[review + recipes] A Charlotte Brontë Birthday

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ~ Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre, 1847).

Today we’re celebrating Charlotte Brontë’s 207th birthday with a fabulous picture book and two versions of a scrummy Yorkshire treat. 🙂

Wonder if she could ever have imagined that over a century after publishing the first book of Brontë poems, generations of readers all over the world would still be studying, sharing and marveling at all she and her sisters had written?

As enjoyable and enduring as their books are, a large part of what continues to intrigue Brontë fans is the fascinating story of their all-too-brief lives in early 19th century Yorkshire. 

In The Brontës: Children of the Moors (Franklin Watts, 2016), award winning nonfiction picture book team Mick Manning and Brita Granström present an engaging, informative, charmingly illustrated account of Brontë family milestones from their early childhood days in Haworth, to their short stints as teachers and governesses, to their accomplishments as authors and poets.

Manning and Granström’s kid friendly format consists of three components: a main text narrated by Charlotte, scenes dramatized with characters conversing in speech bubbles, and Charlotte’s sidenotes brimming with interesting bits and bobs that expand on the main text.

This approach packs a lot of information into each double page spread; Charlotte’s voice is intimate and accessible and younger readers can opt to follow the story via the pictures.

There’s also a unique spin: Mick Manning actually grew up in the village of Haworth and played a shepherd in the 1967 BBC2 “Wuthering Heights” series when he was just 8. As the book opens, he recounts how he dozed off while waiting for his turn on camera, only to have a lady “in old fashioned clothes” tell him a story he’d never forget upon awakening. 

And what a story it was – as melodramatic, heartwrenching, and inspiring as they come, marked by the premature deaths of Charlotte’s mother and two older sisters, a harsh boarding school (which would later serve as the model for Lowood School in Jane Eyre), and above all, the singular bonding of the four surviving home-schooled siblings with their obsessive role playing games that sparked stories of imaginary kingdoms, royal personages, battles, romance, heroes and heroines. They recorded these in homemade miniature books, magazines and booklets (complete with poems, maps, and diagrams), an endeavor that offered valuable practice for future fiction.

They got many of their ideas from listening to their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, read them “stories of travel and history, as well as his own poetry and family tales.”

We learn that the Brontës’ imaginary worlds became more complex as they grew into adolescence. Now their stories featured “love affairs, executions, murders and imprisonments!” At 14, Charlotte attended another boarding school at Roe Head (a good one this time), where she became friends with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. Charlotte thrived there, finishing her studies in 18 months. She would later return to the school to teach.

Charlotte then discusses each of her siblings. Though brilliant and talented, Branwell was unsuccessful in his pursuits as a portrait painter, tutor and railway clerk. Emily’s teaching job near Halifax only lasted six months – she was homesick and the long work hours proved too constricting for someone who thrived in Haworth’s wild moorlands. And though Anne worked as a governess for the Robinson family near York for about five years, she had to leave her position after Branwell, who had been invited to tutor the Robinson son, had an affair with Mrs Robinson (this is described in an age appropriate manner as a flirtation).

Charlotte and Emily had dreamed of owning their own school, so they enrolled in Madame Heger’s School for Young Ladies in Brussels to gain more experience. They returned to Haworth after only 8 months when Aunt Branwell (who had lived with them ever since their mother fell ill) died. After grieving with her father, Charlotte returned to Brussels while Emily remained at home. 

Homesick and lonely without her sister, Charlotte fell in love with her teacher Mr Heger, who did not return her feelings. She sent him many lovelorn letters after leaving Brussels to no avail. Back in Haworth, she and Emily advertised their new school, but not a single student enrolled.

With all three sisters at home, they then decided to try publishing their poems. This plan was set into motion after Charlotte found a notebook of Emily’s poems and Anne shared some of her own. Emily was actually reluctant until Charlotte suggested they use pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. After their book came out, they were amused that everyone thought they were men. Though the book got good reviews, only two copies sold.

By this time they were all writing novels. Manning and Granström have included awesome comic strip versions of Jane Eyre (an instant success), Wuthering Heights (shocked and delighted readers), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (sold out in six weeks). 

