'You're at Ferndean, Miss Next,' replied Mary soothingly, 'one of Mr Rochester's other properties. You will be weak; I'll bring some broth.'
I grabbed her arm.
'And Mr Rochester?'
She paused and smiled at me, patted my hand and said she would fetch the broth.
The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
On a ten hour bus journey to Edinburgh, during my first summer in the UK, I discovered an alternative Swindon. I knew the city as a home to roundabouts, the outlet village, Neil's team in The Office, and the coach stop I alight at when travelling to the Cotswolds. But this was a very different Swindon - one where Richard III had been performed nightly for decades, dodos were kept as pets, and Literary Detectives pursued criminal masterminds. A tourist trade existed that saw avid readers journey into their favourite stories, hovering on the fringes of the action and longing for a glimpse of the protagonist.
This Swindon is the setting of the Thursday Next books, of which The Eyre Affair is the first. The books are so much fun - they're clever, and detailed, and are packed with literary winks, nudges, and elbows to the side. In them, Mr Rochester is both the flawed romantic hero we know so well from Jane Eyre, as well as an ally and friend to detective Thursday Next, one that travels occasionally between her world and his. The chapters Thursday spends at Thornfield Hall, hiding from Jane Eyre, and meeting secretly with Rochester when she can, are some of my favourite in the series.
Any other week, I might have made the roly-poly that features on the menu at Thursday Next's hotel for this piece. But this cold, wet June week is different. I've been so anxious about the general election - so afraid of losing the NHS, basic human rights, funding for education, a future that looks in any way bright for the young. Terrified of five more years of austerity, and what it will do to this country. All I really want to do tomorrow is hide under my duvet, and succumb to the cold that's been hovering over me for weeks. I don't want to be negative, but the hope and confidence before elections over the past year, before the inevitable plummet back to earth, has been bruising.
So, while I hope for the best (or even just a less convincing majority) I want to be prepared. If I am down, and in need of sustenance, there's a bowl of this, ready in the fridge. This recipe is based on Mrs Beeton's mutton broth, from her chapter of 'recipes for invalid cookery'. It's simple, comforting, and perfect for soothing a cold, or recovering following an election. I really hope we don't need it. But it's here if we do.
Lamb Broth, for when you're feeling under the weather
2 stalks celery
6 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs mint
200g scrag-end or lamb neck
150g pearl barley
30g finely chopped parsley
Saucepan, with a lid
1. Slice the turnip, onion, and celery and layer in the bottom of the saucepan. Add the thyme and mint. Place the mutton or lamb on top, and cover with 1.5l cold water.
2. Bring to a boil with the lid off, then clamp the lid down and simmer gently for an hour. You don't want too much of the water to evaporate, so take a peak every now and then to ensure it's not boiling too much. Or leave it simmering away for an hour, and sit down with a book.
3. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the boiled vegetables, herbs, and meat. Allow the broth to cool, and then skim the top to remove any fat.
4. Pour the stock back into the (cleaned out) saucepan, and pour the pearl barley in. Put the lid back on and simmer for 40 minutes until the pearl barley is tender. Turn the heat off, add the parsley, stir, and serve.