Friday, December 30, 2016

Blancmange Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

I think we all have that one character that we grew up with that was (and maybe still is) eerily similar to ourselves. We have the same personality, the same dreams, the same flaws. And, because of this, we've read their book over a dozen times and have a copy of it proudly displayed on our shelves.

My fictional twin is Jo March from Little Women. She's a tomboy, never quite fits in but doesn't usually mind, is a writer who works hard and dreams even harder, has a bad temper and a problem with saying things out loud that most people just keep locked up in their minds, wears her hair short, gets into trouble but generally is able to blunder her way back out, and has a good sense of humor.

Jo is pretty much me with the exception of our height (she got to be tall and I still struggle with reaching things on the top shelf) and our cooking skills (I can actually make pretty foods).
Of course it's no surprise that Little Women was (and is) a favorite of mine. I grew up reading it and I'm always inspired by Jo and her fight for her writing career. In case you don't know what this story is (in which case....Christopher Columbus! What have you been doing with you life?), here's a brief synopsis:

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. These four sisters couldn't be more different: the elegant grown-up Meg, the tomboyish Jo, the musically inclined yet extremely shy Beth, and the impertinent Amy. They each have their own dreams and set backs, but when their father goes to fight in the Civl War, they work together with their mother to keep the house up and running. Whether they're putting on plays, braving different society circles, waiting to get published, or forming secret clubs, they are united in their desire to grow into women that will make their parents proud. 

Funnily enough, as I sat down to write this post, I started thinking of all of the reasons I don't like this book. I'm sad that Beth died and will never get over the fact that Jo and Laurie didn't get married. WHY??? They could have made it work! Grrrr.

So I had to ask myself: Why on earth do you like this book? My answer to myself: Because it upset me.

I got so attached to the characters that the going ons in their lives affect me emotionally. I care about the book and the people in it because the writing is good and the characters are better. It's the kind of story that you can easily attach yourself too: laugh over it, cry over it, be inspired by it, and never ever forget it.

Basically, this is a story I love even while disliking parts of it. I'm assuming we all have a childhood book like that. Right? Right??

Anyway, I've always been curious about a food that appears in this book: Blancmange. It's a dish that Meg makes for Laurie when the March family hear he's sick. Jo takes it over to his house and explains that it slides down easily and is good for a sore throat.
I've always wondered about this food because: 1) I have no idea what it is. 2) I have no idea how to pronounce it. 3) It seems to show up in almost all books written in the 1800s.

Well, as it turns out, blancmange is a dairy and cornstarch pudding (usually vanilla flavored) and is pronounced "Blah-mahnj." Gotta love French.

It is of British origin, though it has a long history. At one point it had meat in it, then evolved into a pudding with the thickening agent being pigs feet (yum!), went meatless around the 1600s where eggs were used to thicken it, then, in the 1800s, arrowroot was used as the thickener. Arrowroot was later replaced with cornstarch.

Funnily enough, arrowroot is growing in popularity today and is used by a lot of hippy organic people like me. So I decided to make blancmange using arrowroot and almond milk. The idea is to have a pudding that is so thick that you can place it in a mold, set, then invert onto a plate with the pudding still holding itself in the correct shape. Mine? Well...we'll get to that part.
  • 2 cups of almond milk 
  • 1/3 cup of maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons of arrowroot mixed with 4 tablespoons of almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla. I actually forgot to put this vanilla in because I'm an idiot and always forget important things (did I mention I'm a lot like Jo?). So I suppose this technically makes the vanilla optional, though it is traditional. 

1. Heat milk and maple syrup in a medium saucepan until the syrup is dissolved. 

2. Pour in the arrowroot mixture and whisk. Put heat on medium high. Bring to a boil, whisking continuously, and allow to boil for about one minute. The mixture should be fairly thick at this point. It should thickly coat the back of a spoon. 

3. Pour the mixture into molds. I didn't have any of those pretty silicon molds, so I used glass punch bowls. 
They either worked just as well as molds or were the cause of the impending disaster I will show you below. 