Jane and Mr Rochester

Though the sisters became bestselling novelists, they were upset when Emily and Anne’s publisher circulated a rumor that only one person had written all their books. Determined to set the record straight, Charlotte and Anne traveled to London to visit Charlotte’s publisher in person. Imagine the shock at learning that Currer and Acton Bell were actually women – and that there was a third author back home – Ellis!

Not long after their London adventures, tragedy would call once again. Both Branwell (31) and Emily (30) contracted tuberculosis, dying within months of each other. Still in the throes of grief, Charlotte and her father would also lose Anne (29) the following spring. 

Despite her acceptance in prominent literary circles, Charlotte was understandably desolate and lonely after losing her remaining siblings. Five years after Anne’s passing, Charlotte married her father’s assistant curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls (despite Patrick Brontë’s disapproval). 

She only enjoyed nine months of marital bliss, however – she got sick and died with her unborn child three weeks before her 39th birthday. Though her death certificate gives cause of death as a form of consumption, modern day biographers believe she died from severe morning sickness. So no Brontë heirs. Patrick, who died five years later at age 84, had outlived all six of his children.

I don’t know of a better introduction to the Brontës for young readers than this thoroughly appealing and stunningly crafted picture book. It does such a great job of showing how family and place shaped the Brontës’ literary psyches. 

Kids will be heartened to see how four motherless children became everything unto each other, perhaps coping with the loss of their mother and sisters by escaping to a shared inner world they had created for themselves.

They will be fascinated by the tiny books the Brontë siblings made for their wooden toy soldiers to read, how passionate they were about the characters they dreamed up, how serious they took their “play,” and how it ultimately sharpened their skills as future poets and novelists.

Brontë family juvenilia.

Their close collaborations fueled mutual fires. They learned from and supported each other – and what a marvel that all were gifted writers who thrived despite the odds. The sisters were original thinkers who challenged Victorian morality. Charlotte’s and Anne’s novels reveal their feminist leanings, while Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights (not a critical or commercial success when first published), is now considered to be one of the greatest ever written in English. 

via The Morgan Library and Museum, photo by Graham S. Haber.

Brontë enthusiasts continue to wonder: how did these three women, who lived quietly in such a remote location, manage to write so powerfully and passionately, piercing the hearts of humankind?

Brita Granström in Haworth.

I do love that Manning and Granström share the writing and illustrating aspects of their picture books, and that the drawings for this particular book were made on location in Haworth. What a treat to see the West Riding landscape with its green rolling hills and wild heathered moors, Haworth’s cobblestone streets and quaint buildings, the children gathered around cozy parsonage fires and freely exploring their natural surroundings. 

We found comfort there together, amid the heather and the harebells. We picked up feathers and found curlew nests, we spotted shy lizards and noisy lapwings. 

Mick Manning, Haworth Moors.

A must read for book lovers, aspiring young writers and Brontë fans of all ages, this story about the most notable literary family in England is truly one to cherish.

I was lucky to have visited Haworth twice. Seeing the Brontë Parsonage was definitely a highpoint of my three year residence in England. I was awestruck standing in the dining room where the sisters wrote and discussed their stories, and I liked imagining four boisterous children acting out plays and writing miniature books in their upstairs study. 

Black Bull Inn, Haworth.

We even stayed at the Black Bull Inn (frequented by Branwell Brontë), and how well I remember a female server suggesting we have squidgy (“squi-jah”) chocolate cake for dessert. After I talked nonstop about the Brontës during our long car trip from London to Yorkshire, my dad purchased a copy of Jane Eyre in the museum gift shop. This was the first time in my life I’d ever seen him read a work of fiction. Such is the effect the Brontës have on people. 🙂


🧈 FAT RASCALS (19th Century) 🐶

One can certainly work up an appetite wandering the windy moors, making up poems as you go. I imagine the Brontë sisters were happy when their servant Tabby welcomed them home with a warm pot of tea and freshly baked treats.

After browsing through my copy of A Brontë Kitchen: Recipes from the Home of the Brontës by Victoria Wright (Bluecoat Press, 1996), I knew just what to make: Fat Rascals!

