Sophie Blackall Illustration

Drawings and Snippets and Breaking News, (but more snippets than breaking news).

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 6, A Completely Justifiable Research Trip to England

Not that I really need to justify a trip to England, but I really, truly had things to do there that couldn't be done on the internet, like visiting the archives of the London Zoo (for another book, more on that to come) and to do an Ivy and Bean Day event at the wonderful bookshop, Ottie and the Bea in South East London. But while I was there, visiting family in Somerset, A Fine Dessert was never far from my mind. Call me obsessed; you wouldn't be the first.
My cousin and his wife live in a ridiculously picturesque hamlet in Somerset. I'm not going to tell you what it's called because you'll all want to go there and the hamlet dwellers would be mad.
They live next door to this excellent pig called Blossom...
And down the lane from this fairytale Medieval roundhouse built by their friend the local thatcher...
...who also makes cider.
 It was harvest time at the local cider mill...
 ...which was momentarily distracting...
...but I was looking for blackberries.
The lanes were dripping with them...
...and just dripping, generally.
 But in the evenings they turned golden.
The blackberries were smaller and firmer than their American counterparts (I draw no cultural observations here)...
...and the fool we made came out a deep purple, almost tarmac color. But was equally delicious.
There were more thatched farmhouses than you could poke a stick at.

 And we visited Montacute which has a wobbly hedge...
And through the wobbly hedge, is an ice house.

 In A Fine Dessert, in 1710 the farmer's wife and her daughter made the blackberry fool, then Emily Jenkins writes, "They carried the mixture to an ice pit in the hillside. It chilled near sheets of winter ice, packed with reeds and straw." I have been reading everything I can find about ice pits and ice houses and the making of iced desserts in the 18th century. This ice house was constructed in a similar way to a stone well. I couldn't quite imagine where the dish of blackberry fool would be placed to chill. I'm wondering whether perhaps they would have transported small chunks of the ice back to the kitchen instead. Emily suggested I write to Lynne Olver, the expert food historian at the Food Timeline, and I'm holding my breath for her response. In the meantime I drew a sketch of them carrying the mixture to the icepit in the hill, because it would make a nice image, and a perfect excuse to paint the English sky. But we'll see what Ms Olver says.
 ps The one tree hill I used in the drawing is part of the cider mill. Click below to visit their website.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 5

As I threatened a few weeks ago, I am sharing the whole messy process of this book, A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins – the decision-making, the research, the false leads, the mistakes, the happy accidents, even the paralysis – as it's being made. Here's how a recent day went:
In the second century of making the blackberry fool, around 1810, we are introduced to a slave and her daughter, working in the kitchen of a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. Just as I tracked down my farmhouse in Lyme, I had a picture in my head of the plantation I wanted to draw: white, with Georgian columns and an avenue of wriggly oak trees. I had a hard time finding a reference for the perfect house. So many of them were burnt down in the Civil War, or had porticoes or wings or columns added over the decades. I settled on Hampton Plantation, which was built in 1735 and suited my needs nicely.

I started to sketch it with the wriggly oaks when I suddenly had a forehead slapping thought: I'm drawing these mature oaks, but this is 1810... what did they look like then?  Had they even been planted?

And I found the answer was no. At least I'm not quite sure. Though it seems they were planted around 1820. So I erased them. But I didn't want to lose them altogether so I decided to draw rows of saplings. 


Then, as I continued to delve deeper, I found this painting by Charles Fraser. Of a white plantation house called Ashley Hall. With an avenue of mature trees. Painted in 1803. 
So I drew them back again.

This took pretty much an entire day. Most people holding the finished book in their hands sometime next year will never know about the trees that nearly weren't, but you and I will.