Thursday, 11 June 2009

Cook the Books - The Little White Horse

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.

21 comments:

Natashya said...

Such perfectly comforting fare. Great choice! Thank you for introducing us to this book, I had never heard of it before. I am just about done, and my (grown) daughter wants to read it next.

Rachel said...

There is nothing like grilled fish after one is done "being wicked for the day". That was a very funny line, Foodycat.

I second Natashya's thanks for introducing us to this charming book. I kept thinking as I read it that Goudge's prose would be even more interesting read aloud, but unfortunately my two teen girls didn't want me to read to them as I used to when they were little. I should have borrowed a child, I guess.

Your homey pork chop roast seems a perfect tribute to the book.

Foodycat said...

Natashya - I am so glad you enjoyed it!

Rachel - I still love being read to.

kat said...

This is not a book I've ever heard of. That dish does sound so comforting

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Foodycat, the pork chops with the apples sounds as fascinating as does the story. I will be going to B & N to look for it. Thanks for the lovely dish.

Foodycat said...

Kat - it's very English! I guess better known over here.

Teresa - I hope you like it! I am a big fan of children's books.

Leslie said...

Pork and apples..Perfect..add onion..even more perfect!
BTW: your comment on my salmon post
"Wow - that's a second healthy dish in a couple of weeks! Are you feeling OK?" CRACKED ME UP!!!

The Cat's Mother said...

Delicious. Hard to go past sausages (or pork chops) in apple gravy.

The big spread for afternoon tea lives on in England so maybe it predates WW2 rationing?

Foodycat said...

Leslie - thanks!

Mother - the food itself is definitely pre-war, but the way of writing about it I think is very typical of the 40s and 50s.

Esi said...

What a comforting dish to go with a comforting book.

Debinhawaii said...

Loved the book--thank you for suggesting it--I want to read more of her work. Your dish is perfect for the book too--excellent comfort food!

Foodycat said...

Esi - thanks!

Deb - I am so pleased you enjoyed it! I had recommender's remorse. Try Linnets and Valerians next!

Joanne said...

This does look incredibly homey! I loved your review of the book. Thanks so much for suggesting it.

girlichef said...

This was such a great book selection! So fun...and I had never heard of it. I thought it very reminiscent of CS Lewis & Tolkien (as far as symbolism). Your pork sound so comforting and delicious :)

ARLENE said...

What a tasty meal you've recreated. I am sure I would savor it.

Foodycat said...

Joanne - I am so pleased you liked it!

Girlichef - I know what you mean. Maybe Marmaduke is a hobbit? They cook well.

Arlene - thank you!

cantbelieveweate said...

You made a perfectly lovely choice of books for us, and now you've created a perfectly lovely, welcoming dish! Thanks for sharing...I agree with Rachel...should have borrowed a child to read to!

Claudia said...

Thanks for the wonderful suggestion. I'd never heard of it before. I now want to try the pork chops with apples and onions too.

Suzie said...

What a lovely thoughtful post about the book, and a delicious looking recipe as well. Thanks for your choice - I am confident it is a book I never would have otherwise read.

Foodycat said...

Can'tbelieveweate - I think I need to give it to some friends with children. Life can't all be Dora the Explorer and Hannah Montana!

Claudia - if you like pork chops I can pretty much guarantee these!

Suzie - I am pleased that so many adults enjoyed reading it!

Simona said...

How very nice! And I like what you wrote about the historical background.

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