Who could resist anything with such an adorable name? Suffice to say, if you like biscuits or scones, you’ll love fat rascals, which originated in Yorkshire and are a cross between scones and rock cakes. They’re also related to (and often called) turf cakes, a flat butter based cake baked over a peat fire.

Brontë Kitchen at Haworth Parsonage.

While we’d previously made some other Yorkshire goodies (gingerbread, parkin, two kinds of oatcakes), we had yet to try fat rascals, though we had definitely heard of them. 

The subtitle of Wright’s book, “Recipes from the Home of the Brontës,” is a little misleading, since these aren’t Brontë family recipes per se, but rather Haworth recipes. During the early 19th century, servants like the Brontës’ Tabby Aykroyd cooked with simple, locally sourced seasonal ingredients. 

Recipes were passed down through the generations and committed to memory; sometimes lists of ingredients were recorded in personal notebooks, but few relied on (or could afford) printed cookery books.

This recipe for fat rascals – like all others in Wright’s book – was typical of those written down by Haworth women. It’s common to see in such recipes what we would consider vague instructions: (“a little milk,” “a handful of flour,” “a fairly hot oven”), so for modern cooks there is some guesswork involved.

I was glad the fat rascals recipe had precise measurements for the main ingredients, and I interpreted “fairly hot oven” as 375 degrees F. This worked out well since my rascals were done after twenty minutes, as the recipe states.

Did the Brontës eat fat rascals? While I don’t recall them being specifically mentioned in any of their novels, it is likely they ate some version of it. Since the origin of the term “fat rascal” remains obscure, perhaps they knew them as turf cakes, or even currant scones. 🙂

Judging from this cookbook, Haworth people in general thrived on many kinds of tea cakes, buns, biscuits, breads, pasties, puddings, tarts, pies, jams and jellies. No doubt the Brontë children loved being in the kitchen watching Tabby cook and listening to her stories. A twelve-year-old Charlotte once wrote:

I am in the kitchin of the parsonage Hawarth Taby the servent is washing up after Breakfast and Anne my youngest Sister (Maria was my eldest) is kneeling on a chair looking at some cakes whiche Tabby has been Baking for us. Emily is in the parlour brushing it papa and Branwell are gone to Keighley Aunt is up stairs in her Room and I am sitting by the table writing this in the kitchin.

We enjoyed these warm with lots of butter (mmmm!); the currants provided a little sweetness and texture. Mr Cornelius polished off three in seconds flat, almost turning into a fat rascal himself. 😀

Yorkshire Fat Rascals

  • Servings: six
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 1/2 pound all purpose flour
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 2 oz. granulated sugar
  • 2 oz. currants
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • a little milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and salt.
  3. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Stir in the sugar and currants, then mix to a light dough with the beaten egg and milk.
  4. Roll out on a floured board to 1/2″ thickness. Cut into 6 circles with a knife or biscuit cutter.
  5. Bake the cakes on prepared sheet for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
  6. Best eaten warm with lots of butter.
Tips: Freeze the butter and grate before rubbing into the flour mixture. Reserve a little of the beaten egg for brushing the tops of cakes before baking.

~ Adapted from A Brontë Kitchen by Victoria Wright (Bluecoat Press, 1996), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.


🍋 FAT RASCALS (21st Century)🍊

These days, Fat Rascals are mostly commonly associated with Bettys Café Tea Rooms (five locations in North and West Yorkshire). Their version is a rich fruity scone sporting a cheeky grin made from glacé cherries and blanched almonds. 

Their special recipe, based on a traditional Yorkshire Turf Cake, was developed by Bettys buyer and marketing assistant Helen Frankel. Since their launch in 1983, Yorkshire Fat Rascals quickly became Bettys’ most popular bakery product. Their craft bakery in Harrogate makes 10,000 of them every week, tallying up to more than two million since their debut.

Bettys’ Fat Rascals

We couldn’t help wondering what Charlotte the birthday girl would think of this modern day fat rascal. Just like Jane Eyre, she experienced burnt porridge and near starvation at her first boarding school. She suffered from indigestion like her father, with liver pains and nausea at the sight of certain foods well into adulthood. She definitely didn’t take to baking bread like Emily did. 