4. Allow to cool, then let set in the refrigerator for about 3 hours or until firm. Once done, they are ready to eat. I threw some cherry sauce over mine to make it prettier and give it a nice flavor. Cherry sauce is incredibly easy to make, so just hop on Google and pick one. I pretty much used this one, but withheld the cornstarch and used 1/3 cup of cane sugar for sweetener. 

Now, generally, blancmange is set in molds, then inverted onto a pretty plate like so: 
I'm honestly not sure how this is possible. Maybe I didn't use enough arrowroot? Or maybe the above picture is lying and it's not real blancmange. I suspect the latter is true, as the internet is full of images of failed blancmange or blancmange simply left in their molds. 

Anyway, I tried to invert mine onto a plate, knowing full well that it wasn't going to work. I ended up creating what looks to be a distant cousin of the Blobfish (No, I didn't just make up that fish. They're real. Look them up): 
I think I would have made Jo proud. 

Anyway, I'm not sure exactly what blancmange tasted like, but this seemed pretty close to the real thing. It didn't taste very good, which, honestly, I wasn't really expecting it to. I mean, it's a descendant of foot jelly. 

I never share recipes on here of foods that don't taste good, but I though I would today because: 1) I thought it was funny. 2) I do think that some people might like it. I personally don't enjoy jellies or puddings, so I can't judge this one accurately. 

Have you ever had blancmange? Please tell me what you thought of it. And don't forget to tell me about your favorite sister from Little Women!

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  1. Jo is my favorite too! We're both awkward at parties, love to read, writers, and not so good cooks...(think cookie puddles). Difference? I fell head over heels in love with Laurie, while Jo did not... Grrr...

    1. Lol! Cookie puddles still generally taste good. =D

      Happy to know I'm not the only one devastated by the Jo and Laurie never together thing. =D

  2. Ha, I've always been Jo too (with the exception of her temper- I'm more easygoing). She's the best!

    1. Awesome you didn't get her temper. =D And I agree: She's the best!

  3. Ahhhh this looks so good! I'm most like Jo, but Beth is my favorite. <3

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. Thank you! And yes, Beth is so sweet. I generally skip the part where she dies.

  4. You're right--your blancmange story is funny. It looks like a little blob of porridge on a plate to me. Maybe if you added a lot of brown sugar it would taste better?

    If I had to pick, I'd say Beth. Also very put out that she died.

    1. Haha! Brown sugar is a good idea. I should have tried that.

      Another Beth fan! She deserved to live.

  5. Replies
    1. Lol! I'm glad I'm not alone in my kitchen fails. =D

  6. Okay, I laughed so hard at this! Don't worry - I've made some worse cooking fails... Usually when I'm low on sleep...

    Anyway. Jo is my twin as well. The first time I read that book, I thought, "Finally someone who understands me!" Jo and I have "chestnut manes" in common, short tempers, bookishness, a love of being revolutionary, a tendency to be blunt, clumsiness, adoration for "scribbling"... All the details, basically.

    And, ohmygoodness, yes!! I am still so frustrated that she didn't marry Laurie!!!! I will never get over it... *distant sobbing*

    Back to topic for a moment: I am so glad you did this post because I have ALWAYS wondered what blancmange was! (I did know how to pronounce it because I listened to the audio drama long before reading the book.) So it's pudding!!!!

    1. Lol! Happy to make you laugh, Kayla. =D

      I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only one who is overly dedicated to Jo and her life. =D *sobs about Laurie with you*

      Thanks for the fun comment! I'm a little ashamed that I never had the bright idea of listening to the audio drama. I bet it's brilliant. Plus, I wouldn't have spent years of my life mispronouncing blancmange. =D

    2. Ack, I was exposed to so many stories that way! Actually, though, I like books or movies better. Mostly books... too much can go wrong with the audio dramatizations - like terrible casting.

  7. I'm always pleasantly surprised when I see someone else adores Miss Louisa M Alcott's books. I recently re-read Little Women. It always encourages me to be a better woman and person in general.
    Nice blog by the way. My friend introduced me to you. I like what I am seeing so far.

    1. Same here! It's such an inspiring novel. It always makes me think of ways I can go out and better myself.

      I'm so glad you're enjoying my blog! Give my thanks to your friend for referring you. =D Hope you continue to like what you see! I appreciate the comment.

