[pullquote]“It was a very fine tea- hot, new-made scones, sweet and buttery, strawberry jam, bread and butter, and potted salmon and shrimp paste, small ginger buns, shortbread biscuits, and, of course, the large chocolate sponge, which had a thick cream filling.” – “The Mystery of the Strange Bundle”
It was not till many years later that I actually got to taste a scone- in France. And even then I was disappointed, because it was neither sweet, nor buttery, or even new-made. But back then, as a child growing up in a small town, with not much exposure to movies, with no ‘foreign-returned’ relatives, the world of Enid Blyton opened up an entirely new and exciting gastronomic experience, even if it was all voyeuristic.
I saw a real strawberry for the first time as a college student, at my friend Suja’s house. Someone had sent them a bottle of strawberry jam with real strawberries in it, and we ate it with crisp and hot dosas and were every bit satisfied.
Only Enid Blyton could make even bread and butter sound exotic. I read recently that she wrote her books in war-time Britain, when such things as butter were scarce. So I reckon she must have been delving into the fountain of her own childhood experiences, when they were given freshly-baked bread and hand-churned butter.
I remember my mouth watering for potted meat, not even knowing what it was. My brother and I would put our own home-cooked beef in between two slices of bread and make believe that it was a potted meat sandwich. As for salmon and shrimp, we didn’t know what they were. Or that salmon had a silent ‘l’, for one thing. And that shrimp was the same as the prawns we had in our pickle.
We didn’t care much for ginger anyway, so we didn’t waste our time speculating on what it would taste like.
We were naive enough to think that shortbread was actually a small piece of bread, cut into a biscuit and baked.
After all those sweet things, why did they want another dessert? Their teeth must have been in an awful shape. As adults and with hindsight, we think of all these things, but, at that time, we could only sigh and remark to each other that some children got an unfairly large share of the pie, while we had to make do with Milk Bikis.
It was through this that we got to know of things such as rings hidden in the pudding. The person who got the ring would be a bride soon, the person who drew something else was condemned to be an old maid, and so on. Dorcas was the cook who brought in the Christmas pudding, her face flushed and red. ( Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm)
Why would anyone want to eat the skin of a potato, I wondered. It still doesn’t tempt me. In some other books, Enid Blyton talks of peeling potatoes thoroughly, even scooping out their ‘eyes’- something I do meticulously even today.
To this day, that’s how I like my lemonade, notwithstanding my Dad’s dire predictions that a lemon tree would start sprouting out through my nostrils and ears if I swallowed the seeds.
Only when Sweet Corner set up shop in Chennai did we get to see such sweets as Enid Blyton describes with such feeling. Till then we had to make do with Cadbury’s, or the odd smuggled chocolates . And what Cadbury’s passes off as eclairs aren’t a patch on the real thing.
[pullquote]”A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish, great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk” – Five Go Off in a Caravan.[/pullquote]
Come to think of it, the action in Enid Blyton’s books is seldom hampered by the frequent food breaks. Rather, we look forward to them as eagerly as we would a school recess. Even when camping, the Famous Five manage to do rather well for themselves in the food department. We don’t see them often visiting cafeterias or eating much junk food . It’s usually all farm-fresh and home-baked. And only she possessed the uncanny knack of making “hard-boiled eggs with a screw of salt” sound like something you’d really want to eat on a picnic.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]he was truly the fore-runner for all the food bloggers of today. She, Richmal Crompton (the William series) and Agatha Christie make up a formidable trio of British writers who dwell nostalgically on the meals of their childhood and recreate those sights and smells in their books. And all without the aid of beautifully photoshopped pictures. It’s like flipping through a cookbook. For a brief interlude, we’re also swept up into those halcyon years, when dogs shared the table and cooks and parlour-maids ruled the roost, children were always hungry and never worried about the calories and there was always plenty of ginger-beer and lemonade to wash down those heavy meals.
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