Spring is finally here and Easter’s coming up this weekend — which means it’s time for a little Beatrix Potter!
Always fun to reread her little Peter Rabbit books and play with the Beswick porcelain figurines that wait patiently all year in the butler’s pantry cupboard. Take us out, they say. Dust us off and take our picture!
Who will be in the spotlight this time?
Hmmmm. Last year we wrote about The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. Most everyone knows Peter’s story and its sequel featuring Peter’s cousin Benjamin Bunny, who returns with him to Mr. McGregor’s garden to get Peter’s clothes back.
Potter followed that adventure with The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909), that’s about Benjamin and Peter all grown up. Benjamin is now married to Peter’s sister Flopsy and they have six children “generally called the ‘Flopsy Bunnies.'” We soon learn that lettuce will play a key role in this story. 🙂
It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific.’
I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.
They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!
Apparently Benjamin and Flopsy are “very improvident and cheerful.” In other words, with that many mouths to feed, they sometimes don’t have enough to eat, so they beg off some cabbages from Peter, who has a nursery garden.
When Peter doesn’t have any cabbages to spare, Benjamin and the Flopsies go scavenging in Mr. McGregor’s trash heap. They are thrilled to find a bunch of overgrown lettuces that had “shot” into flower. And so they all stuff themselves . . . and soon fall asleep.
Meanwhile, tiny Mrs. Tittlemouse (who’s picking over the rubbish) accidentally awakens Benjamin, and while they’re having a little chin wag about Peter Rabbit, Mr. McGregor tromps over and dumps a sackful of grass clippings right over the sleeping Flopsy Bunnies.
The cuties smile in their sweet slumber, but when Mr. McGregor looks down, he sees “some funny little brown tips of ears sticking up through the lawn mowings.” Oh-ho! He counts “six leetle rabbits” and promptly picks them up and tosses them into his sack, which he leaves on a wall while he puts away his lawn mower.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Flopsy ambles over, sees the sack, and wonders what happened to everybody. Benjamin and Mrs. Tittlemouse come out of hiding and tell her about the Flopsies in the sack. What a panic when neither parent can untie the sack string!
But resourceful Mrs. Tittlemouse nibbles a hole in the bottom of the sack so they can pull the little bunnies out. Benjamin and Flopsy then fill the sack with rotten veggies and they all hide under a bush to watch Mr. McGregor’s reaction.
Quite pleased with himself, he brags to his wife about the “six leetle rabbits,” but when Mrs. McGregor reaches into the bag, she discovers the rotten old vegetables and becomes very angry, thinking her husband purposely tricked her. Mr. McGregor gets angry too, and throws one of the marrows out the window, where it hits the littlest Flopsy Bunny on the head.
An unhappy ending for the McGregors, but Mrs. Tittlemouse receives a nice gift of rabbit wool at Christmas — perfect for a new “cloak and a hood, and a handsome muff and a pair of warm mittens.” 🙂
Apparently, writing The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies was somewhat of a struggle for Beatrix, who had found rabbits somewhat “wearisome” after finishing the first two books featuring Peter and Benjamin. But she knew her young readers liked her rabbit stories best, so she was determined to spin another bunny tale.
Potter worked on The Flopsy Bunnies at Hill Top Farm, basing her illustrations on sketches she had made of a semi-formal walled garden, archways and flower beds at Gwaeynynog Hall, her aunt and uncle’s estate in Denbigh, Wales, which she had visited many times. She described the kitchen garden in 1895:
The garden is very large, two-thirds surrounded by a red brick wall with many apricots, and an inner circle of old grey apple trees on espaliers. It is very productive but not tidy, the prettiest kind of garden, where bright old-fashioned flowers grow amongst the currant bushes.
Indeed, Potter’s garden illustrations take center stage in this book, with fewer animal close-ups and less detail overall than in the first two rabbit books. While Potter’s wildlife and botanical illustrations are consistently brilliant, she had trouble with the human form, and this is reflected in how she depicted Mr. McGregor — usually at a distance, with close-ups only of his boots and hands.
As with the tales of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, the plot of The Flopsy Bunnies centers around the daring and adventurous spirit of the rabbits, who venture into human territory for food. Though Mr. McGregor is once again a menacing figure representing danger for the rabbits, this time they have outwitted him with their tricks.
There is no sentimentality, and always an element of realism with Potter’s anthropomorphized characters. She didn’t hesitate to include Mrs. McGregor’s desire to skin the rabbits for their fur in a story for young children (in real life she wasn’t squeamish about dissecting animals for scientific study).
I also found it interesting to see how she depicted Peter, Benjamin, and Flopsy as adult rabbits. Peter, who’s been called Potter’s alter ego, is a florist with his own fenced-in garden to keep marauding intruders out. He still lives with his mother, though, much like Beatrix, who even as an adult who had gained some independence, remained under the influence of her parents.
