Tinned Milk Cocoa

February 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Julian | Leave a comment
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Tinned Milk. Highly unfashionable but simply delicious and also a staple ingredient for those times when fresh provisions are hard to come by (when living on Kirrin Island for example). I have been a convert to evaporated milk since my ex-housemate (who is Greek) first made me a cup of coffee with milk from a tin. Since then I have attempted to win over many Dubious Sorts, including various work colleagues and house guests. Some (but not all) have succumbed and have gone on to spread the word. Others are already enlightened: one colleague recommended evaporated milk jelly which I subsequently tried, tested and enjoyed as part of a Famous Five High Tea. Today, same colleague and I couldn’t help but digress from work matters in order to discuss the merits of cocoa made with evaporated milk. Being sensible types with simple tastes, the Kirrins too enjoy a nice cocoa with milk straight from the tin, especially after a bracing early morning swim, as in Five Run Away Together:

‘The kettle was boiling away merrily, sending up a cloud of steam from its tin spout […] “I’ll open the tin of milk [said Julian]. George, you take the tin of cocoa and that jug and make enough for all of us.”‘

Without wanting to sound quite as commanding as Julian, I would urge readers of this blog to give tinned milk cocoa a try. But, be warned that evaporated milk and condensed milk are not the same thing (condensed milk is much sweeter).  As I am not working with just a camping stove and tin kettle, I would suggest the following method (altered from original published method due to some further cocoa experimentation):

Use half evaporated milk and half water. You can vary this proportion depending on how rich you like your cocoa to be.

Measure a teaspoon of cocoa powder into your favourite cup or mug and mix with a little water to form a smooth paste.  Gradually add the evaporated milk and water, stirring all the time. Pour the lot into a saucepan.  Heat until steaming but not quite boiling, and stir frequently, ideally with a whisk. Return to mug and add one teaspoon of brown sugar, or more if you have a sweet tooth.

Addenda (July 2011)

I’ve recently tried out the simple ‘camping’ method of cocoa and it’s good, and with less washing up (always a happy thing) – 1 teaspoon of cocoa into a mug, add a little boiling water and stir until it makes a smooth paste, add more hot water (about 2/3rds of a mug) and sugar to taste and then top up with evaporated milk. It should be an almost perfect drinking temperature.

Top Tens… and Top Threes: Caves

January 28, 2011 at 12:03 am | Posted in Anne, Dick, George, Julian, Timmy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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John Mullan’s excellent and entertaining Guardian series picks out various literary ‘Ten of the Best’ categories  – villains, moustaches, fake deaths, towers, instances of invisibility etc. (Freud would probably find the selection of ‘best ofs’  I’ve highlighted here revealing but we’ll skip over that). Professor Mullan gets a big thumbs up for his learned, wide-ranging and completely unsnobbish selections. So alongside Homer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Proust and modern authors such as Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Philip Roth, we also find children’s writers such as C S Lewis, Alan Garner and (hurrah!) Enid Blyton. The latter makes it into the categories of ‘Ten of the Best Swimming Scenes’ (Five Get Into Trouble), ‘Examples of Rowing’ (Five on a Treasure Island) and ‘Secret Societies’ (the Secret Seven). It’s rather jolly to see the ‘wild swimming’ antics of the Five positioned between Byron’s ‘Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos’ and The Swimmer by John Cheever, or the rowing from Five on a Treasure Island sitting alongside the rather darker example from The Talented Mr Ripley.

With some of these categories in mind, I am going to begin an occasional series of ‘Best ofs’ drawn from the Famous Five – by contributing a Blytonian example to categories where she doesn’t feature, or by drawing up a top three or five for categories in which there are numerous FF contenders (caves, breakfasts, beaches, horrid children). Sometimes I’ll just offer up my pick of other features of her books (animal characters, secret passages, farmers’ wives, hoards of treasure etc.). Is this extremely nerdy? Should I find a better use of my time? Probably. But please humour me and do feel free to nominate your own.

