Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Desert Island Books - Part 1

I've always loved reading as far back as I can remember, I think the first book I ever owned, certainly the first I can remember, was Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day by Alison Uttley and for that reason alone it remains one of my favourites. I possess hundreds and hundreds of books though few of them are fiction. Not that I don't read fiction but mostly it is borrowed from the library or bought in paperback and then passed on when I've read it. The books I keep are mostly to do with the things I'm interested in so I have a lot of gardening books, cookery books both old and modern, books on knitting and other crafts, books about the Home Front in WW2, books about family history and local history and country life and so it goes on. If I was banished to a desert island with only a dozen of my books I'd be very hard-pressed to choose which they would be. Among them though would be Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day for the happy childhood memories it brings.

Also among the favoured few would be the two volumes (counting as one book!)of Meta Given's Encyclopaedia of Cookery, it fell open at the page containing my favourite recipe - Quick Apple Streusel Coffee Cake. I made that a lot when the children were young. Clicking and enlarging the picture should make it readable I think.

I've always been attracted to cookery books that give a week's or a month's menus, Meta Given went one better and did a whole year - breakfast, lunch and dinner! It's an American book published in the 1940s and I came across it by chance in a secondhand bookshop. My friend C in New Hampshire supplied a set of US cup and spoon meaures and translations of words I didn't recognize.

The Scented Garden by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde is a delight to read, there are lyrical descriptions of all the wonderful scented flowers and shrubs that grow in English gardens from the winter months then spring and summer through to autumn or as she calls it 'the afternoon of the year'. The last part of the book has the most wonderful recipes for sweet bags, pot pourri and other delights taken from old manuscripts and books such as A Queen's Delight (1664) and Delights For Ladies (1594). Finally there are plant lists which are perhaps a touch out of date as far as the names go since the book was originally published in 1931 and the botanists have been busy changing names since then - often more than once!

Letters From Compton Deverell was discovered in a secondhand bookshop near Saffron Walden about 30 years ago and was the first of my collection of books by 'BB' who was both an artist and naturalist as well as a sportsman. It is in the form of a series of letters to a young man posted abroad telling of the passing seasons in the English countryside. The year it describes happens to be my first one in this world beginning with the winter of 1946 which was one of the worst in living memory.

England Is A Village by C Henry Warren is illustrated by 'BB' and was written during the first months of WW2 and is again just about daily life in an English village - a world and way of life that no longer exists.

Another children's book now though I didn't actually read it until a few years ago. I read a magazine article about the garden of a small manor house in Huntingdonshire called Hemingford Grey. A few weeks later I was driving down to Suffolk when I spotted a signpost for Hemingford Grey and as I had time to spare I decided to detour and visit the garden. This happy spur of the moment decision opened up a magical world for me, the garden is lovely and there is a small shop which is where I discovered the Green Knowe books by Lucy Boston. I met the present owner of the house who is Lucy Boston's daughter-in-law and she told me that the house and garden are the setting for the books and that it was possible to book a tour of the house. I didn't have time that day but I bought the first of the books and a few weeks later I went back to see the house and bought the rest of the series. The house is quite magical and dates back to the 11th century, it is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the country. There is a wonderful collection of patchwork quilts there too as Lucy Boston was not only an author and talented gardener but also made the most beautiful quilts. During the tour I was fortunate enough to be allowed to hold the original of the little ebony mouse from the story - everyone else had to be satisfied with just seeing it:)
This seems to be turning into another of my novels so I'll do the other 6 books in a seperate post.


Lynda (Granny K) said...

Great post, Rowan. I read Lucy Boston's book about her quiltmaking. (Had to order it from the Library). It must have been a real treat to visit the house.

Jenny said...

I think we have very similar taste in books! I'd love to read every one of the books you listed. And visit Hemingford Grey too, of course! What a wonderful idea for a post- I may have to come up with my own list. And I for one enjoy your "novels"!

Mary said...

Rowan, I'm not familiar with these books however have so enjoyed reading about them all.
I love old books, old recipes, tales of the old days - just an old romantic fool am I! A favorite pastime is to take my granddaughter to two local used book shops where we just browse for hours, usually ending up with several wonderful books which we'd never find in a new big box book store. The Waterhouse pre-Raphaelite paintings I posted were from one such gorgeous book. Nice thing is they cost next to nothing too!
Oh yes, something else to do next week - last week before school starts back - we'll be off to the book shop.

kate said...

Rowan, this was such a good post to read. I loved reading about the books that you treasure. I think I would so enjoy 'The Scented Garden' and would have a magical time reading both childrens' books.

'The Letters of Compton Deverell' sound fascinating ... and thank you for the recipe ... I am going to try it!

miss*R said...

what a great collection of books! I love the sound of 'England is a village' - I am looking for some books by Beverly Nicholls - The Allways Trilogy and others.. have you heard of them? My childhood book is called 'Snugglepot & Cuddlepie' by May Gibbs..

Remiman said...

You've armed yourself well for a prolonged stay on a desserted island.
I'll have to peruse my collection closely to choose only ten.

Rosie said...

I've really enjoyed reading this post - what a wonderful selection of books and on so many interesting topics, you have certainly got me thinking about the books I would want to have with me on a desert island.

smilnsigh said...

"...just about daily life in an English village - a world and way of life that no longer exists."

And these are the loveliest of books.

And that Little Grey Rabbit book must be precious.

I too tend to non-fiction.


meggie said...

Rowan I just adore your posts!

Angela Austin said...

I have been meaning to do a tidy up my books and so I shall do them today with the inspiration of picking the top ten.
Thank you for your blog, i am a homeschooled mommy and your blog is like having someone who cares enough to share inner thoughts with me and you keep me so inspired !
Thanks Rowan

Julie Marie said...


I had not heard of a single one of these books before. I so enjoyed reading about them - especially the ones from your childhood. One of my earliest favorites was a Little Golden Book called "Baby Susan's Chicken".


PAT said...

Rowan this is such a beautiful post! I enjoyed it so much!

When going through things for our sale, I found an old loose leaf binder with pages and pages of recipes, I had cut from Better Homes and Gardens magazine issues, during the 1960's. I don't think I'll put it in the sale.


Gemma said...

Hi Rowan...I remember visiting here are you? I came over from Robyn's....absolutely love old books too.

Amy said...

I'm so glad someone else apart from me collects old recipe books mine are worth their weight in gold, my kids love old annuals, as a child I love Lucy Atwell books...still can't forget those :-)

peppylady said...

Oh I have some older cook books that my mom and grandma had some of the terms they use in them are out dated now.
But the recipes are still yummy.

Ragged Roses said...

What a wonderful collection of books Rowan - I made an apple cake over the weekend which was very similar to the one that you mentioned, it was delicious. I love Little Grey Rabbit too.

Jacran Cottage said...

What a lovely collection of old books. I like old books as well, especially cookbooks and ettiquette books. But "Letters from Compton Deverell" and England is a Village" looks just the think I'd love to read! Thanks so much for sharing these.

Val said...

Ah it warms the cockles of a librarian's heart to see you sharing your love of books, and your special ones so beautifully presented and explained lovingly.

Quite an outstanding post - have you thought of sending it (only slightly modified) to a journal or two for publication?

Such an enjoyable piece of writing and photographs!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, like yourself I'm also a book worm, and I love books on the English countryside, so reading your post has given me idea's for new books.

Take Care