Looking for inspiration when cooking summer treats for the kids? Where better to look than in their storybooks, says Caroline Hennessy
Long summer holidays are all very well when the sun shines and we can be outdoors in the garden chasing kittens and picking raspberries. But, when the wind changes, Mary Poppins style, bringing rain and a general air of grumpiness, it’s worthwhile having a few tricks up your (warm jumper) sleeves for occupying smallies.
I was a voracious reader as a child. Back in the 1980s, with limited exposure to the world outside the small country town where I grew up, I was fascinated with the different foods mentioned in books and enjoyed vicariously joining in Enid Blyton’s midnight feasts (condensed milk! Sardines! Ginger beer!), Milly-Molly-Mandy’s jam tart making activities and having kaffee und kuchen with the Chalet School girls.
It wasn’t always vicarious. After encountering a spiced apple cake in one of Alf Prøysen’s Mrs Pepperpot stories, I landed most of the contents of the spice rack - dried cloves, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice - into the next Saturday morning tart, much to my mother’s surprise. I’ve never forgotten that fun of experimentation, of taking an idea from a book and turning it into something that we all could eat.
Now, with two small girls of my own – seven-year-old Hannah and Maya, who’s four – I love the time we spend time reading and rediscovering new and old favourite storybooks. I read them with one eye on the kitchen, always looking for ideas that can inspire a bake or a meal. After reading Helen Cooper’s Pumpkin Soup, we made vats of the stuff,
Alfie Weather by Shirley Hughes is full of keeping-smallies-entertained ideas and his pastry star-making has inspired several wet-afternoon cooking events.
I’ve also been known to quote Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham at young ladies who need encouragement to taste and try new things (although I have to admit that they were not huge fans of my “green eggs”, aka spinach pancakes).
From chocolate éclairs to finish off a splendid meal (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), sticky molasses pies for a What Katy Did picnic or even Mog’s hard-won boiled eggs, there’s endless kitchen inspiration and fun in children’s books.
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Possum Magic by Mem Fox
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake
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