed as a ‘racy’ novel for someone of Aunt Fanny’s class and generation.

First published in 1934, The Country Housewife’s Book is full of useful advice on bottling fruits, preserving eggs (brown pickled eggs, egg and lemon curd, egg emulsion and egg wine) and using up gluts of milk (by making clotted cream, cream cheese and junket) [more from this in future posts]. Aunt Fanny would also be able to refer to it when she wanted tips on medicinal herbs or on how to use skimmed milk for ‘cleaning white enamelled furniture, paint, linoleum, or oilcloth’ and for ‘easing sunburn or for removing freckles’.

To Bed with Grand Music, on the other hand, would probably only come out after the children were in bed, or while George was away at school. It was published immediately after the Second World War and tells the story of a woman’s serial unfaithfulness when her husband is posted overseas. There is no bottling of orchard fruit or pickling of eggs here. To Bed instead depicts a world of loose sexual morals, expensive restaurants, black market silk stockings, and discussions of what makes a good mistress. Latin terms probably come into this, but not ones that the Kirrins would be taught at school.

Washtime!

February 6, 2010 at 9:22 am | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Dick, Eating and Drinking, George, Joan the Cook | Leave a comment
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Residual guilt over Christmas indulgence and a pathetic lack of cycling in recent weeks have prevented me attempting Dan Lepard’s recipe for ginger beer scones, published in the Saturday Guardian a couple of weeks ago. A non canonical recipe, no doubt, but given the Five’s penchant for unusual combinations of food, I suspect they might like the idea of getting their daily ginger beer and scone fix in one convenient package (washed down with yet more ginger beer?). So I’ll return to this one in the near future…

Meanwhile, in the spirit of detoxification that seems to be taking over now that January is finally over (who can give up comfort food during this long, dark month?), this post is about soap. I was given Five Fall into Adventure for Christmas. This is the novel in which the Five first meet ragamuffin Jo, one of the few child characters to recur across a number of the FF stories. I’ll leave aside some of less PC elements of this book but note that the rather dirty and smelly Jo receives a number of good scrubbings at the hands of Joan the Cook. Cleanliness is next to Godliness as they say, and once Jo samples Joan’s food, and dons some of George’s clean and well-worn old togs (to say nothing of developing a serious crush on Dick), she gives up a life of petty criminality and, to keep going with the bath metaphors, throws her towel in with the Kirrins.

For me, old fashioned soap means Pears. Invented by Andrew Pears in a factory in London’s Soho in 1789, this lovely amber tablet was purportedly the world’s first transparent soap. Mr Pears developed it as a gentle product that would stand in contrast to the lead and arsenic in other soaps of the time, and he gave it a traditional, yet subtly exotic, country fragrance by using rosemary, thyme and the all-important and mysterious ‘Pears Fragrance Essence’. I bought a bar of Pears recently and thought it seemed different to how I remembered it – little did I know there had a been a recent outcry over changes to its 200 year old recipe. The original contained just 8 natural ingredients; the new formula has over 20 chemical ones. Due to protests, including a facebook group no less, this new version will soon be withdrawn, with the traditional Pears back in the shops come March.

One company selling stocks of the old Pears is the super Carbolic Soap Company. Their product range includes these delightfully lurid pink carbolic soaps (left), as well as washboards, scrubbing brushes, wooden clothes pegs and Mitchell’s wool fat soap – in short, everything Aunt Fanny and Joan need to keep Kirrin Cottage and its inhabitants sparkling and clean.

Aunt Fanny’s knitting

December 5, 2009 at 10:25 am | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Fashion, Learning Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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If Aunt Fanny did indeed invest in good quality wardrobe basics for her daughter George – sturdy brogues and a proper rainmac (see previous posts under the ‘fashion’ category) – I suspect she would economically supplement these pieces with some of her own home knits. Eileen Soper’s illustrations depict all sorts of lovely jumpers, hats and scarves, and I can well imagine Aunt Fanny occupying herself during the long winter evenings at Kirrin Cottage with a spot of knit and purl.

The V&A has some great knitting pages including a set of original 1940s knitting patterns. Some of these are wartime patterns taken from Jaegar’s ‘Essentials for the Forces’. The 1940s was a high point for hand knitting and Jaegar’s publication includes instructions for making ‘all of the necessary garments for men and women serving in the Forces’. It even makes handy colour suggestions: ‘Air Force blue or khaki wool for outer garments, and fawn or natural wool for the body belt, socks and vest’.

While Uncle Quentin was busy aiding the war effort with his scientific knowledge, Fanny could have been making items like these mittens for the WRENS (although I also like to imagine a more glamorous, fluent German-speaking Fanny carrying out a spot of wartime espionage).

As we know, the Kirrins are mildly impoverished when we first meet them in Five on a Treasure Island (whether the Famous Five stories are set pre- or post-war is of course open for debate – the first book was published in 1942 but the war is never mentioned); and Fanny may have kept and adapted patterns such as these for George and her cousins. The tops of these mittens turn down – very handy for keeping the hands warm while fiddling around looking for the entrance to secret passages and the like.

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