Treats from Children’s Cookbooks that will get Jack Horner Out of the Corner

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Little Jack Horner caught in the act by Jessie Wilcox Smith

In honor of little Jack Horner, here is a menu for a holiday dessert buffet concocted from children’s cookbooks in the Cotsen collection.  The recipes, as prepared by some of the best-loved characters in children’s literature, have been edited for length, but were not tested in Cotsen’s curatorial or outreach kitchen.

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From Easy Steps in Cooking, or Mary Frances among the Kitchen People, written and illustrated by Jane Eayre Frye. Oakland, CA: Smithsonian Co., c1912. (Cotsen 40860).

CHRISTMAS DESSERT BUFFET

Pepparkakor

Inspired by Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking

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From Astrid Lindgren, Kaenner du Pippi Langstrump? Illustrated by Ingrid Nyman. Stockholm: Raben & Sjoegren, 1947.

3 1/2 C. flour; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 tsp. cinnamon; 2 tsp. cloves; 1 tsp. baking soda; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1/2 C. dark corn syrup; 1 tsp. grated orange zest; 1 C. butter; 1 C. sugar, 1 large egg, lightly beaten; pearl sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients  in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, warm the butter and sugar, stirring until melted.  Cool to room temperature, then whisk in the egg.  Pour over flour mixture and stir until blended.  Form dough into ball, wrap tightly with two layers of plastic wrap and chill overnight.  Preheat over to 375 degrees With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured kitchen floor to 1/4 inch  thickness.   Using a star cutter, cut dough into cookies.  Put stars on baking sheets covered with parchment paper and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  Bake until edges begin to brown, about 7-8 minutes.  Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Thanks to Epicurious for this recipe.

*****

Blackberry and Apple Meringue

Arabella Boxer, The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (1983). (Cotsen 15424)

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From Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by E. H. Shepard. London: Methuen, 1970. (Cotsen 32085).

1 large cooking apple; 50 g. (2 oz) granulated sugar; 450 g. (1 lb. blackberries); juice of one lemon; 2 egg whites; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F or Gas Mark 2)  Peel and core the apple and cut into thinnish slices.  Put the apples in a pan with 2 T water and the granulated sugar.  Cook gently, covered, for 4 minutes, then add the berries, return to the simmer and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Tip into a pie dish.  Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold in the superfine sugar, and pile over the fruit, covering the dish entirely.  Bake for 30 minutes, then cool for about 30 minutes before serving with cream.

*****

Hidden Window Dessert

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Carolyn Keene, The Hidden Window Mystery. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1958. (Cotsen in process 7305311).

1 package EACH of cherry, orange, lemon, and lime gelatin; 1 C. pineapple juice; 1/4 C. sugar; 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter; 12 graham crackers, crushed; 4 C. whipped cream or other whipped topping

In a saucepan, boil enough water to make 1 cup.  This means you must start with a little more than a cup.  Dissolve the cherry gelatin in this.  Stir well.  Add 1/2 cup cold water and pour gelatin into a ice tray with no divider.  Do the same with the orange and lime gelatin separately.  (Use the same pan, but rinse it each time.)  In the same pan again. boil the pinapple juice with sugar.  Dissolve the lemon gelatin in this.  Add 1/2 cup cold water.  Let set in a large mixing bowl to the syrupy stage.  Fold in the whipped cream.  When firm, cut the cherry, orange, and lime gelatins into cubes.  Fold them into the lemon gelatin mixture.  Grease a springform pan.  Stir melted butter into the crushed graham crumbs and spread on the bottom on the pan.  Pour in the mixture.  Chill 12 hours.  You’ll have many colored windows in each slice of cake!

Mrs. Tiggy’s Tipsy Pudding

Margaret Lane, The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book  (1983, c1981).

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Beatrix Potter’s prickly little washer woman from The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.

1 large spongecake; 125 ml. (1/4 pint) sweet sherry; juice of an orange; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar; 250 ml. (1/2 pint) double cream; raisins; 100 g. (4 oz flaked almonds)

Cut a hollow on the underside of the cake, keeping the bit for later.  Fill the hollow with the sherry and orange juice; pour the remaining wine and juice over the top.  Refrigerate overnight, spooning the mixture over the cake from time to time.  In the morning, replace the bit of cake in the hollow.  Split the almonds into narrow bits and brown lightly in the oven.  Stick them all over the cake.  Use the raisins for nose and eyes.  Whip the cream stiff and fold in the sugar.  Pile in peaky dollops all around the cake and serve.

*****

Treacle toffee from Hagrid

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Christmas at Hogwarts as imagined by Mary de Grandpre.

