Growing up, we were not allowed any pre-packaged, pre-cooked, bottled, frozen foods. Food was either out the allotment or made from scratch. For years I only knew that gravy was made from meat juices, onions peppers and cornflour. I remember having Bisto gravy at a friends house and being amazed at the fact it didn’t come with vegetables and lumps. But, that meant at holiday feasts and birthday parties the table was always full of home baked goodies: pineapple upside down cake, sausage rolls, jam tarts, fruit scones, rock buns, cheese and bacon puffs, sausages on sticks, cheese and pineapple, ham and fish paste sandwiches, tinned ham and sandwich spread and sponge cake with rainbow butter-cream icing and jelly tots.
Feasts with my Jamaican relatives were equally good and also cooked from scratch: ackee (related to a lychee and looks like a small brain) and saltfish, caliloo (large spinach), curried goat, sorrel, sweet potato pudding, coconut ice, fried breadfruit, crispy fried plantain, firey jerk pork,succulent jerk chicken and Red Stripe beer. When living in Mexico, my host mother would have weekend feasts of cactus salad, corn soup, chicken and lime tostadas, ceviche, roast spicy chicken and potatoes, corn quesidillas, gringas and tumblers of tequilas. What she didn’t know is that on a Saturday morning we would buy a sticky and salty roast chicken in a bag from the street sellers in Jalisco and eat it in the cinema and then pretend that we were famished when we arrived back home. The chicken trumped popcorn every time.
I still love creating great big feasts on our kitchen table for guests, filling every inch with breakfast delights like waffles, pancakes, bacon, berries, yoghurts, home baked bread and all range of jams, syrups, spreads and cream. I love illustrations of food and can spend hours looking at them. Its impossible not to when you look at the lierary feasts that adorn the pages of children’ literature…
Midnight feasts were the best. Cold sausages and chicken never tasted as good as it did stolen from the fridge at midnight. Our midnight feasts were filled with sherbert dib dabs, wham bars, chewits, smarties and kinder eggs – who knows how we ever went to sleep after eating all of that! Now I’m all grown up – I want midnight feasts of olives and mozarella wrapped in parma ham, cold lemon meringue pie and cold roast potatoes.
Feasts can also be scary. The feast in Pan’s Labyrinth represents temptation and sin – just tasting one grape puts Ofelia in mortal danger. Goolion’s lavish feasts for the little Crat in the Alchemaster’s Apprentice are only to fatten him up for his experiments. The Mad Hatter in Alice and Wonderland is doomed to have tea for ever because he is stuck in time at 6 o’clock.
Eating a picnic in the woods or by a stream is the best outdoor activity. Potato salad and roast gammon tastes much better on a river bank in the open air. Everyone has at one time or the other forced their teddy bears outside to enjoy the delights of porridge and scotch eggs – whether they like them or not. Each Peach Pear Plum (Janet & Allan Ahlberg), Brambly Hedge (Jill Barklem) and Bears’ Picnic were packed goodies like plum pies, blackberry jam and honey sandwiches.
My favourite picnic recipe, however, is a loaf of bread stuffed with hard boiled eggs, salamis, cheese and roasted onions and peppers. Followed closely by sushi.
Frank Buckland – a 19th century zoological foodie – literally ate his way through the animal kingdom. At the Society for the Acclimatization of Animals dinner parties, he would serve dishes like elephant trunk soup, rhinoceros pie and slug soup, kangaroo and porpoise head and roast giraffe, boiled mole and boa constrictor, toasted earwigs. It was rumoured that he once served slices of mermaid.
A list of some great feasts and picnics…
Hot buttered toast
Hard boiled eggs
Fruit cake with almonds
The Faraway Tree (The Land of Tea Parties)
Dewdrop and honey sandwiches,
Tuna fish and strawberry sandwiches,
Oranges and lemon sandwiches,
Pineapple and cucumber sandwiches
Pink cakes, yellow cakes, chocolate cakes, ginger cakes, cakes with fruit and silver balls all over the, cakes with frosting, cakes with flowers made from sugar, cakes as big as could be, and tiny ones only enough for two people.”
The Faraway Tree (A List of the food they eat from the Land of Goodies)
Muffins from the muffin tree,
Cakes from the cake tree,
Peppermint cream windowsills,
Strawberry and cream plant,
Zeralda’s Ogre (Tomi Ungerer)
Zeralda helps a recovering cannibal switch his diet from children to her own gourmet cooking.
Roast suckling pig
Roast chicken with red shoes
Meat Pie and gravy
Asterix and the Banquet
Brambly Hedge – Spring Story
The creatures of Brambly Hedge throw Wilfred Toadflax a birthday picnic in the Spring Story. The rest of the Brambly Hedge series is filled with blackberries,
fruit pies, apple wine, sugared violets and lots and lots of blackberry jam.
Wind in the Willows
Lemonade and soda water.
Harry Potter Feasts
Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans,
Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum,
Chocolate balls full of strawberry mousse and clotted cream,
Pumpkin tart and ice cream.
“Chickens Can’t See in the Dark” by Kristyna Litten features a wonderful illustration of a feast of ‘carrots’ to help the chickens develop night vision.