Throughout the history of writing, food enjoyed in childhood has been placed on a pedestal. Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory, consists of a number of loving paeans to the food he remembers from his youth in pre-revolutionary Russia: his mother’s mushrooms deep-fried in butter; awkward meals at the dinner table with his priggish French governess. Likewise, Proust immortalises the humble madeleine by taking the reader on an epic journey through the narrator’s boyhood in In Search of Lost Time. Here’s a short compendium of the most memorable scenes of food in our favourite children’s books, and where to try them for real…
Pippi Longstocking’s pancakes
Courageous, animal-loving and armed with an indefatigable curiosity about the world, Pippi Longstocking has been an iconoclast in the world of children’s literature for decades now. She’s also a surprisingly good cook – in Pippi Moves into Villa Villekulla, we are offered a tantalising account of how she makes pancakes for her friends, Tommy and Annika. While they might not be Swedish, the pancakes at Sunday in Barnsbury, are the fluffiest you’ll find in London. They also come with a generous wallop of honeycomb cream and maple syrup. Go early to avoid queues.
Chicken with dumplings in Fantastic Mr Fox
From chocolate rivers in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Snozzcumbers in The BFG, food has been represented in a multitude of mischievous and inventive ways in Roald Dahl’s books. But it’s the nefarious Boggins, the ‘enormously fat’ chicken farmer who Mr Fox repeatedly outwits, who makes this list for his proclivity for eating ‘three boiled chickens smothered with dumplings every day for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner’. The Polish restaurant Daquise, in South Kensington, does both separately but with great finesse: try either the pierogi dumplings stuffed with meat and cheese, or the chicken in a pot served in a hearty broth.
Chocolate cake from The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Nobody ought to say no to a moist, rich slice of chocolate cake, and who better to impart this solid piece of wisdom than the eponymous character of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. True that he devours other delicacies while on his way to becoming a butterfly (including cherry pie, Swiss cheese and a sausage) but it is indubitably the chocolate cake that has made every child’s mouth water. Look no further than Home Sweet Home in Manchester for a dazzling array of cakes served in whoppingly huge portions – just be careful not to overindulge as there is no lepidopteran transformation at the end of it for us.
Feasting on words in The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster’s beloved classic, featuring a bored boy on an adventure in the Kingdom of Wisdom, has his characters eating subtraction stew (which makes the consumer hungrier after the first bite), synonym buns and my favourite of all, multiplication milk (the drinker cannot stop at one). While you’re not likely to find any of these at any given establishment in London, you can recreate the scrumptious feast in the book by avoiding the touristy Borough Market and heading to Maltby Street Market in the vicinity instead. Have yourself a meal fit for King Azaz the Unabridged but starting with a Bad Brownie, a grilled cheese sandwich and the irresistible African Volcano peri peri burger, then wash it down after with a gin cocktail from Little Bird Gin.
Sandwiches in A Wrinkle in Time
Before her protagonists go off on a mission to rescue their father, impressively making use of quantum physics in doing so, Madeleine L’Engle first has them enjoying hot chocolate and sandwiches in their kitchen. The delightful Fresh from the Sea in Cornwall makes a tasty meal out of fresh crabs and lobsters caught right on the shop’s doorstep, stuffed between slices of wholemeal bread.