Perhaps it is true, as Potter scholars have suggested, that The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies lacks a sense of Potter’s emotional connection to the characters. Unlike The Tale of Peter Rabbit, where we get a true sense of Peter’s personality and Potter’s affection for him, in The Flopsy Bunnies Potter doesn’t name the little bunnies, instead referring to them collectively. They don’t have distinct personalities, and with few, if any, close-up illustrations, we don’t see striking facial expressions. They are drawn as a group to be viewed mid-distance. This could be the difference between a story lovingly written as a personal letter to a young friend vs. a story written to satisfy public demand.
Still, Potter displayed her masterful skill at drawing rabbits, and I love how she began the tale with elevated language (“soporific,” “improvident and cheerful”), deftly defining unfamiliar words via context. She’s able to engage her readers by using a familiar, conversational tone without writing down to them or over their heads. Her narrative presence in the beginning is reassuring but never intrusive.
Finally, children likely appreciate Mrs. Tittlemouse’s role, as the smallest creature who saves the day with her resourceful gnawing (bringing to mind Aesop’s The Lion and the Mouse). This tidy and efficient character gets her own book a year later, but that’s a subject for another post. 🙂
🐰 SWEET AND SAVORY TREATS FOR GOOD LEETLE RABBITS 🥑
I saw you twitch your whiskers a few minutes ago, which can only mean one thing. Hunger!
I imagine one can work up quite an appetite scavenging for food in strange gardens and trash heaps. Not to worry, we’ve got just the spring snack: sandwiches and cookies! A word of warning, however: Although neither of the recipes calls for lettuce, we used some for garnish, so if you are of the bunny persuasion, they may have a soporific effect on you (please try to stay awake for the rest of this post — it’s only polite). 🙂
The ever clever Mr. Cornelius (quite a health conscious bear), decided he wanted to make The Flopsy Bunnies’ Vegetable Sandwiches from Peter Rabbit’s Natural Foods Cookbook. Actually those generous Flopsies included five different sandwich fillings in the book, but we opted for the first one, which calls for avocado and hard-cooked egg. Any excuse to eat avocado, yum!
Simple, refreshing, and nourishing, these are perfect for lunch or teatime. Have a few carrots or radish slices on the side and you’re all set (eating loud, crunchy food will keep your soporific friends awake).
The Flopsy Bunnies' Vegetable Sandwiches
- 1 small ripe avocado
- 1 scallion (green onion)
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise or sour cream
- 1 hard-cooked egg
- 4-6 slices of whole grain bread
Cut the avocado in half, pull off the skin, and remove the seed. Put it in a mixing bowl and mash it with a fork. Chop the scallion finely and add it to the avocado. Add the lemon juice, salt, and mayonnaise or sour cream and mix well.
Chop the hard-cooked egg in rather large chunks and add it to the avocado mixture. Stir in lightly. Spread the filling between slices of bread and enjoy!
~ adapted from Peter Rabbit’s Natural Foods Cookbook by Arnold Dobrin, illustrated by Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne, 1977), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Now for a sweet treat. Since it’s Easter week and we’re all busy planning brunches and egg hunts, filling baskets, brushing our bunny fur and cleaning our tall ears, we need a no fuss, festive recipe that’ll be good for teatime. Enter, Funfetti Cake Mix Cookies!
No, we’re definitely not above “cheating” and using a pre-packaged mix for cookies. Mrs. Tittlemouse found this recipe at Mom On Timeout (we let her choose since she saved the day with her sack nibbling). She liked the quick and easy aspect — the faster you can make cookies, the sooner you can eat them. 🙂
Adding cream cheese and using butter instead of vegetable oil adds to the richness. Mind, these are soft, “quiet” cookies — actually a good thing, since if your soporific friends have fallen asleep, you can eat as many as you like without waking them. No crunching with these. Pretty sneaky (hee hee). 🙂
Easy Funfetti Cake Mix Cookies
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 oz. Neufchatel cheese (light cream cheese), room temperature
- 1 15.25 oz. box funfetti cake mix
- 1-2 tablespoons colored jimmies
- Combine butter, egg, vanilla, and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly combined.
- Add cake mix, half of the box at a time, stirring just until combined.
- Stir in colored jimmies or sprinkles.
- Refrigerate the cookie dough for at least one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Scoop out the cookie dough and roll into balls.
- Place dough balls onto parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to flatten the cookie dough into a disc shape (or leave as a ball if you want a more rounded cookie).
- Bake for 9 minutes — you don’t want the cookies to brown at all.
- Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.
~ adapted from Trish’s recipe at Mom On Timeout, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup
With that, we wish you all a Happy Easter and a Happy Spring!
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons, bibs and bunny ears and come join the fun!
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Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Allphabet Soup. All rights reserved.