By Gini Rainey
Sometimes (well, to be perfectly honest – a lot of times) I have dreams that seem really real, and then in the light of day, or several years down the road, I have difficulty remembering what was real and what might have been a dream. I was talking to a friend recently about the book Mary Poppins and how, when I was little, I read my sister’s book and there was a part where an old lady would break off her fingers and give them to the children to eat. When this was met with disbelief, all of a sudden I wasn’t sure if that was real – or if I dreamed it!
Well, thanks to google, I was able to do some research and I discovered that P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, did indeed include a such a feat in her book originally published in 1934. From an article written by Humphrey Carpenter, I quote “…the strange and rather terrifying figure of Mrs. Corry, an aged crone who, with her fat and downtrodden daughters Miss Fannie and Miss Annie, is the proprietor of a mysterious sweet shop to which Mary Poppins takes the children. Mrs. Corry breaks off her fingers and gives them to people to eat – they are made of barley-sugar, or sometimes of peppermint – and she can remember the making of the world. She takes paper-gilt stars from the wrappings of her gingerbread, climbs a ladder and fixes them in the sky, where they become real stars.” I can still remember the fanciful drawings of Mary Shepard that illustrated the book and depicted these actions.
In my collection of cookbooks I have Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story that was written by P.L. Travers and Maurice Moore-Betty (culinary consultant) and illustrated by Mary Shepard. Published in 1972 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, this delightful book tells of the time when Mr. and Mrs. Banks leave on a week’s vacation with Mary Poppins in charge of not only the children, but also the kitchen. With help from various friends they make it through the week with plenty of food and adventures.
While this cookbook doesn’t include any recipes for barley-sugar or peppermint fingers, it does have “All that is or was or will be happens between A and Z,” said Mary Poppins. “And that includes this cookery book.” Everybody love stars AND gingerbread, so here’s her recipe for Gingerbread Stars. Preheat your oven to 350°. Mix in a bowl ¾ cups flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon mixed spices – I use pumpkin pie spice mix – and 1 teaspoon powdered ginger. Stir in ¼ cup seedless raising. Then melt ¼ cup butter and ½ cup packed brown sugar over low heat, remove from stove and let cool a bit. Add 2 tablespoons dark molasses and 1 egg, well-beaten, to the butter/sugar mix and then mix into flour mixture. Pour into 2 6-inch star-shaped baking tubes that have been buttered and floured and bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to cool and slice. Sounds like they will be a lot better tasting than Mrs. Corry’s ol’ fingers!