Nursery Rhymes, with The Passionate Foodie

Nursery Rhymes, with The Passionate Foodie

Photo: The Stay Home Chef


Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.

Playing “car games” (these are often limericks) in the traffic recently, we turned to nursery rhymes (our own made-up ones) and found we were not that good at them; and so a discussion came about as to why they were started and what they meant. The foodie ones, especially, were of interest.

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems or songs for children in Britain. These days, they are sometimes referred to as Mother Goose rhymes. The earliest dates these rhymes were recorded in Britain were from the mid-16th century. There is a well-known one that was written in France way back as early as the 13th century, this rhyme involved the use of days and months.

These nursery rhymes are a big aid to a child’s development, especially if set to music. Music and rhyme increase a child’s ability in spatial reasoning and mathematical skills. Many of the rhymes depict “naughty” or “bad” events and over the years, there have been various attempts to change the wording of some of the rhymes. Trying to change history! It is what it is – and through the decades, children have grown up with these rhymes which originated because of some event or place or imagination of the writer. Many rhymes do depict a bloodthirsty theme, however!

“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man” is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, it was first recorded in 1698. The rhyme appears in Thomas d’Urfey’s play “The Campaigners.”

Who remembers how this rhyme goes?

Most nursery rhymes were not written down until the 18th century, although there is evidence of many rhymes existing before then. Again, they were centered on food and the way of life back then.

“To market, to market to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety jig,” it continues, “to market, to market to buy a fat hog, home again, home again, jiggety jog.”

I have always loved seeing the illustrations alongside the rhymes. In this case, a horse and cart travelling down a stony, sandy road! Back in those days, there were no tarred roads.

When we first came to the island, we drove to Oyster Pond on a dirt road. There we spied a man riding on his donkey and immediately the children started saying this rhyme, although there was no cart or even a pig in sight! The rhymes learnt when very young do stay with some folks for the rest of their lives.

Another foodie rhyme is “Jack Sprat” recorded in 1639. Love the drawings depicting this married couple – a well-rounded wife and a skinny man (funny how this holds true, even to this today)! “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean, and so between the two of them, they licked the platter clean.” I picture the man eating the meat off the bones and the wife turning the lard into cakes and bakes and not able to resist the “cook’s perks!” True story in most households!

“Oranges and Lemons” was recorded about 1744, but it is purportedly older than that. One generally learns to sing this rhyme as it is set to the tune of the bells of St. Clement Danes, an Anglican church in the City of Westminster, London.

Although the first line is not the only reference to something to eat it, it ends with “chop off your head!”

There are many churches in the area near the docks on the river Thames and it is here that fruit and vegetables from abroad were delivered. Each church mentioned from around there has a rhyming line attached to it, for example, “Pancakes and Fritters, say the bells of St. Peters” and “Two sticks and an apple, say the bells of Whitechapel.” Food always is an important part in everyone’s daily life.

I have not found any reference to explain why anyone’s head would be chopped off, but I suspect it is because it was turned into a childhood game. Children stand in line between two children who hold hands, arms up in the air, to make an arch. As everyone sings out this song, the children standing in line pass under the arch as they continue singing to the last few lines: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head…chop, chop, chop.” The child passing underneath becomes encircled by the arch and then chooses which side of the arch to stand behind and so on repeat!!! This was a good way to form teams for whatever team play they were going to do – tug-of-war, project in the classroom, etc.

The rhymes come from a variety of sources – riddles, proverbs, ballads, drinking songs, historical events, and ancient pagan rituals.

From Wikipedia, we read that many nursery rhymes are thought to have hidden meanings and origins. The early English nursery rhymes were apparently written in “Low Saxon” – a hypothetical early form of Dutch. One researcher was adamant that these rhymes were written as coded messages and not simply for entertainment. There is absolutely no proof of coded messages!

“Little Jack Horner” – another rhyme that mentions food – is thought to have originated with the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” in1725 in Britain; however, this rhyme appeared round 1520! The rhyme appears to have had some adaptions made to it: “Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his pudding and pie. He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plumb and said, ‘What a good boy am I.’”

“Do you know the Muffin Man?” It is easy to imagine this rhyme, set in the era when bakers sent out wee lads to sell their wares (1820), strolling around the streets with a large tray strapped over their chests, filled with warm muffins. The Muffin Man lived in Drury Lane, London. (It is near Convent Garden, and was a much-loved figure, apparently.) Well, who wouldn’t love fresh muffins being brought to the door?

There are many more foodie rhymes. Can you remember back to childhood for others?


Basic Muffins – dried fruit, chocolate, raspberries or blue berries and nuts can be added to this recipe (individual flavours).


2 medium eggs

125ml vegetable oil

250ml semi-skimmed milk

250g golden caster sugar

400g self-raising flour

1 tsp salt

100g of your choice as above


Pre heat oven 375° F.

Line 2 muffin trays with paper muffin cases.

Beat eggs with electric mixer for 1 min.

Add vegetable oil and semi-skimmed milk.

Beat until just combined.

Add golden caster sugar.

Whisk until you have a smooth batter.

Sift in self-raising flour and salt.

Stir gently until just smooth.

Be careful not to over-mix.

Gently stir in your choice of flavours as above.

Fill muffin cases two-thirds full.

Bake for 20-25 mins.

Leave muffins to cool for a few mins.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Classic Plum Pie – we get some gorgeous plums in our supermarkets on occasion. Serve with custard – homemade or bought.


900g plums, stoned and thickly sliced

140g golden caster sugar, plus extra

1 tsp ground cloves

1 heaped TBL cornflour

Flour, for dusting

500g short-crust pastry

1 egg, beaten, to glaze


Pre Heat oven 375° F.

Place large baking sheet in oven while heating.

Put plums, sugar and cloves in a pan.

Simmer until the sugar dissolves – 8-10 mins.

Mix cornflour with a little of the juice, stir well into the fruit.

Boil for a few mins, stirring, until thickened, set aside to cool down.

Roll out two-thirds of the pastry on floured surface.

Line a pie dish; let the pastry hang over the edges a little.

Fill with the plum mixture.

Roll out remaining pastry a little bigger than the dish; drape over the plums.

Pinch edges together well.

Make a small hole in the middle.

Brush with egg.

Sprinkle with sugar.

Place on the hot baking sheet.

Bake for 25-30 mins.

Serve hot with custard.

Corned Beef Pie – using canned corned beef makes this pie economical and quick


1TBLvegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 potato, diced

340g can corned beef, cubed

1tsp Worcestershire sauce

300ml warm beef stock

320g ready-rolled short-crust pastry sheet

1 TBL milk


Heat oil in a frying pan

Cook onions and carrots 5 mins.

Add potatoes – cook 5 mins.

Gently stir in the corned beef, cook 3 mins.

Add Worcestershire sauce, stock, season to taste – simmer 5 mins (potatoes should be just tender).

Heat oven 375° F.

Roll the pastry to the size of the pie dish, have a little hanging over edges.

Transfer filling to pie dish.

Dampen edges of the dish with water.

Lay pastry over top.

Press edges of pastry firmly – use a fork.

Make a small slash in the middle; trim off excess pastry if necessary.

Brush pastry top with milk.

Bake on pre-heated baking tray 30 to 35 mins until golden.

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