Still, she did appreciate Tabby’s homecooked meals – mutton legs, boiled potatoes, and especially her tasty cakes and treats. Charlotte was also one to distribute Christmas cakes and puddings to her friends in Haworth. I sense she would be delighted with these buttery scones filled with mixed fruit and citrus peel.

Bettys 1919-2019 Centenary tea caddy design by Emily Sutton.
Bettys bone china mug designs by Emily Sutton.

Naturally, Bettys’ recipe is a closely guarded secret, but quite a few hungry and conscientious home bakers have replicated it. Of the many online versions, we decided to try the one from BBC Food, which calls for both butter and heavy cream (we used all butter instead of lard and butter). Some speculate this added richness made an ordinary scone “fatter,” hence the name ‘fat rascal’. The cherries and almond face, however, is strictly a Bettys invention (they now own the fat rascals trademark). 

This recipe makes six substantial cakes/scones. Served with jam and butter or clotted cream, each is quite a meal in itself, precisely what a hungry Haworth author would need to pen a passionate, progressive novel of female self actualization and empowerment. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; these aren’t hard to make once everything is measured out. They are well worth the time and smell sooooooo good while baking and even after they’ve cooled.

Yorkshire Fat Rascals

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 150g/5-1/4 oz all purpose flour
  • 150g/5-1/4 oz self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 65g/2-1/4 oz lard, diced
  • 65g/2-1/4 oz unsalted butter, diced
  • 90g/3-1/4 oz granulated sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50g/1-3/4 oz currants
  • 50g/1-3/4 oz raisins
  • 50g/1-3/4 oz golden raisins
  • 50 ml/1-3/4 fl oz heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 50g/1-3/4 oz glacé cherries
  • 50g/1-3/4 oz blanched almonds


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Sieve the flours into a bowl and stir in the baking powder.
  4. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  5. Add the sugar, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and dried fruit and mix until well combined.
  6. Stir in the cream and half the beaten egg until the mixture comes together as a dough. Cut the dough into six pieces, then shape into large rounds about 1″ deep. Place onto prepared baking sheet.
  7. Brush the remaining beaten egg over the top of the rascals, then add the glacé cherries and almonds to make a face.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
  9. Serve warm with butter, jam and clotted cream.
  1. Measure out all the ingredients before you begin.
  2. Place the cherries and almonds close together as they will spread a little while baking.
  3. You may need to add a little more cream to the dough if the air in your kitchen is dry (do this gradually, a teaspoon at a time until you get the right consistency). Dough should hold together but not be too sticky.
  4. Vary the mixed fruit to your preference. Dried cranberries, cherries, or apricots will work in lieu of raisins (keep the golden raisins and currants, though).
~ adapted from BBC Food recipe by James Martin, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Each of these craggy fellows has his own scrumptious personality. 🙂

While you’re nibbling, enjoy this excerpt from Charlotte’s most well known poem.

Charlotte Brontë, painted by Evert A. Duyckinck, based on a drawing by George Richmond (1873).

~ from “Retrospection”

We wove a web in childhood,
A web of sunny air;
We dug a spring in infancy
Of water pure and fair;

We sowed in youth a mustard seed,
We cut an almond rod;
We are now grown up to riper age-
Are they withered in the sod?

Are they blighted, failed and faded,
Are they mouldered back to clay?
For life is darkly shaded;
And its joys fleet fast away.

🎂 Happy Birthday, Charlotte! 🎉


THE BRONTËS: Children of the Moors
written and illustrated by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
published by Franklin Watts, 2016
Picture Book Biography for ages 7+, 48pp.


Lovely and talented coffee connoisseur Karen Edmisten is hosting the Roundup at her blog with the shockingly clever title. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Are you a fat rascal? 🙂


“Love is real — the most real, the most lasting, the sweetest and yet the bitterest thing we know.” ~ Charlotte Brontë (Shirley, 1849).

