Thicker Than Water and its sequels take place six years after devastating floods have ravaged England and ruined the country’s infrastructure.
The characters in the books are self-sufficient. In the village, they have goats for milk, allotments for vegetables, and a smoke house for fish. They bake their own bread and raise animals for meat.
The men at the farm aren’t quite so self-sufficient. There are some crops, as well as pigs, but they also send raiding parties out to find foods that haven’t deteriorated. This includes whisky! (Which makes me wonder if the villagers might learn to distill their own?)
So in a world where everything has to be grown or raised from the land, how do you make Easter eggs? I imagine little Sean and Ollie, the Dyer children, would love to wake up to an egg on Easter Sunday.
This prompted me to do some research into alternative ways of making Easter eggs. After all, chocolate will be in short supply. The villagers do have some sweets (Ruth gives a patient a lollipop from her own rations early in Thicker Than Water) but chocolate is never mentioned. Maybe they could get it on the black market, but in sufficient quantities for an Easter egg? I doubt it.
Option 1: Forget Easter and Easter Eggs
The villagers live in a harsh world. There isn’t a lot of faith in any deity, and not much to celebrate.
But there are Christians among them. Dawn Evans is fervently religious, with her cross next to the front door and her insistence that her family don’t blaspheme.
And you don’t have to be Christian to enjoy an Easter egg. So this option is out.
Option 2: Use Real Eggs
This could work. There are plenty of chickens in the village, even if eggs are rationed. The villagers could save up eggs for a week before Easter, paint them and hide them around the village (maybe hard boiling them first).
The children in the village probably don’t remember chocolate eggs. Sean and Ollie were born after the floods, and have grown up without the luxuries their parents took for granted.
So this is probably the option the villagers would go for.
But it’s not as much fun as trying to make a sweet treat without access to chocolate. Which brings me to…
Option 3: The Self-Sufficient Substitute Egg
I trawled the internet and asked friends who know more about baking and home-grown produce than me, and unfortunately couldn’t find a close substitute for a chocolate egg.
The most commonly used chocolate substitute is carob, but growing it and processing its pods would be quite a task. And it’s a Mediterraenean plant; if you’ve read Thicker Than Water, you’ll know that the climate is far from Mediterranean!
So I’ve decided that the villagers would use their imaginations and make egg-shaped biscuits.
They don’t have access to refined sugar, but they do have honey and milk (thus butter) from their goats. They also have eggs from their chickens. They don’t produce their own flour but they do buy it from Filey with the money that men like Zack Golder make on the earthworks near Hull. (I’m not making this up for convenience; it’s in the books.)
So here’s Ruth Dyer’s recipe for Easter Egg biscuits:
- 250g plain flour
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 150g butter (made with milk from the goats)
- 1 egg for raising (because self-raising flour isn’t available – optional)
The optional egg would make the biscuits lighter and more cake-like – almost like a scone. If you don’t add it, the biscuits will be dryer and have a good snap, although they might taste a bit heavy. And I’m not sure what flavour goats’ butter would add!
Ruth would mix all these up, adding some fruit if she has some to hand (maybe blueberries if they’re growing yet, or some dried ones from last year). She’d shape them into egg shapes and bake them for 10 minutes.
Once cool, Sean and Ollie can decorate them with dried fruit and maybe by melting some of the sweets from their family’s rations. They’ll have to be careful though: melted sweets can burn.
Ruth will then hide the biscuits away and put them around the house on Easter Sunday for the boys to find. Hopefully Ben can overcome his inertia and frustration at the world for long enough to get involved…
Let’s hope they enjoy it, and it gives them some respite from their harsh existence. Happy Easter!