“The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion Cafe” by Jenny Oliver
The Cherry Pie Island as used in this book, is a fictional version of the rather well known Eel Pie Island in the River Thames at Twickenham.
Eel Pie Island was earlier called Twickenham Ait and, before that, The Parish Ait. An ait or eyot is a small island. It is especially used to refer to river islands found on the River Thames and its tributaries.
Eel Pie Island is to be found on the ordnance Survey map of 1876 but was known by Dickens when he wrote Nicholas Nickleby in 1838-9. In the 15th century it was known as Gose Eyte and the Parish Ayte in the 17th century. This refers to the fact that it was either a nesting island for geese or was being used for geese being fattened for the table perhaps. It was a popular island for picnics in the 19th century and was famous for eel pies! Yes, real eels… caught in the Thames and cooked in sauce and then placed in a pie. The traditional recipe was developed by Mrs Beeton and a version is given here.
Based on the original Mrs Beeton’s 1861 Recipe for an Eel Pie.
Ingredients: 450g eels 2 tbsp parsley, chopped 1 shallot, finely chopped freshly-grated nutmeg, to taste salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste juice of 1/2 lemon 100g fish forcemeat 150ml béchamel sauce 200g puff pastry
Begin by preparing the eels. To skin and gut, hold it down by the head on a solid work surface with a towel (an eel is very slippery). With a sharp knife, make an incision around the neck, just below the head. The thick filmy skin will separate. Grip the skin with a pair of pliers, and pull it down the length of the eel to the tail and cut it off. Make a slit down the length of the stomach and pull out the innards. Rinse the eel well under cold running water.
Cut the eels into pieces 5cm long then line the base of your pie dish with the forcemeat. Arrange the eels on top then scatter over the parsley and shallot. Season with the nutmeg, salt and black pepper then sprinkle over the lemon juice.
Cover with the puff pastry then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for 1 hour. Heat the béchamel sauce in a pan, make a hole in the top of the pie then pour in the sauce and serve.
Read more at Celtnet: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-mrs-beeton-eel-pie
Copyright © celtnet
Now eels are still eaten and in my Doyle’s Fish CookBook recipes for them start with a little verse:
Strange the formation of the eely race
That know no sex, yet love the close embrace
Their folded lengths they round each other twine
Twist amorous knots and slimy bodies join.
Apparently this verse comes from another fish cookbook by Theo Roughley.
Doyle gives us 4 recipes for eel but none are a pie.
An eel is any fish belonging to the order Anguilliformes and is a predator.and includes conger and morays as well as the rather less fearsome variety that swims in the Thames – and although they are far from common now they were very common in the Victorian era hence the pies.
Coming back to the island it was not until 1957 that a bridge was completed. Today, the island has about 50 houses with 120 inhabitants, a couple of boatyards and some small businesses and artists’ studios. It has nature reserves at either end. So as you can see – from both this description and the photos – that it makes a perfect Cherry Pie Island. It also has a famous recording studio named after it by Pete Townsend and is known for its bands and music too.
The first picture shows the island in the large bend in the Thames and the small amount of habitation and the 2 areas of nature reserve on either end. The bridge to Twickenham can also be seen.
The second photo shows some of the habitations on the island – many of which are owned by artists – note that the whole island is actually private land.
See also the descriptions of the island in: https://littlelondonobservationist.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/exploring-eel-pie-island
So having identified the island we can now move onto the book.
It was a short but cosy read. Opening cafes is a genre that is as popular as opening books shops. Is this because hidden in so many women is the secret desire to run a cafe and in avid book readers to run a book shop? I know I wouldn’t mind either… and in fact only last night a friend said I should run a community book shop as I had so many ideas for how to do so..
Taking a run-down cafe /shop and filling it with antiques/upcycled/recycled/vintage items is very popular too. My brother-in-law’s favourite cafe runs on donated vintage (not necessarily matching) cups and saucers. And lots of cafes look like they’ve rummaged through a second-hand store for their tables and chairs. So very of the moment in how the cafe was fitted out even though it was done as a cost cutting exercise in the book.
Naming the poor boy ‘River’ was a shame – River Phoenix comes to mind and is so trendy of the pop star/film star variety – where children have names which seem cute when they are little but are an embarrassment when they grow up.
Looking up the book I find that this is just the first of a series and it does have that feel – that there are plenty more stories of the inhabitants yet to come – which I might just read in due course.
So overall, it was an enjoyable if light reading experience and I give it 3 stars.