The latest selection for the Cook the Books online bookclub is Elizabeth Goudge's classic children's story The Little White Horse. This was a suggestion that I made, and I am so pleased Rachel took it up! This has been one of my favourite books since I was a little girl - I am pretty certain that it was read to me many times before I was able to read to myself (I had aunts as well as my mother to read to me).
For me it is a comforting story, from the days before there were worries, when good would triumph and it was perfectly natural for a bossy 13-year old to confront evil-doers with God on her side. And of course the descriptions of the food were so captivating. From the brown eggs eaten with Old Parson and the fresh fish the Black Men grill after they have finished being wicked for the day, it is all wholesome and quite charming.
I think the fact that The Little White Horse was first published in 1946 is significant - all over England there were children who had been evacuated from cities and billeted in country villages with strangers, there was stringent food rationing and many fathers who were soldiers who had died abroad with their regiment. It's a feature of the childrens books of the era that I loved (I am thinking of the Narnia books and Enid Blyton in particular, as well as Elizabeth Goudge's books) that there are these very independent children, not a lot of interference from adults and lavish descriptions of delicious meals.
It took a lot of thought for me to decide what to make for my Cook the Books entry. I wanted it to be significant. I thought about making a veal and ham pie, like the one Marmaduke Scarlet is making the first time Maria meets him. But my pastry is just not good enough - not at all "more like sea-foam than dough". And I thought about pink-iced fairy cakes and candied cherries (it is cherry season here) or decorated sugar biscuits, like the dainties Marmaduke makes to ensure Maria is never for a moment hungry.
In the end I decided that it had to be a warm, comforting homely dish - something that had the emotional resonance of the book for me. So I settled on a dish that Maria doesn't actually get to eat in the book. When she comes home late after being caught out in the storm, she discovers that Sir Benjamin and Miss Heliotrope haven't been at all worried, but have tucked into a supper of pork chops and onions, baked apples and custard and haven't left any for her. A dish of pork chops and onions seemed to have the right amount of comfort in it, and I added apples to it for the nostalgia of the many dishes of sausages with apple gravy my mother and I have eaten over the years. And my flat Le Creuset dutch oven seemed just the sort of thing Marmaduke Scarlet would have tucked into the ashes of a hot fire to bake.
Pork chops with sage, apple and onion
Brown a sliced onion in a little butter in an oven proof dish. Dust 4 pork chops in seasoned flour, and brown well in the pan with the onions. Pour over chicken stock to come half way up the chops, tuck a couple of fresh sage leaves in and around, and arrange 2 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and cut into eighths) on top of the meat. Cover and bake at 170C for 50 minutes to an hour. Serve with green vegetables.