'Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook': inspired by Kenneth Grahame's classic tale

REMEMBER Toad, Ratty, Badger, and Mole, the heroes of Kenneth Grahame's classic ''Wind in the Willows''? A very important part of their idyllic life by the river was food - the luncheon basket packed with a ''simple meal,'' the picnic in the woods, a meal with friends around the supper table.

At one point in the story, when Toad, dressed up as a washerwoman, is very unhappy, it is a delicious meal that revives his self-esteem: ''Most and best of all, he had had a substantial meal, hot and nourishing, and felt big, strong, and careless and self-confident. . . . 'Ho, ho!' he said to himself as he marched along with his chin in the air, 'What a clever Toad I am!' ''

''The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook'' (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, $13.95), written by Arabella Boxer, is a collection of mouth-watering recipes that would likely please even persnickety old Toad.

The recipes, inspired by Mr. Grahame's story, range from Toad-in-a-Bad-Hole and Red Lion Spare Ribs with Barbecue Sauce to Snowfalls in Dark Woods and Toad Hall Trifle.

The book is divided into five sections: food for staying at home, food for staying in bed, food for the storage cupboard, food for excursions, food for celebrations. Each section has a brief introduction, with snippets of cooking wisdom sprinkled throughout.

In addition, the pages are embellished with Ernest Shepard's beloved illustrations and with favorite passages from ''The Wind in the Willows.''

Although the book will appeal to children, it is something children and adults should explore together. Some of the recipes are fairly simple, but most are a bit too complex for children to try on their own.

The barbecue sauce has an unusual, tangy taste, but it is mild and pleasant tasting. Red Lion Spare Ribs With Barbecue Sauce 1 large onion, chopped 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 6-ounce can tomato puree 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar 2/3 cup chicken stock 1 1/2 tablespoons honey or syrup 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 small clove garlic, crushed Salt Pepper 1/2 teaspoon oregano 2 pounds pork spare ribs

Barbecue sauce should be made in advance, preferably the day before.

Slowly cook onion in oil. Meanwhile, mix tomato puree with vinegar to make a paste. When onions are soft but not brown, stir in paste. Mix well, then add stock.

Next stir in honey or syrup, mustard, and garlic. Stir in salt and pepper, to taste, and add oregano. Cook gently 15 minutes, stirring often. If too thick, add a drop of hot water. Sauce should be thick and jammy.

Turn off heat, add dash of Tabasco, and let cool.

An hour or two before cooking ribs, lay them out in a flat dish and brush with sauce. Let stand 1 to 2 hours, then put in baking pan lined with aluminum foil.

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Brush with more sauce and bake 1 hour on top shelf of oven. Turn over a couple of times while baking.

Put remaining sauce in blender and puree, then pour into a small bowl. Serve ribs on a flat dish and pass sauce separately. Serves 2. Toad Hall Trifle 1 sponge cake, slightly stale, or 24 stale ladyfingers Juice of 1 large orange 3 egg yolks 4 tablespoons sugar 1 1/4 cups milk 1/2 cup raspberries 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 2 ounces dark chocolate, grated

Cut sponge cake into thick chunks, or break ladyfingers in half, and use to line a broad, shallow bowl (preferably made of glass). Pour orange juice over it and let sit until liquid is absorbed.

Beat egg yolks in a bowl; gradually add sugar while beating. Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.

Heat milk in small pan until boiling, then pour into egg yolk mixture, beating constantly. Place bowl in saucepan of simmering water; continue to stir 8 minutes.

Custard should thicken and coat the back of a wooden spoon. Then stand bowl in cold water to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent skin from forming.

Pour cooled custard over sponge cake or ladyfingers; scatter raspberries over top. Whip cream and spread over berries. Sprinkle chocolate over top.Chill 1 to 2 hours before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

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