And now, from the department of strange children’s books you can’t help but love, here is Junket is Nice by Dorothy Kunhardt (New York Review Books, 2013).
Yes, that Dorothy Kunhardt — of Pat the Bunny fame. 🙂 Junket is Nice is Kunhardt’s first book, published in 1933, seven years before Pat the Bunny. Thank goodness New York Review Books re-issued Junket is Nice as part of their Children’s Collection (which features little known or forgotten titles), or I might never have learned about junket, which is described on the back cover as “a delicious custard and a lovely dessert.”
It’s a simple story, really. Call it “inspired nonsense.” Yet I can see why it would appeal to kids and young-at-heart adults.
Seems there’s this man with a bushy red beard wearing red slippers eating a very large bowl of junket. Spoonful after spoonful, eating and eating and eating like there was no tomorrow.
People were surprised at how hungry this man was and they soon began to arrive from far and near just to watch him eat. They all told their friends and more and more people kept coming and coming until every single person in the world was there, including a little boy in red socks riding his tricycle.
The man seemed very pleased to have such a large audience, and he stopped eating just for a moment to tell them that if someone could guess what he was thinking about while he was eating his junket, he would give that person something nice.
With a big grin he offered them a clue: three things he was definitely NOT thinking about:
- a walrus with an apple on his back
- a one year old lion blowing out the candle on his lovely birthday cake
- a cow with her head in a bag.
Well that narrows it down, doesn’t it? 😀
Everyone decided it would be VERY EASY — all they had to do was guess EVERYTHING except those three things.
So begins a litany of various and sundry oddball guesses including:
- a kangaroo jumping over a glass of orange juice so as not to spill it
- a pig seeing how many minutes it takes for a cold bath
- a hippopotamus with all the lights turned out laughing at how hard it is to see the other people on the sofa
- a pelican pretending he didn’t hear anybody call him
- a rabbit wondering if there can be a bunch of grapes tied to his tail.
Sillier things you’d be hard pressed to find. Anywhere. Yet these silly people kept firing away.
And to each of these guesses, the red-bearded man took great pleasure in shouting out, WRONG!, and then he’d continue eating his junket.
But then the little boy on the tricycle rode right up to the man and said, “Old man, I know what you are thinking about all the time you are eating your junket.”
And you know, he was right! (No, I’m not going to tell you and spoil the surprise.)
So, the old man DID reward the boy with something nice. The boy got to LICK the big red bowl, bottom, sides, round and round and round. That boy was a good LICKER and he licked up every last microscopic trace of junket.
BUT. Everybody there became very angry, stamping their feet, saying it isn’t fair that the boy got to do all that nice licking. Try to be good sports, the old man said, but they were still angry.
The next moment, the boy gave the old man a lift home on his tricycle because it was time for SUPPER. And off they rode, with the old man saying, “Oh my Oh my Oh my Oh my Oh my but JUNKET IS NICE!”
My first thought after reading this was, “Dorothy, you minx, I had no idea!” Now I feel like I ‘know’ her in a way that Pat the Bunny didn’t reveal. I tend to like the quirky and whimsical, and this definitely fits the bill.
Love the retro red and black illustrations, what appears to be handwritten text, and of course, the forays into utter nonsense that must have reduced kids to fits of giggles. Though the text is long by today’s standards, it’s fun to be drawn into the story because of how Kunhardt cleverly builds the suspense throughout. What will be the next ridiculous guess? Will it top the one before? Does this man ever get full? Will he ever run out of junket?
This is also a tour de force of child empowerment — of course the little boy on the tricycle guesses correctly, the answer being so obvious it eluded all the grown-ups.
We do tend to read too much into things, don’t we? Not taking things at face value and appreciating them for what they are? Well, as this story clearly shows, kids know better. You can’t fool them, and they’ll call it like it is every time.
There’s only one problem with reading this story. You begin to think like the narrator, wondering crazy random things such as:
- where can I get a red bathtub and when I do, do I need to balance sugar cubes on my head?
- if a rabbit has a bunch of grapes tied to his tail, will he summon a limousine so he doesn’t have to hop?
- do all men with bushy red beards and red slippers have enormous appetites?
- what the HECK is junket?
To find out, read on. Bring your own spoon, please.
♥ NOM NOM JUNKET ♥
I guess I had a very sheltered childhood, because until I read Junket is Nice and googled “junket,” I had no idea what it really was.
I grew up on pudding, custard, and Jell-O. But no junket. Apparently junket was ubiquitous in the Northeast from the 1930’s – 1960’s, a favorite dessert made with sweetened milk and rennet, a digestive enzyme that curdles milk, enabling the junket to set. It was often given to sick children because it was sweet, nourishing, and so easy to digest.
If you didn’t want to make junket from scratch, you could use a powdered mix, which came in several flavors. They also used to sell flavored junket tablets. Today you can purchase Junket brand Danish Dessert Mix and Ice Cream Mix in addition to the plain, unflavored junket tablets.
I asked Len if he’d heard of Junket, and he said that it was very common when he was growing up in New Hampshire. So, I sent him on a little errand to find some Junket tablets, advising him to check the baking aisle where they keep pudding mixes, etc. Three stores later, he finally found the tablets at Wegman’s.
The Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers decided to try the Vanilla Rennet Custard recipe that came with the Junket tablets. It sounds simple but is actually a little tricky. (I love that the leaflet says Junket is recommended for “6 years old or 6 feet tall.”)
You must heat the milk, sugar, and vanilla to lukewarm — approximately 110° F. Too hot or too cold and the rennet won’t activate. So we used our trusty thermometer. After adding the dissolved rennet tablet to the mixture, you are advised to stir just a little — before pouring into your dessert dishes. Then you must leave the junket undisturbed for about 10 minutes before chilling it in the fridge for a few hours.
I sprinkled on a little nutmeg before chilling. Just as promised, the junket was smooth, velvety and yummy — not like custard at all (which in my mind, includes eggs), not quite like pudding, which is thicker and starchier. It was fun eating a retro dessert, and I’m curious to try this in other flavors. You can add lemon, almond, or orange extract and food colors in lieu of the vanilla if you wish. The leaflet in the box also includes recipes for cheeses (feta, cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella) and ice cream.
As the book says, JUNKET IS NICE!
VANILLA RENNET CUSTARD
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 Junket Rennet tablet
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- Have individual dessert dishes ready.
- Combine milk, sugar, and vanilla in saucepan. Heat while stirring to lukewarm (110°F). Dissolve Rennet Tablet in water by crushing. Add to warm milk and stir for a FEW SECONDS ONLY. Pour at once, while still liquid, into dessert dishes.
- Let stand UNDISTURBED for 10 minutes. Chill.
Tips: Whole milk is advised. Lactose-free milk, canned milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc., will not set.
All I have to do now is get myself a pair of red slippers and a big red bowl. When every single person in the world shows up on my doorstep, will any be able to guess what I’m thinking while I’m eating my Junket?
Cool tidbit: Apparently Junket was Shel Silverstein’s favorite dessert. 🙂
JUNKET IS NICE
written and illustrated by Dorothy Kunhardt
published by New York Review Books, 2013
Picture Book for ages 3+, 72 pp.
Caution: Reading this story will make you very hungry.
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.