As caves have already been mentioned, I will start here. Mullan’s examples are all excellent, ranging from the cave of Mammon in Spenser’s The Faerie Queen to the Marabar Caves from E M Forster’s A Passage to India (read Mullan’s full selection here). As I do not have the whole history of world literature to draw upon I will not aim for ten and instead propose a modest three. So my offerings are:

The Kirrin Island Cave, Five Run Away Together

When the Five slope off to Kirrin Island to get away from the nasty Stick family they plan to sleep in Kirrin Castle. Unfortunately the roof has fallen in since the previous summer and they need to find an alternative place to stay. While scoping out the old wreck (too smelly, wood too rotten) Dick spots what looks like a cave in the cliffs. “There aren’t any caves on Kirrin,” asserts George, before the children make their way over the rocks to investigate further…

‘”It is a cave!” said Dick, in delight, stepping into it. “And my, what a fine one”.

It really was a beauty. Its floor was spread with fine white sand, as soft as powder and perfectly dry, for the cave was clearly higher than the tide reached, except possibly in a bad winter storm. Round one side of it ran a stone ledge.

“Exactly like a shelf made for us!” cried Anne in joy. “We can put all our things here. How lovely! Let’s come and live here and sleep here. And look Julian – we’ve even got a skylight in the roof!”‘

The skylight comes in handy as a quick exit onto the clifftop (Julian rigs up a rope) and it even helps them take a hostage in the form of the Sticks’ nasty son, Edgar, who takes an unfortunate tumble through the hole. The children make beds of heather and there is a very nice scene where they make a little fire to watch as they fall asleep. Once the children retrieve various household possessions from Kirrin Cottage, stolen by the Sticks and brought to the island (the Sticks are of course involved in Something Fishy), the cave becomes even more cosy. It’s so cosy in fact, that Jenny Armstrong, the little girl the children rescue from the Sticks’ clutches, isn’t that fussed about being returned to her parents and would rather stay on Kirrin Island with the Five.

The Billycock Caves, Five Go to Billycock Hill

‘Warning’, reads the sign at the entrance to Billycock Caves. ‘Keep only to the roped ways. Beware of losing your way in the unroped tunnels’. The caves constitute a veritable Labyrinth, and provide the perfect place for some bad men to hide kidnapped airmen Jeff and Ray. They are also cold, magnificent, and awe-inspiring. The children go exploring one rainy day, carefully staying to the roped ways. They soon come to a cave ‘full of what looked like gleaming icicles. Some hung down from the roof, others rose up from ground. In some places the one below had reached to the one hanging down, so that they had joined, making it look as if the cave was held up by great shining pillars.

“Oh!” said Anne, catching her breath. “What a wonderful sight! How they gleam and shine!”‘

The next cave they go through is smaller but full of rainbow-coloured ‘icicles’; the one after is ‘of a dazzling white, wall, roof, floor and pillars. So many stalactites and stalagmites had joined that they almost formed a snow-white screen through which the children peered’.

The children are chased out by eerie whistling sounds but luckily, Curly the Pigling is not deterred and his wanderings lead to the rescue of the two airmen. Phew. The Billycock Caves are probably based on Cheddar Caves in Somerset.

The Wreckers’ Caves, Five Go to Demon’s Rocks

Baddies Jacob and Ebeneezer supplement their dishonest earnings by showing trippers around the dark and smelly Wreckers’ Caves near the village of Demon’s Rocks. Luckily the Five, plus Tinker and his pet monkey, Mischief, have a better guide in the form of old Jeremiah Boogle, a salty seadog who spends his days sitting on the quayside smoking his pipe and telling tales of One-Ear Bill, an olden time wrecker. Curiously, the caves don’t lead back into the cliffs but instead descend steeply and wend their way under the sea (much like the undersea passage that leads from Kirrin Farm to Kirrin Island – it must be a feature of the coast in this part of the country). This makes the Wreckers’ Caves very unnerving as the sound of the sea ‘mumbling and grumbling’ overhead can be clearly heard. While many people, and not least Jacob and Ebby, have attempted to find One-Ear Bill’s hidden treasure it takes the Five, plus monkey, to finally track down the stolen hoard of gold coins.

If you would like to, you can vote here:

New Bread

January 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Dick, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Erratic shop opening times over the hols (as well as the desire to stay in pyjamas all morning) makes the New Year the perfect time to bake some bread. Inspired by last week’s visit to the Imperial War Museum’s Ministry of Food exhibition, I decided to make the wholemeal bread from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s accompanying cookbook of the same name.

J F-W adapts her recipe from the Vicomte de Mauduit’s They Can’t Ration These, and I in turn adapted this by replacing half of the wholemeal flour with half white (the last time I made wholemeal bread it was a little dense to say the least). As the process of making bread takes around 4 1/2 hours from start to finish it’s worth making this on a day when you are planning on staying in or near your home.

