When I was a little girl I greatly enjoyed reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, which featured chapter after chapter of misbehaving children and their hapless mothers who turned to good old Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for help. The cures ranged from “let the kids stay up late as long as they want until they’re too tired to do anything fun, so they’ll stop complaining about bedtime,” to “I’ll let you borrow my pig with lovely table manners to act as a model/shame your child into eating politely,” to “here are some magic pills that will turn your child invisible whenever he’s showing off.” The books were hopelessly dated even back when I read them– they all involved happy housewives and mostly absent husbands, and everyone wore gloves and attended luncheons and ate ridiculous 1950’s food. Which is what brings me to this, um… masterpiece.
Because really, the 1950’s produced some seriously awful stuff, and while I think that the foods mentioned in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were deliberately exaggerated (prune, noodle, and sardine surprise, anyone?), this one was just too bizarre-yet-plausible to pass up.
The table was decorated with pink tulips, a pink tablecloth, pink candles, pink napkins, and pink nut dishes. The main course was a maraschino cherry, walnut, marshmallow, pineapple, strawberry, cream cheese and cabbage molded salad, accompanied by pink biscuits. There were also pink mints and pink gumdrops. And luckiest of all, Mrs. Harroway just happened to be dressed entirely in pink with even pink gloves and pink roses on her hat. All through lunch she was so happy and gay everybody said, “You look adorable, Helen dear, I wish I’d worn pink.”
I’ve never actually made jelly before. Compote, yes. Curd, sure. Even jam, way back when I was a kid in my grandmother’s kitchen. But jelly? Never. When I was offered a bagful of tiny crabapples and told that they were “great for jelly,” though, I knew that fate was dropping the opportunity in my lap.
I opened the bag and eyed the crabapples dubiously. They were so tiny (seriously, like cherry-sized)– wouldn’t it be a huge hassle to remove the seeds from each and every one? Happily, online recipes assured me that I wouldn’t need to do anything like that– simply cut the stem ends off and halve them. I’d only be draining the apples of juice anyway, not pureeing them or otherwise eating the solids. It actually sounded kind of fun!
I love to read. I love to cook. What better set of projects to undertake than foods inspired by my favorite books? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been comfortably curled up, reading a description of something delicious being eaten/made/thrown by a character, and thought “I wonder what that tasted like?” So I figured that I’d try to bring some of those dishes to life.
First up is a classic from my favorite book in the world, Anne of Green Gables. There are numerous references to food in the book, mostly mentioned in passing (ice cream, chicken salad, chocolate caramels), but a few stand out as plot points. One of those is the layer cake Anne makes for a tea party, despite having a head cold that prevents her from smelling the bottle-full of what she thinks is vanilla extract– with disastrous results, since it’s actually anodyne liniment. Based on the text, the cake is a vanilla-flavored layer cake, sandwiched with jelly.
The cake did rise… and came out of the oven as light and feathery as golden foam. Anne, flushed with delight, clapped it together with layers of ruby jelly and, in imagination, saw Mrs. Allan eating it and possibly asking for another piece!
While the Anne of Green Gables Cookbook (written by Montgomery’s granddaughter) provides a recipe for this cake, reviews indicate that it comes out somewhat dense, which doesn’t jibe with the “light and feathery as golden foam” description in the original book. I decided to go another route, using a hot milk sponge cake recipe which has been around for a while and is supposed to produce a light, tender cake.