*Interior spreads text and illustrations copyright © 2016 Mick Manning and Brita Granström, published by Franklin Watts. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate links. When you purchase an item using a link, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

***Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

35 thoughts on “[review + recipes] A Charlotte Brontë Birthday

  1. You have really outdone yourself, Jama! I am sold on the book, for sure, and TWO kinds of fat rascals? That’s a lot of chubby scamps.
    I remember watching Jane Eyre and thinking Michael Fassbender, while too good-looking for the role, is an excellent Mr. Rochester. *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many good Mr Rochesters; for some reason George C. Scott stands out in my mind. Also liked Toby Stephens in the BBC series. “Chubby scamps” made me smile . . . 🙂


  2. Happy Birthday, dear Charlotte. Jama, you’ve provided quite the party here–from a book I now must find to not one but TWO delicious-sounding recipes. I am not well versed in the Brontes. I know that they were and remain famous. This is one of those holes in my education that I need to fill and you’ve given me the best appetizer possible. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a purely delightful, educational, delicious journey! I need some Simpson & Vail Literary Tea about now, for sure – and at least a bite of a Fat Rascal! I might have hopped over to purchase a copy of this incredible book that I didn’t know about…. thank you. I can imagine you soaking in all the richness of Yorkshire & beyond when you were there – that whole district is on my list! Deepest thanks to you and to Mr. C. for the perfect diversion today. You’re amazing, you know. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you visit Yorkshire in the near future!! Not only because of Bronte country, but because it is the setting of All Creatures Great and Small (love the new series!).


      1. YES! (Actually, I still have the last part of this most recent season recorded to watch later. Jeff & I were in different places & I wanted to watch together… and then with the sudden loss of Rita, I haven’t been able to watch yet. :0( It will come with time.)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What adventures they led, despite their tragic losses, Jama. The book, and your post, has filled me up with their lives, ones we still revere. Gone so young, yet gave us the most wonderful stories – still amazed. I’m happy Mr. Cornelius did not become a ‘fat rascal’ though he may continue to be a ‘rascal’ all around the house, right? Thanks for the recipes and thanks for the poem, too, love “And its joys fleet fast away.” Just right. Happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mr Cornelius is a perpetual rascal. He eats all the treats we bake, yet never seems to gain weight (can’t say the same for myself). The Brontes lived such short lives, but they were full and intense. Imagine publishing only one novel as Emily did, and having it deemed one of the best in all of English literature! This reminds me of Harper Lee with To Kill a Mockingbird. One iconic book is all it took to cement her place in literary history.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Lovely! Have you read The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke? It’s a fantasy starring the Bronte children’s toy soldiers after they are discovered by a modern child. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1962 and was a favorite of mine when I was young. Here’s part of the publisher’s blurb: “Beneath a floorboard in the old farmhouse into which his family has just moved, eight-year-old Max Morley discovers twelve time-worn wooden soldiers. Under his careful watch, the ‘Twelves’ come to life, each possessing a name and a distinct personality. As Max soon learns, they share a history filled with incident and adventure — all an imaginative legacy of the famous Brontës (Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, Anne), who were the soldiers’ original owners.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve read the Return of the Twelves and loved it! I think I may have even read it while living in England. Thanks for the reminder. I want to reread it now!


  6. Thank you for taking me on a journey through time and space and to get to know the Brontës! What short, but rich lives. It reminds me what a blessing an imagination is. I love the poem, particularly “a web of sunny air”–it seems like a fit for this April day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading . . . I know the post is longer than most. Yes to the power of the imagination. I suppose if your siblings are equally inclined to storytelling and writing, the interchanges ramp up your own creative powers.


  7. Oooh, I gobbled up this delicious post! Atticus gave me this book for Christmas and I adore it. I love the many details you included as well as all that background on the Fat Rascals. Glad you guessed correctly about a “fairly hot oven”! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jama, I fell in love with your blog post. I remember as a young girl reading Wuthering Heights but never knew the backstory of the Brontes so thank you for the amazing write-up. Enjoy your fat rascals. They look yummy.


  9. Jama, this post brings back memories of high school British Lit class when we read Jane Eyre! Always felt the sisters were underappreciated, so I’m glad to see this book shining a light on them. Thanks for sharing!


  10. Jama! Your posts are so full of fun and joy and information. Thank you for such a deep look into this PB. And YES — I AM a fat rascal! -lol – I am drooling after looking at the photos of all those goodies. I was introduced to the Brontes like so many, in high school English Lit – Wuthering Heights remains one of my favorite novels today. Sigh…


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