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The Garage Girl and Maureen Fry's apricot flapjacks

Over tea and several apricot flapjacks, the girl told her she was the one who had given Harold the burger all those weeks ago. He had sent her many lovely postcards; although due to his sudden rise to fame there had been an inconvenient number of fans and journalists hanging about the garage.

– Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, chapter 28

In the second chapter of this poignant story, sixty-five-year-old Harold walks into a garage a couple of post boxes away from his street, seeking a snack. He's feeling something, but doesn't quite have a mission just yet. Although we never learn her name, the girl in the garage is the catalyst that starts everything. 



You have to keep positive, though." Harold stopped eating his burger and mopped his mouth with a paper serviette. "Positive?" "You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better. There is so much in the human mind we don't understand. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything. [...] I don't mean, like, religious. I mean, trusting what you don't know and going for it. Believing you can make a difference.
Harold is awed. With her lesson in faith, slipped casually with a microwaved burger, fries and polite conversation, the girl unintentionally inspires his 300-mile journey, on foot, from South Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed – and subsequently becomes a recipient of his deep gratitude and several postcards.

I procured this book because I'd bought its sequel, in German, at a book sale a couple of years ago. The experience of reading it was unexpected; it is delightful, painful, realistic, hopeful, cold and warm all in one. At the heart of it is a seemingly simple premise, with layers and even plot twists that unfold as we follow along on the journey. (A little spoiler lies ahead, and the paragraph is indicated accordingly.)
And she got better, did she? Your aunt? Because you believed she could?" The strand of hair was twiddled so tightly round her finger he was now afraid it was stuck. "She said it gave her hope when everything else had gone 

 Mild plot spoiler:  Later in the book, we learn that Harold's wife, Maureen, has started to cook again after twenty years. The girl in the garage becomes the first to share this food, which seems fitting at a point in the story where both Harold and Maureen are more comfortable telling their deepest truths to a girl whose name they don't know rather than to each other. She comes to Maureen to clear up a misunderstanding and her own conscience, but ends up, once again, inspiring action. Maureen's apricot flapjacks lie at the centre of this scene, a symbol of becoming un-stuck, in more ways than one. 
The girl didn't answer. She took a further flapjack and for several minutes she seemed to be thinking of nothing other than the taste of it. [...] "If I were you, I wouldn't be stuck here, making biscuits and talking to me. I'd be doing something.
 Spoiler-free zone ahead:  Interestingly, researching flapjacks led me to discover that there is once again a huge difference between the UK and US – in the former, flapjacks refer to a slightly-baked flat slab made of rolled oats, butter, sugar and golden syrup, cut into bars; in the US, the term refers to a pancake. But if sources can be trusted, the early British version was akin to a pancake or flat tart cooked and tossed on a griddle, earning the name "flap"-jack in the early 17th century. Shakespeare refers to it in his play Pericles, King of Tyre:
Come, thou shan't go home, and we'll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting-days, and moreo'er puddings and flap-jacks, and thou shalt be welcome.
It was only later that the British flapjack evolved into the oat bars, which are now a classic, often accentuated with other grains, chocolate or dried fruit. For Maureen's version, I required a few ingredients I didn't have lying around, including rolled oats, dried apricots and the delightful demerara sugar, which I've never come across before, and which seems to dance every time it comes into contact with air.



I couldn't find golden syrup, and though it can be substituted with honey, I thought I'd go authentic. It is apparently quite easy to make, so I spent Saturday night in the company of gently bubbling sugar-water-lemon juice. It was a very comforting sound, at least until I overdid it. Google tells me it might be "dark treacle" now; I'm not sure what it is, but it sure ain't golden. (Also, using some brown sugar made it very hard to correctly identify the colour. And I miscalculated the time.) No real harm, though, and I even added a very little bit to the flapjacks.

The research for flapjack recipes was frustrating, because each seemed to use different, and different proportions of, ingredients. In the end, I used two recipes, averaging out the quantities and tweaking a bit as I went along. Here's what I used to make 16 flapjacks in an 8-inch baking tin, because I'm never calculating this again:

110 g butter 
3/4 cup demerara sugar 
1/2 cup honey 
1/2 tbsp "homemade" dark/black treacle (?) 
1/4 tsp salt 
3 cups rolled oats 
1 cup dried apricots, chopped 

Not the healthiest, are they? Not the easiest to remove from the tray, either. The slab kept attempting to crumble every time I cut it, but slight cooling at low temperatures did the trick. (Note to self: it's too hot in Mumbai for things not to melt at room temperature. Refrigerate.) 

Probably not something I'll make too often, but perhaps when I'm in need of a pep talk, a little faith, a call to action, a conversation with near-strangers, or just a sugar rush.






Note: Background image and recipe of flapjacks in the first and second photograph are from the book Grandma's Best Recipes by Parragon Books, 2011. I didn't use their recipe, though.

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