75 g. (3 oz) Golden Syrup; 75 gg (3 oz) black treacle or molasses; 150 g. (6 oz) brown sugar; 75 g. (3 oz) butter; 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Line a 6 x 8 inch baking pan with non-stick parchment.  Measure all ingredients into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and sugar dissolved.  When the mixture is smooth and nicely combined, bring to a rolling boil.  When the mixture reaches 140 degrees C/ 285 degrees F on the candy thermometer (analog or digital), pour carefully into the pan.  For even pieces, wait until the toffee is cool enough to hand, but leaves a slight impression if poked with a finger (15- 20 minutes).  Cut into the toffee deeply enough to leaves lines and when it has cooled completely, break along the lines.  For toffee that will break your teeth, let it cool completely, then break into pits with a hammer or rolling pin.  Store in an airtight container with parchment in between layers.

With thanks to BBC Food

*****

Boston Cooler

Nika Hazelton, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Cookbook  (c1973).  (Cotsen 28282).

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Endpapers for Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land. Joliet, Wisconsin: P. F. Volland & Co., c1931. (Cotsen in process 0000).

12 oz. can root beer; 4 small scoops vanilla ice cream

Pour the root beer into two glasses.  Carefully put two scoops ice cream in each glass.  Serve with a long spoon and a straw.

And happy holidays to all!

For readers needing a stronger sugar rush, read junk food in picture books…

Retelling Aesop’s Fables: From Beatrix Potter to Jerry Pinkney

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Francis Barlow’s famous frontispiece of the hunchbacked slave Aesop surrounded by his characters for the 1687 London edition of Aesop’s Fables.

Some stories are so good  that they are reimagined every generation.  As a kind of twice-told tale, the fable can be quite difficult to make one’s own: the plot unfolds rapidly in very few words and realizing the action in more than one illustration is not always an option.  But writers and  illustrators have risen to the challenge of retelling Aesopian fables in strikingly different ways, sometimes changing quite radically the traditional themes and characterizations.

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Beatrix Potter as a young woman.

Beatrix Potter’s fable retellings are among the best in English literature, but due to complicated circumstances, only The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse (1917) was published during her lifetime.  In 1919 Potter proposed to her publisher Fruing Warne that she work up a series of  connected fables begun years before.  Fruing did not mince words about the draft of The Tale of the Birds and Mr. Tod :   “It is not Miss Potter, it is Aesop.”   The firm’s commercial travelers wanted something new by Potter, so naturally his concern was sales, not supporting an author who wanted to strike out in a new direction. Even if Potter had not been frustrated by Fruing’s lack of enthusiasm, her eyes were no longer sharp enough to draw all the illustrations.  No one’s heart was in it, so the volume was abandoned.  The drafts and preliminary illustrations were published posthumously by Leslie Linder in The History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter (1971).

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Jemima earnestly conversing with the foxy gentleman. Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck (1908).

Fruing did wish her retelling of ‘The Fox and the Crow” long enough to fill a little book.  Potter had brought back the foxy whiskered gentleman (aka Mr. Tod) who almost succeeded in making dinners of the foolish Jemima Puddleduck,  her nest of eggs, and the careless Flopsy Bunnies at different times.

Looking for his next meal, he spies Miss Jenny Crow perched in a tree, trying to manage the large chunk of cheese she stole from a farm boy’s dinner basket.   Seeing an easy opportunity for dinner, Mr. Tod appeals to Jenny’s  vanity, calling her an  “adorable smutty Venus,” “a beautiful black lady bird elegant as a newly tarred railing” whose grace outshines the black swans of Tasmania.   His extravagant compliments make Jenny so nervous that she sidles up and down the branch, but without loosening her grip on the cheese.  Of course the fox wears her down.   When he exclaims that her voice must be “as sweet as a nightingale’s,”  she croaks and he realizes she is weakening.  He calls out, “She sings, she sings, louder, sweet sky lark”  and Jenny drops her guard, opens her  bill to caw, and drops the cheese into the foxy gentleman’s mouth.   He laughs until he cries and takes “no further notice of poor silly Miss Crow.  He had got what he wanted.”

Perhaps Potter as a woman should have been less tolerant of Mr. Tod’s wiles…  But she is hardly the only female reteller of “The Fox and Crow” who won’t take the crow’s side.  Lisbeth Zwerger draws the picture from the crow’s point of view, but the fox’s mock-serious gesture down on the ground expresses more amusement than disapproval in his hypocrisy.  There is no doubt who is going to triumph.

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From “The Fox and the Crow,” Aesop’s Fables Selected and Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. (New York/London: NorthSouth Books, 2006), p. 21.

