What to do on a rainy summer holiday Thursday? Bake a plum pie, of course. And not just any plum pie – the plum pie from one of our favourite picture books, Each Peach Pear Plum.
Janet Ahlberg’s toothsome illustrations have been taunting us with their buttery perfection ever since we first began reading Allan Ahlberg’s classic. Each time we’d turn the final pages and watch as Tom Thumb and pals devoured that pie by the sweet, fruity spoonful, leaving nary a crumb behind. And each time, I’d make my daughter a promise: one day, we’d bake our own.
But as well as flaky homemade pastry you need a special kind of plum for plum pie – Victoria plums, ideally fresh from the tree, and that means waiting till late summer. So first we tried to find one that we could buy. A plum galette was delicious but plum pie it was not. Apple pies we found, cherry and even gooseberry, but no plum.
And so we waited. And waited. And finally the plums appeared.
There’s a theory that plum pie needs to be served with good custard or perhaps a glug of cream. We ate ours unadorned, and in the company of family and friends – just like in the book. And just as in the book, there was not a crumb left over.
Over the washing up, I got to thinking about other irresistible spreads from children’s literature – that fabulous ad hoc feast that Ratty and Mole put together for the carollers in The Wind in the Willows, the packed lunch that Russell Hoban’s Frances takes to school once she’s finally been weaned off bread and jam, Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice… These often simple morsels stick with you into adulthood even as plot twists and the traits of once beloved characters fade.
I think we’ll have to try a Mad Hatter’s tea party menu next. Meanwhile, if this has you feeling peckish, you’ll find food for thought in Michael Flanagan’s paper about the role that food plays in children’s literature here, and images from Dinah Fried’s Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals to feast your eyes on here.