I’m working on a picture book that has small furry animals and birds in it. With the exception of Nuts to You (which is about squirrels), it’s a little different than what I usually do. There’s a part where Thomas (a small furry animal) and Lucy (a bird) make a cake together. I’m thinking of including their recipe in the illustration. Which is where I ran into trouble.
I always run into trouble. I have a gift for taking something simple and transforming it into something complicated. It’s just what my mind does. Then I am forced to think it all through, back down into something simple again.
In this case, it was the recipe.
Because I had no problem giving Thomas a picturesque abode inside a tree trunk, with a green door and furniture and rugs and quilts and whatnot — I had no problem giving him a backpack — why not? I will admit I debated about lighting. I decided he does not have electricity. He does have a beautiful hurricane lamp.
But I stumbled, while looking at recipes, on the use of baking powder and baking soda.
Sugar was easy — they could use honey. Or maple syrup. They could make flour from wild oats or wild rice. They could use nut oil for the fat, because, butter?
But how would they have baking soda? I looked it up — it’s basically ground-up rock, either a rock called “nahcolite” or one called “trona. So if they lived where these rocks occur naturally, that’s a possibility. Same for salt — there are salt mines not far from where they live. Or maybe they could chip some away from one of those blocks hunters put in the woods to attract deer. Wash the deer spit off and smash it into bits. Tiny little bits.
And then there is the problem of eggs. It seems really creepy for a bird to make a cake that uses eggs. Plus they would have to be tiny eggs. Hummingbird eggs maybe. And who wants to think about that? Because either they steal them, or mother hummingbird offers them up.
So I looked up “vegan fruitcakes.” Which I found plenty of. They still use baking soda.
I looked up “pioneer fruitcakes,” thinking they might have had some resourceful (or resource-less) recipes. But it turns out that those pioneers used lots of butter (or lard), eggs, and sugar.
I remembered a cake-like kind of bread, “essene bread,” that natural foods stores sometimes sell, that is made according to an ancient Biblical recipe. Really tasty. I used to toast it and put a poached egg on top. But it involves sprouting wheat, which takes time. And is not something my readers or their busy parents are likely to do.
I consulted Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, which I adore. Her country mouse makes a soup of barley and corn and a root stew for dinner, with a “rich nut cake” for dessert. She offers no recipe. There is also mint tea — fair enough. Her country mouse wears overalls and a checkered shirt, and has a bundt pan! There is a stick of butter on his table. His log (literally) home has overstuffed furniture, a woodstove, and is lit with candles. I think we can all agree that electricity would be going too far.
I revisited Wind in the Willows. It had been awhile, but I seemed to remember champagne. First page: brooms, dusters, ladders, chairs, and whitewash. Mole and Rat’s luncheon basket contains cold chicken, as well as: “coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinsaladfrenchrollscressandwidgespottedmeat-gingerbeerlemonadesodawater.”
Bright fires in the parlour. Dressing gowns and slippers. Off to the nearest village for milk and eggs and various necessaries. So. And of course, the very expensive motor car.
I think it’s interesting how we draw our lines.
All this to say, the eggs still creep me out too much. But I’m going to let them have baking soda. And even butter. I mean — he has a backpack.
How about a banana or applesauce or flax seeds for the eggs?
Still researching this part. All of these are possibilities. 🙂
My head is spinning! Afraid you’ll get no assist from me on this one, but I await developments. 🙂
Nancy Allen is on the case!
Brilliant thinking in so many ways. What about fermentation? Does that help things rise?
hmmm . . . .
It’s this kind of careful thinking and exploration that gives a book integrity within its world. I see no inconsistency with allowing the furry person to have a backpack and an apron and a butter dish and salt and baking soda. It’s hard, though, to reconcile having a bird use eggs to make a cake. I agree with you on the placement of that line. I wonder if Beatrix Potter might offer a solution?
I did explore my pocket sized selection. There were eggs in the Squirrel Nutkin book.
I love this, Lynne. I see the conundrum. Have you tried “survivor in nature” kind of searches. It seems like there has to be a recipe for some kind of cake made out of hazelnuts and moss or something. Doesn’t it? I agree, eggs creep me out too In terms of this perfect little story.
Carrie, I did come across some survival-type things. I moved on fairly quickly, but perhaps I should go back . . . something will arise.
The first blog I attempted was Comocimo –
COuntry MOuse CIty MOuse – for I love the concept. Your execution is exquisite and I covet the backpack.
I love the Country Mouse City Mouse concept, too. We recently visited our son in high tech Palo Alto, and I definitely felt myself the country mouse.
Hi Lynne Rae
Maybe they could do a sort of journeycake made with nuts. Also Italians make unleavened cakes with chestnut flour. I think they do have eggs. I’ll look up some recipes. Get back to you. ❤️
Yayyy! Thanks, Nancy!
I just loved reading your thought process. This is the kind of thing kids ought to know that we don’t just “write about what we know.” Sometimes we have to learn the things we know in order to write. I suppose they could start to make a cake but when they realize what goes in it, they decide to make something else- like a fruit salad. HAHA
Yeah. What if they find a recipe and try to convert it to their way? Or not.
still mulling over all of this.
If your tree trunk dwelling place has been a generations-deep sort of a kitchen, and the inhabitants– former and present– happen to have been bread bakers, then wouldn’t the environment be richly endowed with ambient yeasts that could leaven a cake left to rise a bit in a warm spot? No Lady Baltimore Cake this way, but maybe something toothsome nevertheless? Or so wonders Libby
Perhaps a bit complicated for a picture book, but I love your thinking!