Famous Five picnic: Menus That Made History bonus material

We wrote more chapters for Menus That Made History than we could cram into the final book so over the next few days I'm going to post up the half a dozen which didn't make the final cut. First in line is the picnic from Five Go Off in a Caravan, 1946:

Hard-boiled eggs 
Bread and butter 
Plums (freshly picked)

In all 21 of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy (woof) enjoy their food, especially their frequent picnics. This one in their circus-themed outing boasts a typical menu as well as the iconic moment when George points out that: “I don't know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors.” So central to their adventures is al fresco munching that the cover of the modern satire Five Go Gluten Free shows them all on a picnic at which Anne is spiralising courgettes and carrots, while Julian and Dick are revolted by a very green health drink.

What’s not clear is when the original books are set. The first four were published during the second world war, yet this does not intrude on the action. Their well-balanced and never fanciful diet reflects the austerity eating of the period – most of the Five’s adventures were written while food rationing was in place (sugar and sweets came off in 1953, meat and everything else the following year). However, once you start totting up their general consumption, it appears to be well above the allowance. For example, they eat “lashings of hard-boiled eggs” even though the weekly ration for children was three a week (one for adults); in the menu featured here, Anne actually pleads: “Can everyone eat two eggs?”

The over the top descriptions of food are probably included for the same reason that Evelyn Waugh went to town on them in Brideshead Revisited. In the 1959 revised edition of his novel which first came out in 1945, he admits that as he was writing at a bleak period of privation and soya beans “the book is infused with a kind of gluttony for food and wine”. The Famous Five picnics are similarly vicarious menus, to be savoured and longed for by the reader.

The Five’s indoor meals are filled with hams and bacon, salads, carrot, and creamy milk. There is plenty of ginger beer too of course and the occasional monster plate of macaroons (Five on Finniston Farm). Chocolates and drinks like orangeade appear after the war, but not in vast quantities and while food remains hearty, it continues to be healthy rather than glamorous. Picnics are more likely to include radishes, tomatoes, cake (cherry, ginger, or general fruit), plus a bone for Timmy, and especially sandwiches – the two years of bread rationing immediately after the war ended have no impact on the Five’s consumption.

Fillings vary but include lettuce and Spam, sardine, cucumber dipped in vinegar, (Five Go Off to Camp), ham (Five on a Secret Trail), potted meat (Five on Kirrin Island Again), and sausagemeat (for Timmy, made by George in Five Get Into Trouble). There is a section of half a dozen pages in Five on a Hike Together devoted simply to making a vast quantity of sandwiches, including cheese, egg, and ham, all packed in grease-proof paper. Two of the most unusual fillings come in Five Have Plenty of Fun (1954) via the Five’s American friend Berta. Dick reads the label of the tin of ‘Snick-Snacks’ and notes that it contains “Shrimp, lobster, crab and a dozen other things all in one tin. Sounds good.” Then Anne finds a tin of ‘Gorgies’ which she assumes is so-named because people gorge themselves on it. No details of what it actually contains are revealed and they are both rare in that foreign food is not usually on the menu.

Two specialist cookbooks help the famished reader recreate the Five’s picnics and other meals, Five Go Feasting: Famously Good Recipes by Josh Sutton and Jolly Good Food by Allegra McEvedy.