A nice cup of tea and a biscuit

May 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Just the ticket on this unseasonably cold and grey Sunday – a nice cup of tea and one of Agnes Jekyll’s cinnamon biscuits. I enjoyed her recipe for orangeade (made as part of a Famous Five High Tea a few weeks ago) so made these in order to have a little something to take with me on a long walk around London tomorrow afternoon.

I recall cinnamon biscuits making an appearance in one of the ‘Barney R’ mysteries (can anyone remind which one?) and this recipe, published in 1922 is very simple and traditional and could easily have been baked for hungry and inquisitive children taking a break from solving a mystery.

Cinnamon Biscuits (from Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, (re)published by Persephone Books)

3 oz butter

3 oz castor (sic) sugar

6oz flour

1 egg

1 teaspoonful powdered cinnamon

Beat butter and sugar to a cream. Mix cinnamon with flour, adding it gradually; moisten this mixture with beaten egg till a stiff paste. Roll out, and cut into cakes with a round cutter; sprinkle with chopped almonds. Put on a baking sheet in a moderate oven.

Miss Jekyll does not specify time or temperature. I opted for 150ºc for 15-20 mins and this seemed to work. The biscuits firm up as they cool. I also added an extra sprinkling of cinnamon after putting the almonds on top.

Serve with tea or orangeade.



July 31, 2011 at 9:48 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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‘”Do you want to take some of my home-made jam with you?” asked the farmer’s jolly, red -faced wife, when [the Five] paid her for their tea. “Oh yes, rather!” said Dick.’

– Five Have a Wonderful Time

This week I made my first ever batch of jam. It was borne of necessity – a punnet of strawberries got rather squished on a bumpy bicycle ride home – but turned out rather well and I got to eat the fruit of my labours (sorry, couldn’t resist the terrible pun) for breakfast this morning, as you see on the left.

As Lucy H Yates points out in her Country Housewife’s Book (first published in 1934 but reprinted by the lovely Persephone Books), ‘merely to boil fruit and sugar together does not make Jam’ [with a capital ‘J’]. She continues: ‘It is rather necessary to state this somewhat emphatically, as there are people who never reason about things and content themselves with following an old custom, or some haphazard idea of their own and still expect results to turn out all right. Making jam, however, is a scientific process as well as a real test of skill.’

Sadly I am indeed one of the people she refers to and my jam making was a spur of the moment midnight endeavour, not carried out with due care and scientific diligence. Strawberries don’t have much pectin (the stuff that makes jam set) so despite adding some lemon juice my jam is still a little on the runny side. I also added my sugar too early, as, in Yates’ words: ‘It is the fruit that requires cooking not the sugar‘. While I thought it tasted quite good, and feel quite proud of my little pot of jam, I will try to follow Yates’ advice more closely next time round. I have some gooseberries waiting for the jam-making treatment and by all accounts these are much easier to turn into jam (they’re naturally high in pectin). An update will no doubt follow but in the meantime here are some methods, tips and recipes, courtesy of The Country Housewife’s Book.


Make the pan hot and pour in a little water first; then put in the fruit, stirring frequently to keep it from catching, keep stirring at intervals all the time it is cooking until it is reduced to a pulp and seems to be evenly cooked. For stirring purposes use a large wooden spoon, preferably one that is cut across in a slant, as this pushes the pulp about better than a rounded one. Usually it takes about half an hour’s gentle boiling to reduce fruit to the right stage before adding sugar to turn it into jam.


The more rapidly jam or jelly boils the shorter time it will need to remain over the fire; during the time it is boiling attention must not be relaxed and stirring must be constant. Rapid boiling for half an hour will cause less wastage than slow boiling for an hour which so many think to be necessary. With rapid boiling the colour is kept bright; with slow boiling it is darkened.


[…] quantities can be halved or further reduced by dividing them in the same proportion. The amounts here named would not be more than would be gathered from the average country garden at any single picking, but the small-holder need not be deterred from using a recipe by thinking she is under the necessity of keeping exactly to the quantities named. Provided she keeps the same proportions she may reduce the amounts as much as she pleases, and similarly she may increase them if blessed with a very prolific garden or orchard!


