[poem + recipe] a taste of Aunt Margaret’s Pudding by Alison Brackenbury

Recently, by lucky happenstance, I ran across Aunt Margaret’s Pudding as I was browsing the online shop of – *wait for it*HappenStance Press, a small indie publisher based in Fife, Scotland.

Truth is, I simply cannot resist a charming title, especially when it contains ‘Margaret’ (my mother’s name), and the word ‘pudding,’ which usually makes me want to hug myself, it’s so dang adorable.

Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, by British poet Alison Brackenbury, is a collection of poems and recipes inspired by her paternal grandmother Dorothy Eliza Barnes (“Dot”). 

photo of Dorothy Eliza Barnes via Rylands Blog.

Dot (b. 1894) worked as a professional Edwardian cook in Nottingham before marrying a shepherd and living in various cottages around Lincolnshire. She recorded her family’s favorite recipes in a black notebook which Brackenbury later inherited along with Dot’s wooden desk.

The poems are not only a revealing bit of family history, but an interesting glimpse of early 20th century East Midlands farm and country life. This was a time when almost everything was homemade, people walked to work, and neighbors “saved” each other (when Dot was bedridden after the birth of her fourth child, one of her neighbors cooked and washed for Dot’s husband and children for weeks).

Dot herself used to feed itinerant farm workers and invited children waiting at the school bus stop near her gate in for sweets. Practical, frugal, hardworking, and generous, Dot lived a quiet, isolated life. It is interesting to see that her smudged notebook contains not only her small, neat penmanship, but the hands of other women, suggesting that Dot liked to collect recipes from friends and neighbors. Their shared lives were “rich with old knowledge and individual talent.”

Enjoy a little taste of Brackenbury’s book with two sample poems and a recipe. Many thanks to Alison for permission to share her poems and for providing the wonderful photos!

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photo of Dot’s notebook via The Carcanet Blog.
DOT

But you were tiny. Not one toe
could stretch from sofa to the floor.
Unwise to marry a tall man? For
the fourth child left you bed-bound, so
kind neighbours cooked. Your eyes were weak,
yet blue as harebells. You would go
sleepless, to cram old trunks with cake
the men took to the Royal Show.

I have one picture, leather-bound:
you as a young, still-anxious cook,
flowered velvet in your collar's tuck.
Like food, you could make cash go round.
Only your hair grew wild. Its fine
strong waves defied your careful buns.
French marigolds by your washing line
met cabbage, hoed by husband, sons.

You never cut your springing hair.
Time washed past you like rain, your skin
so soft a child's lips would sink in.
My face, rough from hill wind, stays bare
of blusher, gloss. No powder tins
littered your rooms. I stay up, too,
cook, type, as horizons dim.
My father said I looked like you.

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INGREDIENTS

Carrots kept Christmas pudding plain.
No gold leaf flattered Nottingham.
Choclate -- you wrote, brisk, young.
What sweetness touched your tongue?

Your first friends were cornflour, ground rice.
Your middle age still sang with spice,
spooned, generous to a fault.
Cinnamon. Ginger. Salt?

Steam smudged your letters. Leather Cups?
I squint. The words are: Quaker Oats.
Your trust in brand names shone.
King, Country, only one.

You knew dessert. You wrote
the old name: cocoanut.
Through bright Treacle I see
the dark Imperial tree.

A married student, money short,
I spooned rough ground rice at the start --
strong, workaday, low-cost --
like all the tastes we lost.

Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat recipes from Dot’s notebook in different handwritings via The Carcanet Blog.

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[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. 

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[review + recipe] Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis by Melvina Noel and Cozbi A. Cabrera

“One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been that I have never stopped learning about good cooking and good food.” ~ Edna Lewis

Picture this:

A group of African American family members and friends gathered outdoors around a long, white-clothed table covered with “warm fried chicken, thin slices of boiled Virginia ham, green beans cooked in pork stock, turnip greens picked that morning, potato salad with a boiled dressing, pickles, preserves, and yeast bread.” 

For dessert? Mincemeat, lemon meringue and fried apple pies, along with coconut and black walnut cakes. Don’t forget the watermelon and cantaloupe, the freshly ground coffee to be drunk out of bowls.

Miss Lewis, Culinary Ambassador and Grande Doyen of Southern Cooking.

