By Lynley Jones
That would be a great name for a band, but actually, I'm talking about Peter Rabbit and his three sisters: Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. On Friday, I had the privilege of cooking with 34 children at St. James Preschool in Montclair. And even better, I got to read to them.
If you want to understand children, read to them. Do the voices. Emphasize the emotions. Get (a little) scared at the scary parts, and be joyful at the happy parts. They hang on every word. They wonder what will happen next. They worry about the characters. Their hearts are big and open and full of love. Stories are the window to a child's soul.
At St. James on Friday, I read the original Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, a simple, wonderful masterpiece. I am a huge fan of children's literature in general (you can check out my Series of Unfortunate Cooking Classes from last fall, in case you had any doubt), and Peter Rabbit has it all: a relatable, flawed main character; genuine looming danger; angry, scary grownups; moral ambiguity; and good food.
The moment his mother looks the other way, Peter runs directly to Mr. McGregor's garden to swipe veggies, which is precisely the one thing his mother has told him not to do, for his own safety. (Do they think we make up these rules just to hear ourselves talk?)
At the end of his harrowing day, poor exhausted Peter goes to bed with nothing but chamomile tea, while his sisters, who spent the day following the rules like good little bunnies, have bread and milk and blackberries for supper.
Beatrix Potter spent a lot of time in her garden and in the woods, and wrote and illustrated Peter Rabbit as a gift for the son of her former governess. She clearly loved and understood children, and had a heart as big as theirs. What a gift to all of us.
On Friday, the kids and I used the bread, milk and blackberries from the story to make Blackberry Bread Pudding. They each got to make their own pudding, stirring the ingredients together in a Ball jar, then pouring them over the bread pieces in an aluminum pie tin.
You can use this recipe to make your own bread pudding. This recipe serves 4-6, or possibly more if you're feeding small people.
While you're at it, find some children and read to them. And cook with them. They will open your heart and fill it with love.