Saturday, July 30, 2011

Someone's in the kitchen

This book confused me. Not too many pages in, and I didn’t know what to do. Turn on the light as evening fell, skip dinner and keep on reading? Go to the kitchen, roll up my sleeves, pull out the pans and start cooking (oh! that garlic sauce on page 126)? Or head for the computer to order Mastering the Art of French Cooking, maybe with overnight delivery?
            I read.
            But the next day, I cooked and ordered. Glad I am that I did all three.
            On first glance the book seems like a simple enough approach—a compilation of letters between two friends as their individual and interesting lives unfold an ocean apart. But, the two friends are Julia Child and Avis Devoto, both gifted writers. The letters alone zing off the page as they offer not only reports of their personal lives, but a study of a growing, rich and deep friendship, commentaries on the confusing world of the 1950s, the even more confusing world of book publishing, and, naturally, cooking, eating, parties, planning, more cooking, cooking , cooking. I ate it all up.
            In 1951, a young American living in Paris read Bernard DeVoto’s column in Harper’s. He lamented being unable to find a kitchen knife that an American housewife “can cut something with.” The American, