Mister Pip’s Rhubarb Cake

Book group food is a conundrum, too little and readers are left dissatisfied, too much and it extends into dinner party territory. My book group’s journey through good reads and the accompanying food traces its nervous beginnings with a bowl of crisps and a few dips and slowly but surely veered off into 3 course dinners and has now come full circle to bring a bowl simplicity.

The books are as varied as the readers, from the imaginary world of Timbuktu (Paul Auster), to the fantastical Cloud Atlas (David Mitchel) and on into Scandinavian life inf The True Deceiver (Tove Jansson). We dallied in Pakistan with A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Mohammed Hanif) were taken on a Caribbean journey in Guerrillas (VS Naipaul) and were divided by Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

The Secret Life of France (Lucy Wadham) added a French twist and not much French accord. We were brought back together by The Leopard (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) applying liberal doses of Sicilian sumptuous feats serving to make our mouths water, only to enter the dark stark brilliance of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 and paired down simplicity of Murakami’s After Dark .

And on our bookish journey went to a gem of a story – of  life seen through the eyes of a child refugee settling down to life in London, with it’s beauties and horrors in Pigeon English (Stephen Kelman) and into the complex other worldly but autobiographical Sexing The Cherry (Jeanette Winterson) and diving into the magical lives of The Tiger’s Wife (Téa Obreht) and the Life of Pi (Yann Martel).

Only to emerge into the streets of London in The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes), Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question and London Observed (Dorris Lessing ) – a city we have all lived and worked in, loved in, and moved on from – a city with lives known well enough to tell our own stories.

We have dipped our toes in the sci-fi thriller The City and The City (China Mieville), hooted and guffawed with When You Are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris), but not all equally!

We have traversed the ice flows of Greenland in Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow (Peter Hoeg), returned to Scandinavia  thanks to Tove Jansson with her short story collection Art In Nature and discovered that short stories are tricky to discuss.

The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald) provided us with a classic debate and the latest offering Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones) – a story within a story using the classic Dickens novel of Great Expectations to tell a tale through the eyes of a thirteen year old girl living on a war-torn Pacific Island – a  resounding book group success, although maybe not the ending!

We read, we agree and disagree, we learn from others perspectives, we are still learning to listen to each other and not have several conversations going at the same time. We are still learning about food too. What works and what doesn’t. Who is a vegetarian, who eats fish, who will frankly eat anything? And invariably our generosity gets the better of us, as do the bottles of wine we bring.

We need a book of substance, one that will generate a discussion where we can interpret, question and of course disagree. A good book group book needs to challenge, yet tell a story we can equate to, leave some questions unanswered so we can fill in the blanks.. There is no joy on just agreeing that we all liked the book, or we all thought it was ok, or even worse, nice. The book needs some oomph and schbang! It needs a flame to ignite our imaginations and talk.

Equally we need the confidence to share our thoughts and the words to express ourselves. Books give us a way to learn, a means of appreciating and understanding a little bit more, they can take us to other cultures, other times, enable us to wander off into magical realism only to return to contemporary struggles. And as we read, talk and listen I hope we have grown in confidence and maybe even appreciation. But I’m sure we’d all disagree as to what extent!

The universal art of story-telling is never lost nor are the commonalities of humankind from the minutiae of daily life to the momentous moments of history, simultaneously giving us fodder for our brains and enticing our emotions. We all read the same words yet see them differently. We all react and respond to the words but will take away personal pieces.

We provide food, food made by busy workers for busy lives, shared around a common interest in stories and a desire to explore the world through its stories. Often confusing and confounding – the stories not the food! The books we read and the book group evenings provide us with a diversion from real life. It brings a group of friends together to share their thoughts, their passions and no doubt foibles that no other evening can.

Ultimately the element that brings the evenings together is the food and wine, it provides the glue – whether it’s a bag of crisps and a dip or two, a carefully presented salad or a hastily thrown together cake. We are united around the dinner table, regardless of what we think about the book!