To make two loaves:

3/4 lb wholemeal flour

3/4lb white flour

1 1/2 tsp dried yeast

1 dessert spoon of black treacle or honey

450ml hot water

Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl. Dissolve the treacle/honey in the hot water and let it cool to lukewarm before adding to the flour mixture. Mix first with a fork and then with your hands and knead for about 10 minutes.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp cloth (or cling film). Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. This usually takes around two hours.

Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead before cutting it into two pieces. Roll the pieces out to fit into two 1.5 litre loaf tins and leave to rise for another two hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°c (400°F)/gas mark 6.

Bake the loaves for 20-30 mins. They are cooked when they sound hollow when tapped on the underneath. Leave to cool on wire racks but try to eat at least some while the bread is still warm, in the style of Dick in Five Run Away Together:

‘”Doesn’t that new-made bread smell awfully good?” said Dick, feeling very hungry as usual. “Can we just grab a bit do you think?”

“Yes, let’s,” said George. So they broke off bits of the warm brown crust, handed some to Julian, who was rowing, and chewed the delicious new-made bread. Timmy got a bit too, but his was gone as soon as it went into his mouth.’

The Ministry of Food tried to discourage the populace from eating new-made bread during the war as slightly stale day-old bread would go that much further. Furthermore, the only bread commercially available from 1942 was the ‘National Loaf’. This was more nutritious than white bread, had added calcium to help prevent rickets, and was widely despised by those who had to eat it (Ministry of Food, p. 23). For children reading Five Run Away Together when it was first published in 1944, the description of the Kirrins’ early morning feast of warm, freshly-baked bread must have been especially mouth-watering.

Midnight Feasts and Lashings of Ginger Beer

January 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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As the queen and royal family of literary gluttony respectively, Enid Blyton, and the Famous Five in particular, get lots of coverage in this BBC Radio 4 programme Midnight Feasts and Lashings of Ginger Beer, broadcast on Tuesday 12 January and available until the 19 via the BBC iplayer.

In the words of author and contributor Michael Rosen, food is ‘the sex of children’s literature’ – the one unfettered desire that children’s authors can write about (in contrast to a writer like Ian Fleming who writes about sex and food with equal greed and sensory description). The concept of food as a substitute for love gets plenty of attention – one example being Martin in Five on Kirrin Island Again. When the children discover he has lost his mother they make sure he gets the nicest buns at teatime. Elsewhere in this book Blyton describes how Joanna the cook is the queen of comfort food: ‘That was always Joanna’s way! If she thought anyone was upset, she offered them her best and freshest food’.

There are endless other food-related quotes with which to illustrate this post so here is just one:

‘”If we go [to Kirrin Island] for a week or ten days, we must take plenty of stores,” said Julian. “The thing is – can we possibly find food enough for so long? Even if we entirely empty the larder I doubt if that would be enough for a week or so. We all seem such hungry people somehow.” Five Run Away Together, p.75.

Lashings of ginger beer…

July 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Julian | Leave a comment
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I’m currently reading Five Run Away Together (courtesy of the lovely Julie, thank you Ms G), a book that contains a fair amount of ginger beer consumption. According to Blyton expert Norman Wright, the phrase ‘lashings of ginger beer’ never actually appears in any of the Famous Five books (although ‘lashings’ of hard-boiled eggs and ‘lashings’ of treacle are enjoyed in Five Go Down the Sea and Five Have a Mystery to Solve, respectively). Unofficially though, lashings of GB certainly get consumed in outing number three.

When the nasty Stick family take over Kirrin Cottage, the cousins run away to Kirrin Island. Before setting off, they raid the larder and come across the Sticks’ own personal stash of GB. ‘”All bought out of my mother’s money!” said George. “Well, we’ll take the ginger beer too. It will be nice to drink it on a hot day””. The GB makes an appearance at most meals, even breakfast. As Julian remarks, “ginger beer is a gorgeous drink – it seems to go with simply everything”.

Spurred on by the current glorious summer weather, I’m attempting to make my own ginger beer. I got a bit carried away, assuming I would need lots of fresh ginger, but apparently a little goes a long way. It has now been grated and added to hot water with lemon, sugar, yeast and cream of tartar. Now it needs to sit around for 24 hours while the yeast gets to work…

Lashings of fresh ginger

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