by Brandon Mull Publication: June 7, 2006 Genre: Fantasy My rating: 5/5 stars Spoilers: None
Fablehaven is one of my favorite middle grade stories--I listen to the audiobooks every year or two, and I'm still not tired of them. All five books are fun, but the first one in particular has a summery atmosphere that reminds me of being a kid on summer break from school. It seemed only fitting that I give this series the recipe-and-review spotlight in June!
The books are about Kendra Sorenson (thirteen) and her brother Seth (eleven), who go to stay with their grandparents on a preserve for magical creatures. However, the creatures are hidden from view unless you know the trick to see them. (This isn't really a spoiler; it's one of the semi-twists in the book, but it's also featured in every synopsis out there.) In the first book, Kendra and Seth learn about fairies, naiads, witches, and lots of other magical beings. The main plot kicks into gear during the Midsummer festival night.
The two main characters are opposites: Kendra is overly cautious, and Seth is very reckless. Most of the critical reviews I've seen of this book involve the kids' natures being annoying; I think they're realistic portrayals, and while the kids' choices are frustrating at times (looking at you, Seth), both characters grow immensely over the course of the series. The plot also escalates with each book, both stakes and obstacles increasing as Kendra and Seth learn to navigate the hidden world of magic.
While the series is targeted at preteens, it has interesting older/adult characters, cool magical creatures (dragons, later in the series!), and twists that were often hard to predict. I highly recommend it to readers of any age, particularly those who enjoy fantasy. Be ready for authentically "young" character voices/choices, though!
Recipe: Calico bread
Kendra learns about magical creatures called brownies, who, in addition to repairing broken furniture and mending clothes, will bake delicious desserts if you leave ingredients out for them. Lena, the Fablehaven housekeeper, says that no matter what she leaves out, the flavors in the finished dessert never clash.
I've taken a couple of stabs at developing a calico bread recipe over the years (I think my sister and I first tried in 2015), but I've finally settled on one I like. Although it takes a couple of liberties with the description in the book, it stays true to the spirit!
Calico bread is described as round, with a mottled mixture of white, black, brown, and orange sections. Kendra finds parts that taste like cinnamon and sugar, blackberry jam, chocolate and peanut butter, vanilla pudding, and banana nut bread. For ease and the sake of everybody's sanity, my recipe involves making a plain tea bread batter, dividing it into five bowls, and adding flavors to each.
For the base batter
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree + 3/4 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup blackberry jam + 1 tbsp flour
3 tbsp peanut butter + 1/4 cup cocoa powder + 3 tbsp milk
1/3 cup vanilla pudding mix + 1/4 cup milk
1 banana, mashed + 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Make the base batter: Using a hand mixer, cream sugar into butter and oil for 2 minutes. Add eggs and mix for another minute. Mix in buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to butter/sugar mixture and mix just until blended.
Add flavors: Divide base batter evenly into five smaller bowls. (I like to use a kitchen scale to get it even, but you can approximate, because it doesn't need to be exact.) Into one bowl, mix pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and sugar. Into the second, mix blackberry jam and flour. Into the third, mix peanut butter, cocoa powder, and buttermilk. Into the fourth, mix vanilla pudding mix and buttermilk. Into the fifth, mix banana and chopped walnuts.
Assemble and bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray a 9 inch round pan. Using a spoon or cookie scoop, add batter to pan, distributing flavors randomly. Fill the pan about 2/3 of the way; you may not use all the batter.
For best results, don't swirl them together, although they'll naturally mix a bit around the edges. Bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before removing; cool completely before cutting and eating.