Monday, November 24, 2014

Slumps, Grunts, and Snickerdoodles

Lila Perl 1975
drawings by Richard Cuffari

The history of food can be so interesting.  In this book What Colonial America Ate and Why, you can imagine the English Pilgrim families trying to eke out a new way of sustenance.  There were vegetables and grains they were completely unfamiliar with and I'm sure many were homesick for the regular food they were used to.  You can see how they adapted their cooking to use these new American ingredients for their traditional English dishes.

Of course, the Pilgrims intended at the time to plant their own seeds of wheat, oats, rye, barley, and peas in the empty Indian cornfields.  They did not know that much of their seed had rotted on the long, damp journey from England.  Nor did they realize that they had come to the land of Indian corn, to an entire continent in fact where no European grains- no wheat or oats, no rye or barley- had ever been heard of before the first visits of European ships and sailors.

We learned that sukquttahash (succotashwas an Indian dish of corn and beans.  It was one of the first, the simplest, and the most directly adopted recipes taken from the Indians by the colonists.

The poor colonists also had to go without bread- there was no wheat or rye flour.  So they tried experimenting with cornmeal, baking Indian pone- improving the flavor somewhat by adding salt and sugar, milk and butter, and baking their bread on a greased fireplace griddle, pancake fashion.

I like the story of Anadama bread:  A cornmeal and wheat bread that actually had enough wheat flour in it to be raised by yeast.  The story behind anadama bread is that there was once a New England fisherman who grew exceedingly tired of the cornmeal mush served up for dinner day after day by his unimaginative wife, Anna.  Adding several fistfuls of wheat flour, some yeast, and some molasses to Anna's mush, he set the entire mess to rise, baked it, and ate the hot delicious loaf, while muttering angrily to himself between satisfying mouthfuls, "Anna, damn her!" 

Though this new world had plenty of wild fruits and berries, they were all sour and tart.  So the colonists concocted "slumps" and "grunts"- a way to steam the fruit with a cakelike dumpling dough on top.  Or even better, a "flummery", which was fruit stewed and sweetened and served thick with a bit of cream.  

This Thanksgiving holiday I think I'll be thankful for green bean casserole, the sweet light white bread I'll be baking, fat non-gamey turkey and pumpkin pie!  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What You Know First

Patricia MacLachlan
engravings by Barry Moser 1998

Barry Moser's dark engravings call to mind Dorthea Lange's migrant family photographs.  They fill the spaces of MacLachlan's sparse verse- a child's lament at having to leave the only home she's known on the prairie.

There's fear, and defiance and sadness captured in the voice of a child.

I could
If I wanted
Tell Mama and Papa that I won't go.
I won't go, I'll say,
To a new house, 
To a new place,
To a land I've never seen.

I could
If I wanted 
Tell them to take the baby-
He won't care.
He doesn't know about the slough
Where the pipits feed.
Where the geese sky-yak in the spring.
That baby hasn't even seen winter
With snow drifting hard against fences,
And the horses breathing puffs like clouds in the air,
Ice on their noses.
The cold so sharp it cuts you.

But the leaving is unavoidable.  And What You Know First takes on a rather profound message.

What you know first stays with you, my Papa says.
But just in case I forget
     I will take a twig of the cottonwood tree

I will take a little bag of prairie dirt
I cannot take the sky.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Patricia MacLachlan 1995

Patricia MacLachlan is famous for writing Sarah Plain and Tall.  This book also by MacLachlan is so beautiful, simple and heartrending.

When a mother can't care for her baby, she leaves her on an island with a family she's been watching from afar.  Told from the perspective of the 12 year old daughter, and interspersed with unique remembrances, the family learns to care for this unexpected child.  Past hurts and tragedy are brought to the surface and a bittersweet healing begins to take place.  The ending will clutch your heart and (if you're like me) make you shed a tear or two.  Okay, so I walked into Madeleine's room sobbing after I finished reading it!

The memory is this:  a blue blanket in a basket that pricks her bare legs, and the world turning over as she tumbles out.  A flash of trees, sky, clouds, and the hard driveway of dirt and gravel.  Then she is lifted up and up and held tight.  Kind faces, she remembers, but that might be the later memory of her imagination.  Still, when the memory comes, sometimes many times a night and in the day, the arms that hold her are always safe.  

MacLachlan's words are so good to read:

Soon winter would come, the winds shaking the windows of the house, the sea black.  Herring gulls would sit out of the wind on our porch, watching for spring that would come so fast and cold, we would hardly know it was there.  Then summer, visitors would come off the ferry again, flooding us, the air heavy with their voices.  And again, at summer's end they would be gone like the tide, leaving behind small signs of themselves:  a child's pail with a broken handle, a tiny white sock by the water's edge.  Bits and pieces of them left like good-byes.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trailer Dog Trix and Nancy

Trailer Dog Trix and Nancy
Florence Bourgeois 1938

I would love to travel around in a little air-stream trailer.  That's just what little Nancy's family does!  When they travel south for the winter, she picks up a puppy and names him Trixie.  Then when Santa brings Nancy a very special Christmas present, she decides to make it part of her plan for the Pet Parade.  Needless to say, Nancy and Trailer Dog Trix are a big hit!

The colors and pictures are all vintage goodness!