Rhubarb Cake (1) - Copy

And about the cake? I sometimes opt to make a sweet treat; it’s a chance for me to try out a fellow bloggers recipe and a chance for me to bake. Rhubarb cake turns out to be a perfect sweet-sour treat especially when served with a coffee at the end of a busy and chatter filled evening. And it couldn’t be simpler. A batter with fruit – in my case all you have to do is have a friend who has a surplus to requirement supply of rhubarb to slice up and plonk in. The recipe is here, I’m sure it would work with any fruit – be it plums or cherries, grapes or apples, whatever your allotment or garden gives you. But Rhubarb is in season and it’s a sweet-sour short season, so get your fill!

Happy reading!


The photos are from Great Dixter (where else?!) taken on my trip to the nursery. The Magnolias are stunning and interestingly 10 miles inland still in full bloom, here on the coast they have all but been replaced with the acid greens of newly emerging leaves, Spring is progressing into Summer my friends.



  • I had to have a good chuckle at “we are still learning to listen to each other and not have several conversations going at the same time” – this is something my family and friends desperately try to get right but alas! Oh, and the food is also always plentiful at our gatherings, even though we don’t have a book group.
    Have a super weekend – seems we are being teased with a little warm weather this weekend – hopfully not the last before winter sets in.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    • It’s so hard sometimes to listen when you are just bursting with words! We had a lovely warm day on Saturday, sunshine and working in the garden made for a good day! Hoe you have a supertastic week ahead Mandy

  • What a great post Claire – I’ve written a reading list basesd on the books that you and your book club have read!

    • That’s great that you might have found something of interest, reading is such a personal thing, everyone has their own favourites and pet hates!
      I hope you are able to get some gardening in this week

  • So wonderful, to have a group like this to be a part of! Reading your post made me miss those times in my life…
    Right now, I’m happy for 10 minutes of reading before I go to sleep, and my Social Time is at Angel’s school for pick-up time…Someday, we’ll be back there! 😀

    • Awww maybe it will come back, maybe it will morph into something new an different. I know one our fellow book groupers has a full time job and a young child and says what you say, 10 minutes reading max before passing out… …

  • You make a book club sound so much fun my friend – I have enough discussing to do in english these days when it comes to books but your club sounds a lot more fun 😀
    This cake also looks tasty, I am forever a hungry reader!


    • I remember when I was studying full time and barely ever read anything else, but now I no longer study, the pleasure is a great one, simply to read for the pleasure alone. One day my friend, one day 🙂

  • Oh yes the photos are lovely, but I do love the cake for just about any time…book club, afternoon coffee or a late weekend brunch….Rhubarb is just one of my favorites. Our season is quick here as it gets so hot so early, but I do try to savor it while it is here. Thanks for this great little recipe.

    • It’s such a simple recipe Teresa, so quick to make, no fuss and faff, but I’m sure you could make it “smarter” and fancier – I know I was in a real rush that day 🙂

  • A fabulous list of reading Claire – and such a lovely post altogether. Books, food AND flowers – great! 😀

    • It’s a great combination isn’t it Cathy!! In fact if I could just sit on the sofa, sorry lounge on the sofa, read, eat and have a vase of flowers nearby I wouldn’t have to move 🙂

  • A beautiful post Claire, stunning magnolias, and a great book list. (Have only read a few from it so far…that’ll change soon.) Love the idea of a book club, the lively discussions that follow, the learning to listen, the shared food and the too-much wine. All just so good!

    • The book group is fun, it has it’s frustrations too but what doesn’t? Mostly though it’s good, I get to read things I wouldn’t ordinarily choose, I get to chat, and I get to eat and drink 🙂 It’s one of those special evenings in my diary that I look forward to and I’m so pleased I’ve found a few friends who think the same

  • Aren’t book groups the best when it come to enjoying/sharing stimulating conversation to say nothing about being wonderful exposure to a variety of reading material! Right now I am reading The Lifeboat for next week’s meeting. You might want to check it out.

  • I am in a book club and I agree with all you say book groups. That’s a lovely piece of writing accompanied by some beautiful images. And I am now hungry but it’s far too late to start making cake!

    • Thank you! I started out writing something else and it morphed into this list! And then I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to post it or not….
      And now I’m wondering what kind of books you and your group are reading?!

      • Whoever’s turn it is to host the book club choose the title for that session. We have been on the go for about nine years (no three course meals!) so we have read quite a variety of books. My personal favourite was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, but not everyone liked it as much as I did.


