Ernest H. Shepard
Throwing the windows open, pushing up your sleeves, getting a little bit dirty. Nothing’s quite as rousing as a good spring clean. Cobwebs in the mind swept out with the cobwebs lurking in the corners. Re-alphabetising books might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but had I not been doing just that, I wouldn’t have come across this from Kenneth Grahame:
‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs…till he had dust in his throat and eyes…and an aching back and weary arms...It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and "O blow!” and also “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.’
That first paragraph of The Wind in the Willows is one of the most delicious beginnings to any book I know. Like Mole, my tidying had been halted and was to be so for a couple of lazy, book-filled hours. Alphabetising has its charms. I wouldn’t have come across another gem, placed by me on the wrong shelf had tidying not been firmly on the brain.
Melinda of Melbourne Larder wrote in July about a rather grandly-titled Bible Cake, a recipe gleaned from her beloved grandmother’s cookbook. I too am custodian of my grandmother’s recipe book, written in her familiar, slightly wonky hand writing.
Unsurprisingly there was no need to fight for it given the tiny size of our family. I asked. I received. The book itself, hand-bound in red, was made by my father and stands as a reminder that bookbinding is a skill high school woodwork teachers, those younger than dad, no longer possess. Shame really. I would have enjoyed the Industrial Arts a great deal more had I learned to wield an awl, sew booklets of paper and stretch leather over thick layers of board. Mind you I did make a barbeque fork with an excellent double twist in the handle in year 7 metal work, long since lost in my travels. Haven’t ever had a barbeque to use it on. How un-Australian.
Grandma learned to cook as a servant, in the kitchens of much grander homes. She wasn’t a fancy cook. No deep-fried lemon zest in these pages. Baking was her thing, and very good at it she was. In fact there are only two savoury recipes in the whole book – one for Quiche Lorraine and another for Cheese Scones. There are recipes with wild names like Impossible Pie and Champagne Pastry; recipes attributed to women who, like my grandmother, are no longer around. But my favourite by far is a recipe for Mock Nougat Bars, an oat-y, chewy slice that sounds very like something copied, possibly, from the Australian Women’s Weekly in WWII – a substitute for something exotic in far leaner times. Unthinkably easy to make and very adaptable, I like to imagine that the oats and wholegrain flours make up just a little for that whole cup of sugar, but I’m fairly sure that I’m fooling no-one but myself.
Mock Nougat Bars
Why Mock Nougat? Who knows. It’s had many incarnations in my lifetime. This, then, is the current favourite. Add any dried fruits or nuts you like, use all white flour, omit the chocolate. Sweet spices like cinnamon and ground ginger work very well. Over to you. It’s dense and chewy and a good-ish snack every once in a while.
125g of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup sugar
½ cup of wholemeal flour
½ cup of brown rice flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 egg, lightly beaten
Small handful of glace ginger, chopped
Small handful of dried fruit
Small handful of chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 160 C.
Melt the butter and golden syrup together over a low heat. Cool.
Mix the dry ingredients together, add the cooled butter and golden syrup, followed by the beaten egg and mix well. Mix in the ginger, fruit and chocolate chips. Spread out in a baking-paper lined rectangular tin (approx 20 x 30 cms), pressing down with the back of a spoon to even the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cool in the tin and cut into fingers while still warm.