Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket

Question: What makes a good book even better?
Answer: Good food to go along with the story!

Question: What makes good food taste even better?
Answer: A good story to go along with it!

So what happens when you find out that there exists a book about the food of your childhood stories? If you’re me, you go slightly bonkers! You feel like an energizer bunny—with enough enthusiasm to bounce right off the walls! You fervently plead with your Inter Library Loan Services to please, please, please locate the book! You cannot decide whether you should read the whole thing in one go or should take breaks in between to test out all the delicious sounding food!

cherry cake and ginger beer jane brocketIn case you missed all those exclamation points—this book hit my sweet spots in the sweetest of ways!

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats is a journey through the literary food worlds of Enid Blyton, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Noel Streatfeild, Susan Coolidge, and other favorites of children the world over. It discusses, dissects and most important of all GIVES RECIPES for the best macaroons, and jam tarts, and currant buns, and apple cakes that one has only ever read about so far! It invokes in the mind’s eye rolling countryside, and in the ear’s drums insects buzzing and the quietness of a warm summer afternoon. I could easily say for this book what Jane Brocket says for Enid Blyton’s The Circus of Adventure:

As I read, I am transported to a cosy, homely kitchen table with pots of geraniums on the window sill, a red-and white-checked tablecloth, a warm oven and a smiling hostess. I picture this beautiful still-life of food, colors, shapes and textures, and can feel myself getting hungry.

There’s food for elevenses, and food for tea-time. There’s aromatic baked delicacies and sturdy comfort food. There’s food (lots of it!) that I want to make RIGHT THIS MOMENT and food that makes me scratch my head (I give you Sugar on Snow from The Little House in Prairie books that is apparently maple syrup on fresh snow—yeah, fresh snow falling down from the skies). There’s also an ode to fruit cake:

It comes in slabs, slices, hunks, and chunks. It is found in knapsacks, bicycle baskets, wicker baskets, hampers, tuck boxes. It is served at match teas, nursery teas, afternoon teas and high teas. It is dense, moist and perfectly portable. It goes with cocoa, lemonade, ginger beer, jam tarts, ripe plums, golden apples, and potted meat sandwiches. It is, of course, good, old-fashioned, reliable fruit cake and it pops up everywhere in children’s fiction. . . . It’s the workhorse of the tea table or picnic, the solid, filling cake that never lets you down.

Chalet School Apple Cake

My Chalet School Apple Cake as laid out in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer

This book mixes the joy of the many, many summer vacations that I spent tucked in a corner reading away with the very adult discovery of my love for food and cooking. It made me recall how much Fatty (from the Five Find Outers and Dog) loves macaroons and what a gourmand Snubby of the Roger, Diana, Barney, and Loony the dog gang is. It made me remember that I too “happily read all the German food references [in the Chalet School series] without understanding a word, and that this never once bothered me.” Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer made the stories of my childhood come alive in an all together new way.

I loved this book. However, it might not suit everyone’s palate. Brocket does nothing to balance the stereotypes encountered in the stories she talks about and if anything invokes a slight nobody-bakes-nourishing-treats-at-eleven-in-the-morning-anymore tone through the book. Which, as I said, might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I really do believe in what Alana Chernila says in The Homemade Kitchen: “Enjoyment might just be a nutrient in itself—in fact, it might be the most important one of all.” This book was pure enjoyment for me. If you love food, or any of the authors that are covered in this book, you have to give it a try!

Books! Ba-ba-loo-ba-la, BOOKS!

In case you guys were wondering about my disappearing act—it’s been a busy past month at our household, what with cousins coming over from half-way across the world from Singapore, and then our own two week trip to London which was VERY productive because. . .

I GOT ME SOME BOOKS!

Behold all the books I brought back with me:

Persephone Books

Because, of course, I had to visit Persephone Books.

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And also the venerable Hatchard’s!

Hatchard's

Books

I bought the one at the top of this pile as a joke for husband. It’s called Harris’s List Of Covent Garden Ladies, and is ahem, as you can imagine, a list of the covent garden ladies in whose company the gents could find some, ahem, pleasure. Here’s my current favorite lady:

Miss Godf-y, No. 22, Upper Newman-street

If parts can conquer great and small,
Sure—and Godf-y—must needs do all.

This lady is a kind of boatswain in her way, and when she speaks, every word is uttered with a thundering and vociferous tone. She is a fine lively little girl, about 22, very fond of dancing, has dark eyes, and hair, well shaped, and an exceeding good bed-fellow, will take brandy with any one, or drink and swear, and though but little, will fight a good battle. We apprehend this lady would be an extraordinary companion for an officer in the army, as she might save him the trouble of giving the word of command.

She resides in the first floor.

I know, I know. I should be horrified. And outraged. But right now, I’m only capable of gurgles of laughter!

I was also very pleased to find an omnibus of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days, a collection of stories set in the small village of Malgudi, some of which I remember reading and enjoying hugely as a kid!

And alas, my library does not carry The Ruby In The Smoke, so I knew I was going to buy that at some point.

Dog Ears is a children’s book that I searched for high and low in the U.S. but couldn’t find! The wonderful nobodyjones characterized it as Blytonian so of course I had to try it out! Also, can I just say how RELIEVED I was to find Enid Blytons stacked up and down all over London’s bookstores? Their absolute absence in the U.S. had me start questioning if they were a figment of my imagination!

Then there’s Elizabeth Goudge whom I remembered being a children’s author though I have no recollection which book of hers I read. This one though, The Dean’s Watch, seems like a grown-up book with an interesting enough story. Oh, and it was gifted to someone in 1960!

Reader, I have discovered the pleasure of second-hand bookstores! And London simply BRIMS with them. The whole of Charing Cross Street is lined with one second hand bookshop after the next. It has made me want to seek out some here in my own city too!

Rose Macaulay, and Angela Thirkell, I recall wanting to try out, but never succeeding in finding any of their work.

Homestead is the only one amongst this lot that I have absolutely no idea about except that it has a blurb, and a setting (Switzerland) that sounded intriguing.

Middlemarch

And then there’s Middlemarch. I have been meaning to get around to reading it and I just could not resist this gorgeous edition.

Have you guys read any of these books? I’d love to know what you thought!