Friday, 19 June 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Mrs. Persimmon's Crumpets from Mary Poppins by P.L Travers

I know, I read Mary Poppins quite some time ago and made her Strike Me Pink Raspberry Jam Cakes, so what business do I have to suddenly bring up a Mary Poppins recipe out of the blue? Well, I forgot! I completely forgot that there was another recipe waiting for me, so here it is now, better late than never! 

Today I set about making crumpets. Crumpets eaten round a tea-table that floats up to the ceiling along with Uncle Albert, Mary Poppins and Jane and Michael Banks, made by the sour-faced housekeeper, Mrs Persimmon.

It is Sunday and we asked my parents round for a crumpetty tea. Mum made a wonderful batch of cheese scones and fruit scones, which was just as well as the crumpets were a bit of a failure and we didn't eat most of them! 

The batter was very straightforward: Mix yeast and honey with warm water and milk, and pour that into a bowl of plain flour, strong white flour, cream of tartar and salt. Mix it all well and leave to rise and bubble up for a couple of hours.

Then I dissolved some bicarb into a little bit more warmed milk and water, which I stirred into my thick, yeasty batter. That is left for a little while longer, and then you can get griddling!

I do not possess a griddle, but we have a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan. I also do not possess any crumpet rings, (yet) so Andy rather brilliantly thought up a solution involving strips of cardboard from a cereal packet, and foil. He made them very precisely and neatly to the exact size of a standard crumpet ring, and we set about filling them with batter on a hot pan.

They seemed to be going ok, with bubbles rising and bursting, and I heeded the timing, removing the ring after 8 minutes, and flipping them over for three minutes. I should have greased the rings, I learned, because it proved impossible to free the crumpets and we had to snip the rings off them. Thankfully, Andy had made a good amount of rings so the next four crumpets were given buttered rings, and slid easily out of them at the relevant moment. After flipping, the crumpets were given a little while to golden on top, and then that was them finished. However, they were weren't completely properly cooked inside, and so we thought we had maybe made them too thick. 

Also we weren't sure if we had the heat high enough, so we played around with the amount of batter and the heat, and promptly burned the next few black on the bottom. The last two, however, had the benefit of all our combined experience, and were thick enough, not burned on the bottom, and much better cooked in the middle. They weren't quite right though, and we're not quite sure why. We wondered if it would make a discernible difference having the solid metal rings - whether they would add more heat and help the cooking along.

Also, I don't think there were enough bubbles rising up, making the texture inside too dense. I don't know if this is a heat issue, or a batter issue or what. Too many variables, and not enough knowledge of having ever cooked them before. I would like to try again if any of you have any advice! 

Anyway, I did it, and it was interesting, and we all had a lovely time, and finished off the evening with lots of card playing and raucous hilarity. Not as raucous as laughing ourselves up to the ceiling, but that's probably just as well or we'd have to make ourselves very serious in order to float down again. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I feel I've always known the story of The Secret Garden, without having ever read the full novel until now. I grew up on the Ladybird abridged version, and somehow, having enjoyed it being read to me plenty of times, I never made the leap to read it unabridged. I suppose I knew, subconsciously, that there was more to it but because I knew the bones of the story, it wasn't gnawing at me to go and seek it out.

I'm so very glad, however, that it caught up with me, because I truly adore it. I have several copies now, in various publications, but because this puffin classic version was the least special and least beautiful copy it was the one I chose to bung in my bag day after day, to read a five minute portion in my library tea breaks. Apart from a couple of glorious long bursts of reading for an hour or more over bank holidays, this book has carried over many weeks, and although I was always desperate to get back in the garden and see what was happening, I rather savoured the fact that I was "in" the book for such a long time. That I could hug the thought of it all, knowing that I hadn't yet reached the glorious end, and that everything was still unfolding. 

Now that I have actually reached the end, I am in a state of rapturous warmth and delight. The feeling of excitement, of new life beginning and creeping over everything, a green veil to cloak the grey, is leaking out of every sentence in the book. It all develops so deliciously that even if you know what happens, you don't really understand its full delight until you have read it.

It has been particularly wonderful reading The Secret Garden while Spring itself has been unfurling before me in my own garden and in the world around me. As frothy blossoms have made way for plump leaf buds, and hedges have swelled with Cow Parsley, Bluebells, Red Campion and countless green stems and vibrant green leaves, so has my garden reflected the miracle of growth. I have planted seeds of Courgettes, Nasturtiums and Calendula, deep in the dark, until the sun has persuaded them to burst out and push up and climb and swell with leaves. I have been eager as Mary, watching and waiting as they each emerge from the soil. Every seed astounds me, every year. It is a type of magic that never grows old. 

Last weekend we were exploring the overwhelming beauty of Trellisick Garden in Cornwall. We only had 30 minutes to dash about the garden before they closed, as we were on the way to a family party in the evening. The enormous, deep beds were planted with huge palms and shrubs, but all around them was bare soil. As I stepped closer, I could see the tips of mysterious plants beginning to announce themselves. Starting to say, "Make way, here I come, look out!" EVERYTHING was just pushing up and poised, ready to burst forth and fill the beds with colour and height and scent. After being folded up in a car for so long, I too was in the mood to stretch and bound about. I couldn't contain myself, and skipped around, spotting plant after plant, shouting, "It's coming, they're all just bursting out!" with such glee that I don't know what the other mild-mannered visitors thought, but I don't care really. New life is not something I can be quiet about.