The total time required for making fruit into jam or jelly has not been stated in the following Recipes, but only that for boiling after the sugar has been added. The reason for this is that some fruits take longer to cook to a pulp, others quickly break up and become soft, and the jam-maker is the best judge, or will be after she has gained a little experience. Roughly speaking, however, half an hour’s boiling is sufficient to cook the fruit thoroughly well.


Jars for holding the jam or jelly should be made as hot as they can be handled by warming them in the oven (after they have been washed and polished). They should be filled to the brim with boiling preserve and can be covered at once if standing on a tray or table where they can remain until cool enough to handle.


3 lbs small ripe red strawberries;

1 pint red currant juice;

3 lbs sugar.

If red currant juice is not obtainable, use the juice of 3-4 lemons, or a proportion of ‘Certo’ [a pure fruit extract which I see is still available], and rather less sugar.

If desired to keep the berries whole do not boil more than ten minutes from the time the sugar is added.

To prevent the berries rising in the jars let the jam cool down before putting into pots.

Goose-berry juice will do instead of red currant if more convenient to obtain [sadly not, I fear].


4 lbs damsons

4 lbs sugar

1 ½ pints water

Wash the damsons and put them into the preserving pan with the water and cook gently, stirring now and then, until the fruit is well broken down. Remove stones as they rise, but they will not readily come to the surface until the sugar is in and has boiled up. Boil, after adding the sugar, until a little shows signs of setting. Judgement is the best guide, while stirring and clearing of stones should be continuous.


Do not add the sugar until the fruit has been thoroughly cooked […] On attention to this point depends the flavour, the bright colour, and the setting of the preserve. Over-boiling after the sugar has been added is the reason why jam candies on the top, is treacly in texture and dark in colour. Boiling sugar so quickly passes from one stage to another, from a thin syrup to a thick one, and from that to a caramel, that all cooking should be done before any sugar goes into the pan.

[P]revent any check to the boiling such as takes place when sugar is added cold to boiling fruit. After weighing out the amount required according to the weight of fruit used the sugar should be spread on trays and dishes and set in the oven to become quite hot.

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.

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.

Summer hols are almost here!

August 19, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games, Learning Stuff, Travel | 2 Comments
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The cycling adventure draws near… I set off for Oxfordshire on Monday so this weekend there is lots of planning to do with maps to buy, fruitcake or ginger buns to bake and a Timmy substitute to be found. The destination is Kelmscott, Gloucestershire, where we will be staying in a seventeenth century National Trust farmhouse run by Farmer and Mrs Horner. There are lots of interesting places to visit nearby including Kelmscott Manor, the one-time summer home of William Morris; Chedworth Roman Villa (very Five on a Secret Trail – eyes open for old coins and bits of pottery); Great Coxwell Barn and the White Horse of Uffington.scouring-the-white-horse

Meanwhile, my sadly long-lapsed National Trust membership has been renewed (they are currently giving away a pair of field glasses with every new subscription – good for birdwatching, watching out for signals etc), the Bobbin has been booked in for a service, and some reading material has been selected. I know it should be probably be Five on Finniston Farm or something with lots of cycling, like Billycock Hill or Five Get into Trouble, but I’ve actually plumped for Eleanor Graham’s 1938 novel, The Children Who Lived in a Barn. It features five children who have to look after themselves when their parents go away so in this respect is about childhood independence, thereby sharing similarities with the Famous Five (to say nothing of numerous Enid Blytons, Arthur Ransomes, and many other children’s books in general). A second holiday title has yet to be decided upon, but for pure reading pleasure it might have to be another Persephone publication – Dorothy Whipple’s The Priory (1939) or Winifred Holtby’s The Crowded Street (1924) perhaps. Or one of Penguin’s beautiful new series of English Journeys books, which would certainly be appropriate.

Through England on a Side Saddle

Or: Through England on a Bike Saddle

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