As I pored over the menu, a relatively inconspicuous item drew my attention to itself like a powerful lodestone. I signalled to the waiter without bothering to read any further and placed my order. Ten minutes later, a steaming pot of tea and a plate full of freshly baked buttery scones, a pot of clotted cream and fresh strawberry jam arrived.
The original food blogger
It was as if I had stepped right through a time portal and was back in 1950s’ England, picnicking by a stream on Kirrin Island with Julian, Dick, Anne and George and Timmy gambolling in the background. I remember being a hungry child and a large part of that hunger was derived from descriptions laid out by Enid Blyton of farm-fresh food that was quintessentially English and ever so exotic for us pre-liberalisation 1980s kids.
In Five Go Down to the Sea, for instance, a superlative meal is laid out for the children:
The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. A huge ham gleaming as pink as Timmy’s tongue; a salad fit for a king. In fact, as Dick said, fit for several kings, it was so enormous. It had in it everything that anyone could possibly want. “Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, radishes, mustard and cress, carrot grated up – that is carrot, isn’t it, Mrs. Penruthlan?” said Dick. “And lashings of hard-boiled eggs.” There was an enormous tureen of new potatoes, all gleaming with melted butter, scattered with parsley. There was a big bottle of home-made salad cream. “Look at that cream cheese, too,” marvelled Dick, quite overcome. “And that fruit cake. And are those drop-scones, or what? Are we supposed to have something of everything, Mrs Penruthlan?”
The teas and picnic luncheons of the Famous Five that often led them to their “aha!” moments as they discussed cases over copious quantities of food and lashings of ginger beer. Enid Blyton was perhaps the only author who could create a sense of anticipation for the humble hard-boiled egg and she is perhaps the reason I still have such great affection for it.
In Five Go Off in a Caravan, she writes about the group as they sit down to eat boiled eggs on a rocky ledge just as the sun is about to set.
It was a most beautiful evening, with the lake as blue as a cornflower and the sky flecked with rosy clouds. They held their hard-boiled eggs in one hand and a piece of bread and butter in the other, munching happily. There was a dish of salt for everyone to dip their eggs into.
This idyllic scene played itself in my head as I reached for my morning eggs with more gusto than they deserved, much to the delight of my working mother who did not have to cajole me into eating what was clearly a quick “no-frills” meal.
I also remember always sitting down with a snack the moment I flipped open the pages of one of my chosen Enid Blyton books for the day. Especially when it was the O’Sullivan twins, Carlotta, Janet, Doris, Gladys and the rest hiding from Mamselle and indulging in their secret midnight feasts in the boarding school of St Clare’s.
What was this food anyway?
Their relatively austere school diet was made all the more special by these treats which featured everything from tongue sandwiches, tinned sardines in tomato sauce, hard boiled eggs, pickled onions, pork pies, anchovy paste, sausages, chocolates, jam tarts and eclairs and all of this was washed down with great lashings (a favourite Blyton phrase signifying plentitude) of ginger beer.
The humbugs, bulls-eyes, liquorice candy, barley sugars and freshly baked breads from their village shop that fuelled the Secret Seven’s deductive reasoning left me craving for these magical sweets as I sucked on orange boiled sweets in vain. The magical google (yes!) buns, soft-centred pop biscuits and toffee shocks were the stuff of my – and every child’s – candy fantasy as they appeared through the different episodes ofThe Faraway Tree.
To a child growing up in Kolkata of the 1980s and 1990s, tongue sandwiches, potted meat, anchovy paste and kippers and clotted cream were all part of an alien food lexicon. All I knew was that they sounded wonderful.
With time, even as I discovered just how much of an acquired taste tongue really was, or that potted meat was quite a processed unappetising gloop and anchovies were just not my thing, the charm of Enid Blyton’s food never quite went away. Her characters and their unique love for food is the inspiration behind this menu that will thrill kids and adults alike. Full of fresh and natural farm produce and baked goodies and a few candies thrown in for drama, this one is the stuff of nostalgia and childhood food fantasies.
- Hard boiled eggs
- Steaming tureens of porridge
- Fat-fried sausages
- Bacon and eggs piled high on brown toast
- Hunks of fresh farm cheese
- Jugs of creamy milk
- Crusty bread
- Great slabs of butter
- Fresh fruit
- Cherry tarts and liquorice candy
- Potted meat sandwiches
- Cold Ham
- Potatoes baked in their jacket
- Crisp Lettuce
- Pickled onions
- Little mushrooms
- Homemade lemonade
- Fruit salad and jelly
- Fresh clotted cream
- Jam tarts
- Ginger buns
- Hot cocoa
- Chocolate sponge cake
- Google buns
- Pop biscuits with a soft honey centre
Humbugs and bullseyes
- Tongue sandwiches
- Pork pies
- Anchovy paste
- Red radishes
- Parsley potatoes
- Golden hand-churned dairy butter
- Crusty bread
- Lashings of ginger beer
Midnight Feast (Bonus)
- Tinned sardines in tomato sauce
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Tomatoes, onions, carrot, mustard and cress grated up
- A large leg of ham
- A bowl of golden syrup
- Cherry cakes
- Rich chocolate biscuits
- Shortbread biscuits
- Hunks of cheese
- Crusty Bread
- Lashings of ginger beer
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