Tuesday 12 January 2010

Delicious Food

My younger daughter tells me she looks for two things in a book: a mischievous, iconoclastic hero or heroine – and descriptions of wonderful food.

She eats like a bird, so I can only assume this is wish-fulfilment.

Anyway, tonight I happen to be cooking that old British favourite, sausages with bubble-and-squeak.  (Recipe attached, see foot of post!)  It’s cold weather food.  And following on from my blogs about books to read in snowy weather, I thought it might be warming to remind ourselves of comfort food in books.

I was pretty sure that bubble and squeak makes an appearance in “The Wind In The Willows”, and so it does.  The jailer’s daughter, pitying poor Toad, in jail, brings him: “bubble and squeak, between two plates.”  This alone is not enough to rouse Toad from his misery, however, and she has recourse to:

“…a tray, with a cup of hot tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb.  The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad…”

As well it might.  Anyone rushing off for a piece of toast, yet?  Stay a while…

I read John Masefield’s “The Box of Delights” to both my daughters when they were small.  There’s a point when the hero, Kay, despairs of ever managing to get through to the warm-hearted but slow Inspector (who breeds Belgian hares) that his friends are in danger, and that the villain (and wizard) Abner Brown is masquerading as the principal of a nearby religious college.  The Inspector attempts to reassure him:

‘You get that good guardian of yours to see you take a strong posset every night.  But you young folks in this generation, you don’t know what a posset is. Well, a posset,’ said the Inspector, ‘is a jorum of hot milk; and in that hot milk, Master Kay, you put a hegg, and you put a spoonful of treacle, and you put a grating of nutmeg, and you stir ‘em well up and then you take ‘em down hot.  And a posset like that, taken overnight, will make a new man of you, Master Kay, while now you’re all worn down with learning.’

Both daughters immediately insisted that I make it.  I did: and it’s delicious: and they had it often over the years of their ‘school learning’…  Try it yourselves!  For treacle, I’ve always used what in England is termed ‘Golden Syrup’; not molasses.

What about other books?  My husband insists that the bear steaks with apples that the children eat in ‘Prince Caspian’ sounds pretty good to him:

“Each apple was wrapped up in bear’s meat … and spiked on a sharp stick and then roasted.  And the juice of the apple worked all through the meat, like apple sauce with roast pork…”

I’m not quite convinced.   To me, C.S. Lewis actually manages to make the earth, which the trees eat at the banquet in the same book, sound much more delicious:

“They began with a rich brown loam that looked almost exactly like chocolate…When the rich loam had taken the edge off their hunger, the trees turned to earth of the kind you see in Somerset, which is almost pink.  They said it was lighter and sweeter.  At the cheese stage they had a chalky soil and then went on to delicate confections of the finest gravels powdered with choice silver sand.”

I was with him through most of that, but he lost me at the gravels.

Here’s the recipe for Bubble and Squeak:

450g/1lb potatoes, peeled and diced
salt and pepper
70g/1 ½ oz butter
250g/8oz cabbage, shredded
3-4 tbsp oil
1 onion, diced

Cook the potatoes in salted water till done, then mash with 2oz of the butter.  Season with salt and pepper.

Melt the remaining butter in a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and add the shredded cabbage.  Cook gently for 10 minutes until tender.  Drain, and mix the cabbage and mashed potato together.  Season to taste ( I like to add a grating of nutmeg).

Heat half the oil in a frying pan.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, till softened.  Add the potato and cabbage mix, pressing down with a wooden spoon to make a flat, even cake.  Cook over medium heat for 15 mins till golden brown on the underside, and place on a large plate.  Add the remaining oil and cook again on the other side till golden brown.  Cut into wedges (or scoops) and serve.

Happy eating!  Any more delicious book food you can remember?


  1. And do you remember all the feasting in Tolkie? Hobbits are particularly fond of their stomachs but i remember Gandalf in the Hobbit eating whole loaves of freshly baked bread slathered with butter and honey, washed down with flagons of mead.

    Coincidentally, Mike Rosen and Julia Donaldson were talking about food in children's books on Radio 4 this am at 11.30am. Try Listen Again.

    I'll pass on the bear steaks, with or without apple!

  2. Is that so? Synchronicity strikes again. I'll go and listen!

  3. I can remember reading about the egg nog in Little House In the Prairie and being totally flummoxed. Were they drinking raw egg? And I believe there's a wonderful description of making doughnuts in one of the Little House books, the hole in the middle flipping the doughnuts as they fried. Mmmmm.

  4. And I forgot to say that our version of posset it hot milk with honey, with fresh nutmeg grated on top. A good sleep-inducer!

  5. I forgot about the Little House books. Yes, I now remember the doughnuts - weren't they called 'vanity cakes' because they were all puffed up?

  6. I have made a note of this lovely recipe, Kath! And my books have lots of food in them. My grandmother's stories has some, so does Silent snow secret snow. So does Made in Heaven and it appears in almost everything I write in some way or another. I like it, that's why. A bit like cats. I try to put a cat in everything too!

  7. Bubble and squeak is really good with dal

  8. I would never have thought of that. But yes, why not? Come to think of it, why not spicy bubble-and-squeak? All sorts of possibilities are suddenly opening up!