For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the food people eat in books. Reading descriptions of food in fiction, I remember thoughts along the lines of “I want to eat that,” and, as I grew older, “I want to replicate that.” The food in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books was especially captivating. At my parents’ house in the Catskills, not content to eat potatoes baked in the oven, I would put mine in the fireplace. “It’s really good,” I would insist, as I chipped away the black carbonized exterior to get at what remained of my potato. When I was about 12, I was given the Little House Cookbook. I tried to make maple candy by pouring barely-caramelized maple syrup on snow (like chewy brown Rorschach blots; not an improvement), ice cream without a churn, in a bowl of salted ice (disastrous), and “Johnny Cakes.” (I don’t remember much, except that they were virtually inedible.) Someone later explained to me that the reason why Ingalls Wilder so vividly described food, and why it all sounded so delicious, was because she spent most of her childhood hungry.
As a youthful Anglophile, I found English food especially intriguing. (No, really.) Everything was exotic. The English drank sweet, milky tea in the afternoon. (In my household, tea was served black and unsweetened, with babka, after dinner.) They had toast with butter and jam for breakfast! They ate flamed Christmas pudding with suet (I’d been reading a lot of Dickens), and Yorkshire pudding, whatever the heck that was. But the ne plus ultra of English cookery was the mysterious crumpet. I WANTED CRUMPETS. I wanted to make crumpets. Somewhere I found a recipe for crumpets and I made them. Again, and again, and again. My poor parents. Continue reading