Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer

I must confess to feeling a bit out of my depth when I learned Jane Brocket had agreed to do an event with us last Saturday in Abingdon. After all, it's probably safe to say that I was probably not the first person she would automatically think of when conjuring up a typical example of her target market for her first book - The Gentle Art of Domesticity. And her Yarnstorm blog focuses on knitting. Now I can *sew* a bit (thanks to my boarding school upbringing) but knitting - no. Anyway, I am ashamed to say that I had Jane rather stereotyped in my mind as a crafts/domestic/well, yes, 'girlie' author. But when she turned up clutching this my interest was seriously piqued: After all, I have power tools in similar-looking cases. Inside was a serious piece of kit for sugarcraft, making icing - and of course icing cakes. What followed - on a bustling bank holiday Saturday at Abingdon's Broad Face - was a highly entertaining, cake-filled, nostalgia-fuelled celebration of recipes from classic children's literature. Jane is an excellent speaker, and her passion for - and excellent research into - the subject is extremely contagious. And that was before the rock cakes started to be passed around... Jane started off by laying a few myths to rest. Although in her research she had come across plenty of ginger beer, and there were often 'lashings' of specific foods (bacon, for instance), it seems we probably have The Comic Strip to thank for the phrase "lashing of ginger beer". Jane read from some classics of the literature - Enid Blyton, Milly-Molly-Mandy. She made the point that, for the children in these books - who were continuously active, and burned calories like navvies - concepts such as obesity were irrelevant, and in fact often children ate in response to 'their tummies rumbling'. These children were always thinking of where their next meal was coming from. Jane made the point that - when you read through the classics - good children's authors scatter their writing with food, because children do spend a lot of time thinking about the subject. In the course of her research she had made plenty of the recipes herself - some had failed spectacularly, many were a joy to cook (although she had drawn at attempting Polyanna's Calf's Foot Jelly). She also name-checked a few other classic recipe books that hailed from that era (notable Florence White's Good Food in England). Her comments on social changes with food were enlightening - the fact that what would have been a treat in Enid Blyton's day (a picnic away from adults) might now be (in a Jaqueline Wilson novel) a bar of chocolate, or a Chinese takeaway, reflecting changes in eating habits within families. Then it was on to the important part of the afternoon. Mellie and her excellent staff had already ensured the tables had plenty of ginger beer and sandwiches, now it was time for tea as Jane passed around the cake. The rock buns (to be pronounced 'boons' in a broad northern accent) were heavenly (the trick here apparently is to use soft brown sugar, and not skimp on it). There was then an enthusiastic and energetic demonstration of making icing (another tip - dip a cocktail stick into the colouring, to get the perfect amount, then dip this into the icing to avoid a colouring/icing 'arms race' in which you end up with enough icing to cover several hundred fairy buns). Here's the finished article: Jane's daughter Phoebe performed brilliantly, beavering away in the background to ensure everyone had enough cake to eat. Thanks also to Ali for making sure I got one at the back. Jane stayed behind to talk to everyone who had questions, signed books, packed up the power tools - and showed great stoicism in posing for various photos. There are a whole heap of thank yous due to everyone who helped make this event possible. Firstly to Jane herself, for putting so much heart and passion into the event - and Pheobe for giving up her Saturday to help Mum. Mellie and everyone at the Broad Face who looked after us extremely well. Ali for doing the lion's share of the organising and not hassling me to get the blog entry written up (see, if Ali had blogged this, it would have been posted last Saturday evening with much better pictures - but she gamely left this one to me). All that remains is for me to point out the obvious fact that the only thing better than copies of Jane's books as gifts, are signed copies of Jane's books as gifts. And you know where to come for these...


  1. sounds like a fantastic day!

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  3. Hey nicki and mark
    you have a NICE BLOG and i loved reading the posts !