My Name Is Leon


my-name-is-leon-9781501117459_hrThis has been on my list of books to read, although I’m not sure where the recommendation came from. What a heartbreaking story about Leon, a 9 year-old boy in foster care in Britain in the early 1980’s. Leon is a treasure of a kid. I liked him so much, I wanted to adopt him myself! There is a backdrop of racial tension between blacks and whites that finally erupts into riots in several cities, including London, and is an important part of the story. Leon loves his baby brother, and provided most of Jake’s care when he was an infant, because his mother, Carol, is frequently unable to take care of even herself. When Jake, a blonde, blue-eyed white child was adopted, Leon felt betrayed by all of the adults in his life who wouldn’t let him visit Jake. Leon’s foster carer, Maureen, is a wise and good woman, but also absent through most of the book due to a debilitating illness that kept her in the hospital for an extended period of time. Ultimately, however, this book is about the meaning of family- the one you make, not the one you were born with, necessarily.  All it took here to make one, was to assemble multiple people who love each other and are committed to one another during the good times and the bad. Families don’t necessarily look like what I grew up with in the 1950’s, and that’s great. The story stayed with me long after finishing the book.

This is a debut novel by someone who knows her way around the foster care system. De Waal’s mother was a foster carer, and Kit herself worked in criminal and family law, was a magistrate, sits on adoption panels, and wrote a training manual on adoption and foster care. The characters she has brought to life in this book are fully developed and multi-dimensional. I feel warm and fuzzy having been a part of their lives however briefly while I read about them.




When Leon first arrives at Maureen’s, she feeds him a bacon sandwich, also known as bacon butty, bap or sarnie in the U.K. When he finishes the first one, she makes another, and keeps feeding him until he’s full. Leon is unused to 1. being taken care of, and 2. having as much as he wants to eat. This was a harbinger of his future, although he didn’t know it at the time. When I was thinking about what food to include in the post, I immediately thought of the bacon sandwich, but then thought, “that’s pretty mundane,” so I did a Google search and found out that a bacon butty is a big deal in England. In a  poll, it was ranked the number one thing that people love about Britain! There are different ways to prepare it, with variations on the type of bread to use and whether or not to toast the bread, or butter it, but the one constant was that it had to be served with HP Sauce, also known as brown sauce. Too impatient to wait for an Amazon delivery, I decided to make my own. There were a myriad of recipes out there, so after extensive reading, (the reviews were very helpful in making corrections to the given recipes to nail down the flavor of the original sauce).  I combined several to come up with the recipe given here.

HP Sauce has a story. It was originally produced by HP Foods in the U.K., but is now produced by the H.J. Heinz Company in the Netherlands. It was named after London’s House of Parliament. The sauce was called “Wilson’s gravy” in the 1960’s and 1970’s after Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mary Wilson, his wife, said, “If Harold has a fault, it is that he will drown everything in HP Sauce.”

Too bad I don’t know anyone familiar with the original sauce to let me know how I did.

Bacon Butty Sandwich
Serves 2

4 slices Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread
6 slices of cooked bacon* (use more to suit your personal preference )
unsalted butter

Butter 2 slices of bread. Place 3 strips of bacon on each slice. Spread some HP Sauce on the bacon. Close the sandwiches with the other 2 slices of bread, cut and serve.

HP Sauce
Yield: 4 Cups

3 C chopped Granny Smith apples
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp cayenne*
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp pickling spice
pinch of black pepper
1 C dates, chopped
⅓ C dark brown sugar
1 T tomato paste
1¼ C malt vinegar
¼ C treacle (found at Whole Foods)
3 T tamarind paste (found at Whole Foods)
1 T oil for frying

Heat the oil over medium heat, add the onions and saute for 5 minutes until the onions are soft, but not browned. Stir in the garlic and spices and saute another minute to bloom the spices. Add the remaining ingredients and boil down until fairly thick, about an hour and 15 minutes. (I added water when the sauce got too dry.) When cooked, cool slightly and press through a fine sieve, discarding the remaining pulp. I put one cup in a pint jar for the fridge and froze the other three cups in individual containers to be used at a later date.

* When I tasted the sauce after it had cooled down, I thought it had too much heat, and decided to use less cayenne when I make it again. However, when I put it on the bacon sandwich the next day, it wasn’t too hot at all, so I would keep the recipe as is. The sandwich, simple as it is, is a keeper.



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