When I was a kid, my step-grandma bought me a set of books by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Toots (that’s her nickname) was born in Canada, and these books had been her favorite as a child—the “Anne of Green Gables” series. I was around 9 or 10 years old, and they looked incredibly boring to me. I loved books, but at that time I was into “Encyclopedia Brown” and “Nancy Drew” and “The Babysitter’s Club.” These “Anne” books sounded dated and old fashioned and slow. I thanked her politely and put the paperbacks on my bookshelf, where they gathered dust for a couple of years.
One summer afternoon when I was 12, I found myself with nothing to do. I’d already read all of the books on my shelf (many of them twice), and nobody was around to give me a ride to the library. The only thing I hadn’t tackled yet was “Anne of Green Gables.” With a reluctant sigh, I picked up the first book and started reading.
That summer day, my whole world changed. I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that “Anne of Green Gables” helped to shape the person I am today. As a young child, my grandparents had exposed me to historical films and classical music. I had an appreciation for history, but I had never read a classic novel outside of school. Through this book, I found myself transported to Edwardian era Canada, following the life of a little orphan girl—Anne Shirley, Anne “spelled with an e.” Though her character was created over 70 years before I was born, this little girl living on Prince Edward Island had so much in common with me. She was creative with a wild imagination. She was misunderstood by her peers, and even by most adults. She loved to speak in flowery prose. She enjoyed reading poetry and had a flair for the dramatic. But for all of her outward confidence and fiery spirit, inside she was a sensitive creature… a fragile soul, who felt every happiness and disappointment deep within in her core.
I identified with Anne on many levels… in fact, I still do. I always dream big, and I remain optimistic to the very end, even when the odds are not in my favor. In this passage from “Anne of Avonlea,” the sequel to “Anne of Green Gables,” Marilla tries to comfort Anne through a difficult time. Anne’s response is pretty much the way I live my life, for better or worse.
“You’ll probably have a good many more and worse disappointments than that before you get through life,” said Marilla, who honestly thought she was making a comforting speech. “It seems to me, Anne, that you are never going to outgrow your fashion of setting your heart so on things and then crashing down into despair because you don’t get them.”
“I know I’m too much inclined that way,” agreed Anne ruefully. “When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part IS glorious as long as it lasts. . .it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” –Anne of Avonlea, Chapter XVII
Like many young girls who have discovered Anne over the years, I devoured the entire book series with unbridled enthusiasm. There are 8 books in all, following Anne’s life from a wiry 11 year-old misfit to a happily married mother of six. The last two books focus on Anne’s children, with Anne in a supporting role. After reading the books, I was delighted to discover a beautifully produced miniseries by Sullivan Films– you can buy the Anne of Green Gables DVD’s here and the sequel, Anne of Avonlea, here. This miniseries comes remarkably close to capturing the magic of the original books. Sometimes, when I’m in bed with a cold or feeling blue, I’ll turn on the “Anne of Green Gables” DVD. It always brings a smile to my face.
Of all the food scenes in the Anne series (and there are many), the raspberry cordial scene is probably the most memorable… tied, perhaps, with the mouse pudding scene. When I considered doing an Anne of Green Gables post, raspberry cordial was the first recipe that came to mind. The scene appears in a chapter titled, “Diana is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results.”
One autumn afternoon, Anne’s adoptive mother Marilla leaves town for a meeting of the Aid Society at Carmody. She allows Anne to invite her “bosom friend,” Diana, over to Green Gables for tea while she is gone. Anne is thrilled at the prospect of preparing afternoon tea for her friend, and Diana is equally excited—they both feel like very mature young ladies.
When Diana arrives for tea, Anne gushes about the spread she’s prepared, hinting at a very special drink in the pantry…
“Marilla is a very generous woman. She said we could have fruit cake and cherry preserves for tea. But it isn’t good manners to tell your company what you are going to give them to eat, so I won’t tell you what she said we could have to drink. Only it begins with an R and a C and it’s bright red color. I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.” Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XVI
The drink is raspberry cordial, a sweet concoction made from fresh raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Marilla has allowed Anne to use a half bottle left over from a church social, a very special treat.