  8. Haha, I've always loved the first part of Little Women, though I am upset by the same things as you in the second part. (WHY JO???!! WHY COULDN'T YOU MAKE IT WORK WITH LAURIE??!! And Beth's slow death is so, so sad).

    My favorite sister... I've never been able to give a complete answer on that. I read the story for the first time... probably before I was 10, and I've always loved Jo because we're very similar (second oldest, avid writers, determined dreamers with aberrant opinions). But there are parts of me that are like Beth, and I remember relating to Amy some when I was younger. So I guess there are things that I've liked about each at some point of my life... but, as of right now, Jo and Beth are probably my favorites. :D

    Blancmange. I have wondered before what that is. Glad to finally find out, lol


    1. Same here! I always prefer part 1 to part 2. =D

      I love how Little Women has characters that you grow to love as you get older, experience new things, etc. It's fun to see that there is a character that everyone can identify with.

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. Hi Hannah, I love how your blog and blogpost especially this one about Blancmange and the Little Women story came alive!! It is interesting how you blend in this recipe!! Simply love it

    1. Thank you, Zannie! I'm so glad you enjoyed the article concept!

  10. Little Women was also my favourite childhood book, and I identified with Jo too.

    And as a Britlander (and a pretty old one at that) I've had more blancmange in my life than I've had hot desserts (that might be a literal as well as a metaphorical fact.) Pearce Duff have been making a packet-mix form of them for yonks over here; it comes as a three-pack, one strawberry, one vanilla and one chocolate (the last one being the least nice one of the three since it tastes of chemical chocolate flavour rather than actual chocolate, which anyone with taste buds knows is TOTALLY NOT THE SAME THING.) You just add a pint of milk to it in a saucepan and heat it through until it thickens, like you're making custard, bung it in a jelly mould and leave it to set. And it does set, just like a jelly, but has a creamier and softer texture.

    ...And now I've got a nostalgic childhood hankering for it all over again! Think I'll be off down the shops in a wee while...

    Thanks for the memories!

    1. This is so fascinating, Kentish! Now I'm wondering if I can find any of those packets at a store near me... Maybe this time I can make one that doesn't collapse on me! =D I'm excited to give this a try. Thank you so much for the fun comment!

  11. Hannah, just discovered your blog today and have been reading it voraciously. Well done! My favorite sister from Little Women is also Jo. When the 1996 movie came out, my sisters and I imagined we were the March sisters. We even started calling our mother "Marmee," a nickname that has stuck. As to why Jo couldn't have ended up with Laurie, that tragic plot point always frustrated me, too. However, my real life "Laurie" and I did not end up together, so as a "mature" (?) adult I can almost appreciate Alcott's choice. We have unanswered questions in life, like "What would have happened if. . . ?" I'm so glad God walks with us through those murky parts of our journeys. Blessings on your day, and please stop by my site, I have a blog for Christian teachers who teach in public schools, but somehow it keeps veering off into the writing and publishing realm. Again, God knows where this journey is taking me!

    1. Hello there! So sorry for my late response.

      I agree that Laurie and Jo's not ending up together did add an interesting (and possibly more realistic) twist to the story. People don't always end up with their original loves (crushes? I'm not sure what the correct term is for this circumstance?). Great point!

      Your blog is very cool! My Dad is a Christian teacher at a public school, so I found your posts very interesting. I'll be praying for your writing journey! You never know where God is taking you, but I'm sure he has great things in store. =D

      Thank you for the neat comment! I really appreciate it.

  12. I loved this post! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it up and share about the cooking experiment, I laughed so hard reading this! I totally relate to kitchen disasters and felt such solidarity with Jo March reading about the dinner she served up to Laurie and her family. I always imagined blancmange was like creme caramel... Oh well ;)

    I completely agree with your sentiments about Jo and much angst that I ended up writing an alternate proposal scene during a holiday, which got bigger and bigger (really don't quite know how passionate you are about something until you start to write about it)... and it turned into The Courtship of Jo March. (A variation of Little Women in which things end up working out differently for them all but especially Jo, Laurie, and Beth.)

  13. Thanks so much for this recipe!! Just letting you know I mentioned it on my blog post A Literary Christmas with Little Women :)


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