Caroline Hennessy creates a feast of not so fictional food: Spiced hot chocolate, Swedish ginger snaps, home baked beans, and roast eggs
It may be cold and damp and dreary outside, but indoors, we can be in a different, more cosy world. Step one: cuddle up with your kids on the couch — roaring fire essential — and delve into some classic children’s books together. Step two: feed small people’s imaginations as well as their tummies and teach them valuable (and tasty!) life skills by cooking dishes inspired by the reading.
At our cottage, this is the kind of project that can keep Hannah, who is seven, and five-year-old Maya busy for hours. Food is enormously important in books for small people of every age, from the catalogue of random items eaten in The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Harriet the Spy’s tomato sandwiches and Aunt Fanny’s black treacle ginger cake in Five on a Treasure Island. One of the pure joys of doing this is the chance to revisit your own favourites. I must confess; I’ve a box of childhood treasures that I’ve hauled around for years for just such eventualities. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton figure strongly, as does Elinor M Brent-Dwyer, Susan Coolidge and Philip Pullman. While some of the foods are better remaining on the page — the liniment layer cake from Anne of Green Gables, for example, or Pollyanna’s calf’s foot jelly — dishes like Heidi’s raclette-style cheese feast with her grandfather, molasses pies in What Katy Did or the treacle tart beloved by Harry Potter can also be starting points for a wander through other countries’ food traditions and flavours.
But food and books are about more than keeping the kids occupied for a damp half term afternoon. It’s a way of making memories. So ignore the mess or the fact that what you’re cooking didn’t come out quite the way you had hoped. In the end, it’s not even so much the making and the baking that’s important, but the people that you do it with. And, with any luck, you’ll also have something good for dinner.
Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
This is a wonderful vehicle for introducing children to spices and I choose according to the day and mood.
It’s ginger for warmth, cinnamon for comfort, a grating of fresh nutmeg to soothe and chilli to enliven. Cardamom gets a look in when I want to dream of somewhere exotic and I add a half spoonful of vanilla if small people are out of sorts. Measurements are per person.
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
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