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?!


Breakfast Feasts and Lashings of Coffee and Hot Milk

January 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In the spirit of the previous post, it’s time to celebrate breakfast. This repast from Five on a Hike Together is a memorable and well-earned one. Dick and Anne have been separated from Julian, George and Timmy and end up spending the night at a horrible farmhouse where something strange happens… When the cousins are reunited the next day they sit down for a feast and an update on their adventures. I particularly like the idea of the children drinking coffee with hot milk – a mixture of sophistication and comfort:

‘A wonderful smell came creeping into the little dining room, followed by the inn-woman carrying a large tray. On it was a steaming tureen of of porridge, a bowl of golden syrup, a jug of very thick cream, and a dish of bacon and eggs, all piled high on crisp brown toast. Little mushrooms were on the same dish.

“It’s like magic!” said Anne, staring. “Just the very things I longed for!”

“Toast, marmalade and butter to come, and the coffee and hot milk,” said the woman, busily setting everything out. “And if you want any more bacon and eggs, just ring the bell”

“Too good to be true!” said Dick, looking at the table. “For goodness’ sake, help yourselves girls or I shall forget my manners and grab.”

Porridge is a staple breakfast food at this time of year and is memorably described in innumerable children’s books, from several of Blyton’s series (FF and the Barney ‘R’ stories immediately spring to mind) to the surreal breakfast in Christianna Brand’s 1964 novel, Nurse Matilda. Jane Brocket includes a guideline recipe for porridge (to be served with thick cream) in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. As she notes, some people hold that porridge should be made just with milk, others plump for a mixture of milk and water.

I’m definitely in the latter camp but proper FF porridge probably does need full cream milk with extra cream. It’s useful to know that the more you stir porridge as it cooks, the creamier it will be. Golden syrup is the topping of choice in virtually every children’s book I’ve ever read, but I’m a fan of honey.

Given the plight of British bees it’s important to try and buy British (and preferably local) honey – some beekeepers’ reports suggest that within ten years time the British honeybee will be a thing of the past. This Telegraph article from 2008 (yes, it is written by someone called Bee Wilson) is quite interesting. Apparently only 5 per cent of British honey is sold through supermarkets so visit your local farmers’ market or track down your local beekeepers through the official website of the British Beekeepers’ Association.

Fortum & Mason sell some fancily packaged and no doubt tasty British honey. If you have too much money you can buy this miniature bee hive complete with a pot of honey made by bees who live on the roof of Fortnum’s Piccadilly store (according to F&M they ‘visit only the best gardens’). Personally, I think it’s the rarefied atmosphere of London, and particularly the east end, that gives metropolitan honeys a distinctive flavour – honey from the Hackey City Farm is very good and is a fraction of the price.

Mrs Sanders’ Ginger Buns

January 2, 2010 at 10:47 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games | Leave a comment
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After a morning spent hunting for secret passages at Kirrin Farm (as you do), the kindly Mrs Sanders brings out some delicious elevenses, much to the delight of the Five, and sits ‘them down in the big kitchen to eat ginger buns and drink hot milk’ (Five Go Adventuring Again).

A cold winter’s morning offers the perfect excuse to stay in your pyjamas and do a spot of baking, especially if you are making something that permeates the air with a gentle waft of warm spices. The Enid Blyton Society have had some discussion about the exact nature of the Blytonian ginger bun – are they bread or cake-like? Fruity or not fruity? Even Jane Brocket, domestic doyenne, doesn’t discuss this in her anthology of recipes from children’s literature, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.

I have plumped for a non-fruity cake-like version and after much searching for suitable recipes have decided that Nigella Lawson’s gingerbread muffins could easily double up as Mrs Sanders’ ginger buns. They are not especially muffin-like and are dark and subtle in flavour (I have added a little more ginger to the original recipe). Most of the ingredients would have been available to Mrs Sanders, perhaps with the substitution of the balsamic vinegar for some of her homemade cider or other fruit vinegar.

The Nigellan ethos of feasting and plenty is certainly akin to the Blytonian one and I now can’t stop imagining a bizarre alternate Famous Five world in which Mrs Sanders becomes a seductive satin dressing gown-wearing Nigella, with Charles Saatchi as her art collecting farmer husband. As we know, the Sanders let out rooms to artists from London so perhaps there’s some mileage here? Anyway, here is the recipe for Mrs Sanders’ Ginger Buns, adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast.

Makes 12 buns

250g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground mixed spice or ground cloves

1 egg

50g dark muscovado sugar

50g light muscovado sugar

150ml full-fat milk (fresh from the Kirrin cows if possible)

1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar

6 tbs sunflower oil

4 tbs golden syrup

4 tbs black treacle

Whisk up the egg and sugar, then add the milk, vinegar and oil and then the syrup and treacle. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and spices and then add the sugary milk/oil/egg/vinegar mixture. Stir until combined but still fairly lumpy (as with usual muffin mixtures – but more runny in this case).

Line your muffin tin with large bun cases or circles of greaseproof paper and bake for 15-20 mins at 200°c/gas mark 6 (Nigella says 20 mins but as usual with her recipes I would cook for less – it depends on your oven). The tops will be dry but the buns will still feel squishy when you take them out of the tin. Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack then serve with large glasses of hot milk.

NB The buns will keep nicely for a couple of days in an airtight tin.

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