  • Many years ago, I read all the classics of Western Civilization (and a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, but I digress) but my ability to focus has been reduced to 5-10 min parcels of time and I have been reading fanfiction for the last 10 yrs or so, barring the occasional Lindsey Davis, David Wishart and, I confess, Laurell K. Hamilton.

    I don’t make desserts on a regular basis but I’m going to try to convince myself that rhubarb is healthy and actually try some one day … this sounds like a good vehicle for a taste test.

    The magnolia blossoms are lovely.

    • I think the world is divided into those that love and those that hate rhubarb…. The cake isn’t too sweet and the rhubarb flavour is more pronounced after 24 hours. But I like that.
      It’s always interesting to see/hear/read what everyone else is reading !

  • If ever one wonders whether to join a book club, this post would surely remove any doubt. A wonderful post, Claire, as I’ll be off to check out the cake recipe. I’m not at all a fan of rhubarb but there’ll be plenty more fruit coming this Summer. Thanks!

    • I really think this is such a simple batter that it could be adopted for all sorts of fruit like plums, or berries. roll on summer I say!

  • I just finished a really terrific novel by a writer who is new to me: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. Rather dark but brilliantly written.

  • my book group forgot to talk about the books–the food was great though–I have since quit but go religiously to my writers’ group–we do talk about writing (but we also eat!)

    • I know the scenario you mention! It’s odd how the food takes over, I know some book groups where there is no food or drink for that reason. Mind you friends of mine have their book group meetings in a café / restaurant to negate the need for people o cook, I just wonder what other dinners think of their conversation!
      Your writers group sounds an interesting idea…..

  • Have never been a member of a book group…now I can follow some of your recommendations! Love the shots, so beautiful and the new header too. PS. I’d be the one who eats anything (except bananas) 🙂

  • I really love Rhubarb. And books, even more. But I’ve never been in a book club, and I wonder how it works,,, since everyone reads at a different pace. But it seems that it would be very interesting, especially when there is an accent on some particular interest that doesn’t depend on the plot. How many people do you have in your group? And do all participate? Or are there some members who just listen in, I wonder.

    • In this group there are about 8 of us, but we normally end with about 6 for a meeting. The way it works is that each time 1 person recommends a book and then we go away and read it (or not as the case may be!), meet up about 4 to 6 weeks later to talk about it. We vary in interests and ideas greatly. Some have a more literary critical approach, others it’s about the story, others it’s about the deeper meanings.
      And yes we do all participate – whether it’s choosing a book, or discussing it. The person who chose the book will introduce the conversation – maybe about why they chose it, what the enjoyed or didn’t like about it, and then we go around the group, 1 by 1 talking about various aspects. One of our problems is trying to all talk at once! So we now make a big effort to give people time and space to talk.
      We also sometimes get “questions or reading hints” online – they sometimes help to extend the discussion.
      To be honest it does vary a lot depending on the book, most are fiction, but not all – and of course it relies on what we give to the meeting as much as anything.

  • Oh Claire what a wonderful post. Your book club sounds like the sort of book club I’ve always wanted to find but never have… the one I belonged to for some years I just had to scale down my expectations on the discussion and raise my standards on the food considerably !
    As you say the sandwiches developed into a full scale gourmet meal, though one person did stick to sandwiches, – but what sandwiches!
    Your cake sounds lovely, and looks like joining my repertoire – but for grand-children rather than book-lovers !!!

    • I know what you mean Valerie, I think I have done exactly the same here! I used to be in another group till I moved and that could be good – but relied heavily on a couple of bright people to push the conversation away from lives – family-food etc!!
      But I suppose at the end of the day I’d rather be in a book group than not……. 🙂

    • Thanks for the recommendation Inger, I’ll go and look that one up.
      We mostly read fiction, and if I had to choose a couple of favourites I would add Mister Pip – it was a good discussion and read, I also love the Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse 5 – although with Slaughterhouse the discussion was great. The True Deceiver (Tove Jansson) was a magical and unusual read, and Pigeon English was a touching story and CLoud Atlas divided – but I loved it !

  • Your description of the book club and its readings and the discussions of said readings makes, in an almost tautological way, a fabulous read! 😀

  • Our book club went from books to magazines and now might be called a dinner club:) our monthly safe place to vent, laugh and cry. I’m re-committing to reading though… Too many months go by creeping through the same book. cheers wt

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