This is the kind of homemade, homegrown food beloved chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis grew up with. Her advocacy of this simple style of cooking using only the freshest in-season ingredients anticipated the natural foods, slow food, and farm-to-table movements, essentially changing the way average Americans viewed Southern cuisine.

Beautiful painting of young Edna under the dust jacket!

In Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis (Cameron Kids, 2032), Melvina Noel and Cozbi A. Cabrera trace Edna’s life from her childhood on a Virginia farm, to her early days as a working single, then finally to her prominence as a restaurant co-owner and chef-de-cuisine in NYC.

Essentially, what Edna first learned about cooking and everything associated with it – family, friends, love, community, cultural heritage – established her identity and defined her life’s work, as she remained committed to preserving traditional Southern foodways while showcasing the seminal role African Americans played in the origins of this regional cuisine.

It all began on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, an African American community founded by Edna’s grandfather and two other freed slaves. From an early age, Edna participated in all aspects of farm life: milking cows, chasing chickens, picking wild greens and gathering berries. Edna especially loved cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.

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[whiskery review + recipe] The World of Peter Rabbit: Peter’s Nature Walk

Chirp chirp, ribbet ribbet, whoo whoo!

Have you heard the buzzzzzz? Just listen.

This is the time of year when curious bunnies venture out of their burrows for a good look around. Since 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, who better to celebrate Easter with than our good friend Peter?

He’s very excited about his new interactive picture book, Peter’s Nature Walk (Puffin Books, 2023). Just released in February, it tells about his delightful dawn to dusk amble around the countryside with his mother and sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail. 

What makes this book extra special is that on each page there is a special “Press Here” button, so readers can hear the sounds of birds, bugs, and frogs, along with the rustling of leaves and the rummaging of squirrels! There are ten wonderful sounds in all, including opening music, so it feels like we’re right there with them! 🙂

As the story opens, Peter and his family are greeted by the blackbird’s morning song. After breakfast, they head outside, where Mrs. Rabbit points out several nearby trees – oak, horse chestnut, and sycamore (the ladybirds are eating mildew off its leaves) – while Peter’s sisters make bark rubbings. 

As the sun rises higher in the sky, they wander through the meadow for a picnic by the pond, stopping to admire marching ants. Peter learns how crickets and grasshoppers make their sounds. 

When they finally reach the pond, they’re greeted by Mr. Jeremy Fisher, who is surrounded by noisy animals. Not to worry, as Jeremy loves to hear “the ducks quacking and the gentle fluttering of dragonfly wings.” As Peter and his sisters feast on pudding, pie, berries, and tarts, they’re serenaded by the ribbits and croaks of tadpoles who have finally turned into frogs.

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[author chat + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Perfect Egg

We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season of blossoms, bunnies, chicks and eggs than by talking to Patricia Toht about her brand new picture book, Pick a Perfect Egg (Candlewick, 2023).

This third title in the wonderful series that includes Pick a Pine Tree and Pick a Pumpkin is once again beautifully illustrated by British artist Jarvis, and is, in many ways, a perfect book. 

Pitch perfect rhyming text? Check. Lively, inventive, never predictable rhymes frolic and sing as the narrative hums along. An absolute joy to read aloud. 

Illustrations that perfectly detail each story beat while capturing all the joys of the season? Check. Gorgeous colors and textures showcase spring loveliness, while an endearing main character positively sparkles as she picks, dyes, decorates, and hunts for eggs with neighborhood friends. And her adorable dog is always smiling. So much fun!

Pick a perfect egg
with care --
choose a white one
nestled there.

From farm fresh egg to Easter egg, this story is eggsactly what the Easter Bunny ordered. Sure to be a perennial favorite, it’s proof positive that when it comes to authors and illustrators, Toht and Jarvis are perfectly paired. 🙂

Welcome back, Patricia!!

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Author Patricia Toht

Please share a fond Easter egg memory from your childhood. How did you like to decorate your eggs? 

I grew up in a big family, so we had lots of coloring going on! My parents would spread a big drop cloth on our long table, and line it with mugs. I loved the fizzing tablets that dissolved in water to reveal their colors, and the smell of vinegar that was added to set the color. 

The “Easter Bunny” hid the colored eggs around the house, along with plastic eggs…until the year the dog ate all of the hard-boiled eggs, and we woke up Easter morning to find a very vomit-y dog! 

Childhood pic of Patricia (left front) with her family.
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