Books and bakes #11: The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story and lemon squares

The bake

In my last post, I mentioned I loved to bake with the flavour combination of blueberry and lemon to welcome spring. Well, the truth is, I also think lemon does just fine as a flavour on its own. For many years, I’d gotten into a habit of making lemon squares for our family Easter get-together. That get-together didn’t happen this year (just like it didn’t happen last year, either) thanks to the pandemic, but, as the holiday came and went, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t make some lemony treats anyway.

In the past, I’ve made lemon squares using various recipes I’ve found online or in magazines. But this time I used a recipe a friend sent me a little earlier this year. She’d mentioned that she’d been baking a lot of lemon squares during the pandemic, and I figured she must have a tried-and-true recipe if she kept making them. She sent it over to me in Word document. I made them for the first time this weekend, and they turned out great! Both the crust and filling were a wonderful texture and the flavour was tangy and not too sweet. I will be adding the recipe into my regular baking rotation.

The book

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but, when I do, my favourite books are those true stories that are stranger than fiction. I heard about The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale several months ago and have been eagerly awaiting its release. And now I’ve got my hands on a copy. This book centres around Alma Fielding, a woman in living with her husband, son, and a lodger in suburban London in the 1930s. When Alma and the others start to notice china, eggs, and other items start flying off the shelves and tables, Alma calls the newspaper because she knows the cops are going to help. After the story makes headlines, a ghost hunter arrives to investigate. This has all happened within the first couple of chapters. The book jacket says the ghost hunter uncovers the case is stranger than it seems. I mean, it seems pretty damn strange right now, doesn’t it? I cannot wait to see how it gets stranger. I love a good ghost story. Good thing I’ve got those lemon squares; I think I’ll need them and a cup of tea to provide some comfort as I read on.

The sweet taste of The Ghost Orchard by Helen Humphreys

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What I read

The Ghost Orchard by Helen Humphreys

What it’s about

The Ghost Orchard‘s subtitle is The Hidden History of the Apple in North America. It’s not that this subtitle is inaccurate, but it doesn’t cover everything the book is about. Sure, Humphreys delves into details about the history of the fruit (which is much more fascinating than I expected), but the book is also partly a memoir.

Humphreys was inspired to write this book when she found the White Winter Pearmain variety growing near her home. At the same time, a friend of hers was in the process of dying.

In The Ghost Orchard, Humphreys starts with the apple but moves beyond it, creating a book about relationships, friendship, art and the human connection with nature.

Why I picked it up

I’ve read several of Humphreys’ books (I’ve also written about Wild Dogs), and so far I have liked everything I’ve read. There was a good chance I was going to pick this one up at some point. While browsing in the bookstore at IFOA this year, I saw The Ghost Orchard and read the first couple of pages. Sucked in by Humphreys’ writing style, I bought the book that evening.

What I liked about it

The book is broken up into five main sections, and one of these sections is about Robert Frost. Frost is one of my favourite poets, so I sort of expected to like this part as soon as I saw the heading. This section beautifully described Frost’s personal relationship with apples as well as his close friendship with poet Edward Thomas.

There is also a section on the United States Department of Agriculture watercolour artists. Here, Humphreys tells of the lives of the artists who used to paint apples before photographers ran them out of jobs. She also brings in stories of her grandfather, who used to paint pictures of plants for seed catalogues. It’s a job I’d never thought of, and I appreciated these stories of art and artists.

But the main thing I liked about this book is what I like about all of Humphreys’ books: her gorgeous prose. She writes so beautifully. It’s no surprise that she is not only a non-fiction writer and a novelist, but also a poet.

You’ll want to read it if…

Readers who will enjoy The Ghost Orchard the most are ones who like nature, or at least have an appreciation for it. It’s for readers who might be intrigued by the history of the apple, but who are even more fascinated by people and human relationships. And if you’re looking to develop more of an appreciation for agriculture, this might do the trick, too.

Recommended refreshments

This is too obvious. However, venture outside of your local grocery store to get your apples! For the ultimate refreshment, visit an orchard. Pick your apples off a tree! I must agree with Humphreys and Henry David Thoreau: The apple tastes best when it’s eaten outdoors.

(I know; it’s getting cold. A mug of hot apple cider while reading by the fire is also a good option.)