When it comes time to serve the drink, Anne presents the bottle to Diana with a tumbler, but doesn’t take a drink herself…
“Now, please help yourself, Diana,” she said politely. “I don’t believe I’ll have any just now. I don’t feel as if I wanted any after all those apples.”
Diana poured herself out a tumblerful, looked at its bright-red hue admiringly, and then sipped it daintily.
“That’s awfully nice raspberry cordial, Anne,” she said. “I didn’t know raspberry cordial was so nice.”
“I’m real glad you like it. Take as much as you want. I’m going to run out and stir the fire up. There are so many responsibilities on a person’s mind when they’re keeping house, isn’t there?”
When Anne came back from the kitchen Diana was drinking her second glassful of cordial; and, being entreated thereto by Anne, she offered no particular objection to the drinking of a third. The tumblerfuls were generous ones and the raspberry cordial was certainly very nice.
“The nicest I ever drank,” said Diana. “It’s ever so much nicer than Mrs. Lynde’s, although she brags of hers so much. It doesn’t taste a bit like hers.” - Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XVI
Of course, there was a reason the cordial didn’t taste a bit like Mrs. Lynde’s… it wasn’t raspberry cordial. Anne mistook a bottle of currant wine for cordial, which led to Diana becoming hopelessly drunk. Months of drama ensued, with Anne being labeled a troublemaker and a misfit by Diana’s family. Poor Anne… always so misunderstood.
I began to research the history of cordial—or “squash,” as it’s called in some parts of the world. The word cordial can refer to a variety of drinks, including alcoholic liqueurs made with fruit and other sweet ingredients. In Anne’s case, the Raspberry Cordial that she meant to serve to Diana was non-alcoholic, meaning it was a “squash”-style beverage. Squash cordials are concentrated syrups made from sugar, fruit, and water. The syrup is diluted with water or seltzer before serving. In Anne’s case, the Raspberry Cordial she meant to serve was likely a sugary homemade raspberry concentrate thinned with water. Lemon juice was often added as a preservative. In the Edwardian era, this drink would have been made with fresh raspberries. Frozen berries can be used just as easily. I used fresh, because our local farmer’s market is teeming with beautiful berries this time of year.
If you’d like to make your own batch of raspberry cordial, my recipe appears below. Keep in mind that this is a traditional cordial, which means it is very sugary and should be thinned with water or seltzer before serving.
In a future blog, perhaps I will tackle the currant wine recipe that made Diana so drunk… or maybe the pudding with the infamous “mouse sauce.” Till then, I’ll leave you with a few words of wisdom from Anne:
“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
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- 4 pints (48 oz.) raspberries, fresh or frozen
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3 cups sugar
- 12 cups water
You will also need
- Very large bowl, large spoon, medium saucepan, plastic wrap or towel, fine mesh sieve or strainer, medium bowl, 2 pitchers or gallon container.
- Note: many stores sell raspberries in half pint sized boxes, which means you would need 8 boxes of berries. Double check the weight before purchasing-- you will need 48 oz. of berries total.
- Clean and rinse the raspberries, then place them in a very large bowl.
- Pour the lemon juice over the berries. Use a large spoon to stir the juice into the berries.
- On the stovetop, heat 12 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar to a boil. Stir till the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
- Pour the boiling water over the raspberries. Allow the water to cool for 1-2 hours to room temperature.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel that you don't mind staining. Place in the refrigerator to steep for 24 hours.
- Pour the cordial through a fine mesh sieve to strain.
- Push gently on the solids with the back of a spoon, if you wish, to extract more juice. This will produce a slightly cloudy effect in the cordial, which will settle at the bottom of the storage bottle, but it won't change the flavor. If you'd prefer a clearer cordial, do not press down on the solids-- just strain them.
- Once you've strained the juice from the berries, you will find that the leftover berries are mushy and quite sweet. Save them in the fridge, they are terrific served as a topping for ice cream.
- This recipe makes a large batch of cordial, which will store very well in the refrigerator if you use a clean gallon jug. You can easily halve the recipe if you don't need quite so much cordial.
- To serve, mix 1 part cordial with 1 part water or seltzer water. If you prefer a less sweet drink, dilute the cordial to taste. Serve cold.