Famous Five picnic

Just this week the Guardian were talking about Famous Five picnic food which reminded me of a favourite post from 2012……

Before Baby-Gusto was even thought of, H-G and I both discussed how we wanted any children we might have to grow up loving the same books that we did. For H-Gusto that included all the CS Forrester Hornblower series, and for me it included all the ‘Jill’ pony books by Ruby Ferguson, ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘The Railway Children’ by E Nesbit and of course ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton.

I must have been pretty food oriented even then, because several of my memories of these books are based firmly around what the characters ate. I recalled Jill and her friend Ann after a showjumping session with their feet up on the Aga eating hot buttered toast and drinking cocoa. How I envied them for having their own ponies and wished that they would be my friends. One of my enduring memories of the Linda Craig series, set in the Wild West, was that they ate something strange called ‘slaw’. It took me until almost the end of the book before I realised that this exotic sounding dish was the rather banal coleslaw that featured in every family BBQ.

But the books I loved most for the sheer fantasy AND the food was the Famous Five series. I was so envious of the Famous Five. For going to Boarding school and having tuck boxes. For having their own Island AND for the endless summer days and picnics that they seemed to have. Those children always seemed to be eating!

After B-G arrived I bought the entire Famous Five series. (Did you know there were 21 books? No, me neither). Then I set about to read the lot. I am currently on number 13, ‘Five go to mystery moor’ and am flagging, I will admit. It is hard to re-read a story you loved as a child with adult eyes. Every time the five go camping on their own I wonder ‘what on EARTH are their parents thinking?’

That aside. The food and the picnics remain as fascinating to me as ever. So after about book 3 I found myself jotting down all their meals, and then a few weeks ago when we realised that the day was going to be the last blast of summer with a 28 degrees predicted, H-Gusto and I thought it might be a bit of fun to have a Famous Five picnic. So, after sustained and committed ‘research’ (flicking through all 21 books while sipping wine) I found out that the Five were remarkably constant in their meals. Those kids ate alot of sandwiches. Despite popular legend, they never seemed to have ‘lashings and lashing of ginger beer’ – good thing too as H-G’s homemade ginger beer is very seriously alcoholic and we approach it cautiously – so the final menu looked like this;

Ham sandwiches
Potted meat sandwiches
Cheese and tomato sandwiches
Fruit cake
Hard boiled eggs with a screw of salt

In other words, a proper, authentic, no frills picnic. H-G flatly refused to believe that it was even possible to get potted meat anymore which I knew to be wrong as certainly the local Co-op has shelves of the stuff. So I went to the Co-op, bought up big and we went off for our very own 50’s inspired, retro Famous Five picnic.

The weather may have been ‘warm’ but it was also very very windy. We went down to The Green in Cowes and sat on the shingle looking out at the sea. We ate our sandwiches, ate our fruit cake, tried to convince B-G that it was fun to shovel up shingle into his child’s bucket, and then went for ice cream. All in all, a nice day. Unlike the Five however, we did not witness the theft of any jewels or smugglers.

Maybe that happens on the other side of the Island.





Seed Cake


This cake was immensely popular in Georgian and Victorian times. It also features heavily in my Famous Five-style retro picnic fantasies. The seed in question are caraway seeds. This version does not use yeast, so beating the batter hard is a must.


225 g self-raising flour

1  teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 tspoon cinnamon

25-30 g caraway seeds

225 softened butter

225 g golden caster sugar

2 large eggs separated.

line and grease your cake tin.

Sift flour and spices into a bowl. add caraway seeds. Cream the butter and sugar in and mix very thoroughly. Add the egg yolks and mix. Whip the egg whites until they are stiff and then mix in thoroughly. Pour into the tin and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about an hour. Check though after 40 minutes or so by inserting a skewer in the centre. My cake took just under an hour but the oven I was using tends to run a bit ‘hot’.

The texture of the cake is very crumbly. Husband-Gusto said it would be perfect with a small glass of sherry. He ate it plain, but I spread it with  thin layer of butter and added a pinch of salt.

Now… for a hot summer so we can actually go on a picnic….

Cowes Week Day 8 – Ryde.


Well, we are officially Cowes Week’d out. It has been a great week of parties parties. Lunches lunches. Walks walks. Sun, sailing and lots and lots of lovely Pimms.

Sigh. Great week, but today for the last day, after a terrific evening that featured the glorious Red Arrows and fireworks, today we decided to give the last day of festivities a big fat miss and went instead to Ryde. We spent hours playing on the beach, and at the park and had a picnic.


I also wandered in to Appley Tower and came out rather poorer (as did Mummy-Gusto who had to loan some funds- having bought H-G his birthday present. Appley Tower now is home to a rather impressive display of rocks, crystals and fossils.


Our picnic featured….

Egg and cress sandwiches

Cream cheese and olive sandwiches

ham, cheese and piccalilli sandwiches

chicken, tomato and cheese sandwiches

blueberries, grapes

Water and wine for those of us who were not driving.

Great final day to Cowes Week.

Oh- and ice cream.