Barbara McClintock ‘s lady crow, on the other hand, wears a dainty blue gown, red shawl, poke bonnet, and slippers, which makes her look even more ridiculous when she throws a tantrum after losing out to the leering fox…  Maybe vanity rather than gender is the fable’s point–so why couldn’t the roles be reassigned so that a foxy lady outwits a preening lad?

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From “The Fox and the Crow.” Animal Fables from Aesop Adapted and Illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Boston: David Godine, 2012), p. 5.

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From “The Fox and the Crow.” Animal Fables Adapted and Illustrated by Barbara McClintock, p. 6.

Potter titled her version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” “Grasshopper Belle and Susan Emmet.”   As tough-minded as La Fontaine’s “Le cigale et la formi,” “Grasshopper Belle” is one of the most powerful stories Potter wrote.  The main character is the  industrious ant Susan in a rusty black gown and black net cap, a “notable good housekeeper” like Mrs. Tittlemouse with “cupboards of spotless linen” and fully furnished storerooms with sacks and bags floor to ceiling.

A miserly soul, Susan works incessantly through the sunny summer months and has to go back and forth by the merry grasshoppers.  Grasshopper Belle all “in green satin with pink sleeves and gauzy wings” has the lightest foot of all and dances to the gentlemen fiddling “Sing leader, needle, treadle, wheedle, wheadle, sudle, chirr, whirr, whirr, oh, who is so fine, in silver gossamer as Grasshopper Belle?”  Loaded down with a heavy sack, Susan hisses  at them, “Vanity of vanity, disgusting idleness,” but they invite her to dance a turn to their music anyway.  Not that she does.  Nor will she stop when Belle offers to lull her to sleep–no, Susan must get home before the rain, to which  Belle trills, “Home, my home is in the barley grass, no cellars for me, come upon the grass stalk and watch the sun slip behind a cloud.”

Susan does get home just as the thunderstorm breaks.  At dawn the driving rain begins, turning to sleet by evening.  Susan sits contentedly by the fire sewing, ignoring the rattling latch and cries of “Susan Emmet, Susan Emmet, let me in.”   When the voice begs, “Let me in, let me in, I am dying, Susan Emmett,” the ant decides it is nothing more than the bitter cold wind.  While the ant is eating dinner, the latch rattles yet again and the voice calls out weakly to her.  Susan clears the table, thinking to herself, “She has had her lesson, I suppose I must let her in; she can sleep on the door mat.”  When she opens the door and looks out into the dark, “Grasshopper Belle lay dead on the doorstep.”

Would many American parents would consider reading Potter’s dark, but heartbreaking retelling of “The Ant and the Grasshopper”  to their children?  Two recent picture book versions, in which the fable has been recast as a tribute to the power of music, is probably much more in tune with the today’s sensibilities (and in line with recommendations of educators and social psychologists).  The father-daughter team of Rebecca  and Ed Emberley imagine the ant anxiously pushing a slice of watermelon back to the nest on a hot, hot summer  day.

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Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley, The Ant and the Grasshopper (New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012), p. 31.

The Emberleys not only allow the grasshopper to live, they erase the object lesson of the dangers of having no plan for tomorrow.  Instead the happy-go-lucky grasshopper teaches the weary, dispirited ant how music makes burdens lighter.

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Let the good times roll! Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley, The Ant and the Grasshopper, p. 28.

In Jerry Pinkney’s retelling of the same fable, the banjo-playing grasshopper is also a joyful character.  Below he tries to convince the ants that they ought to stop and enjoy the beauties of the summer season.

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Jerry Pinkney, The Grasshopper and the Ants (New York: Little Brown, 2015), p. 8.

When winter comes and the miserable grasshopper shows up on the ant colony’s doorstep, they can’t find it in their hearts to lock him out.  He is welcomed in and offered the best of everything.

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Jerry Pinkney, The Grasshopper and the Ants, p. 18.

The Queen Ant sits down to tea with the grasshopper, as if to say  the love of music and  of nature can bring us together, if we allow it to happen.  Both insects are right in their own way, but no one loses in the end.

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Jerry Pinkney, The Grasshopper and the Ants, p. 36.

Who can argue with messages like these in confusing, competitive, and cruel times?  But is it necessary to obscure the pragmatic worldview of the Aesopian fable in order to protect young readers?  Some children will  embrace the happy ending where the ants and grasshopper party, others will remember Susan Emmet peering out into the dark, with the beautiful grasshopper Belle lifeless at her feet.  The good news is that we don’t have to choose among them–any version can be worth a look. The open-endedness of the twice-told tale is, after all, is one of its enduring pleasures.

See more Beatrix Potter and  bugs at Cotsen’s virtual exhibitions page!