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Rolling back the clock on sweets

These will be ready to eat tomorrow.

There are a couple of scenes in the BBC series Cranford, which is set in Cheshire around 1840, in which some children get very excited about the fact that their cherry tree has come into season. The children get a big thrill out of helping the new doctor in town knock cherries out of the tree. The BBC series, by the way, is based on the novel Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, a less well known but witty and competent 19th-century writer.

Children love sweets. In those days, cherries were high in the hierarchy of sweets, something for children to get excited about. These days, what child would pay the slightest attention to a cherry tree, or plain fresh cherries? Even though sugar was common in the 19th century, you could be sure that children in those days got a great deal less of it, especially provincial children. Sugar has, of course, gotten cheaper and cheaper, and the newest innovation in cheap sugar is high fructose corn syrup. Government corn subsidies help make it cheap, no matter how much evidence links high fructose corn syrup to Americans’ health problems.

But we don’t have to eat it. I can testify that if we stop eating processed sweets, we become more like the children in Cranford. A raw peach once again becomes a sweet treat. Watermelon is thrilling (the watermelons here have been inexpensive and very good this summer).

One of my grandmothers was a genius at making pies. I don’t think I can remember there ever not being at least one kind of pie in her pie safe. Usually it was a fruit pie, though she sometimes made custard pies. Still, nobody was fat, because it was home-cooked, and the dinner (which is what they called lunch) and supper tables were loaded with a variety of home-cooked foods including lots of vegetables. Once again, drawing on the insights of Michael Pollan, our grandmothers proved that a little homemade pie won’t hurt you.

You can get the Cranford series on DVD. I understand that the BBC has another season in the works to be shown in Britain this year around Christmastime. I’d expect it to be available in the U.S. next year.

The ladies of Cranford eating sweets

Judi Dench as Miss Matty, Elizabeth Gaskell

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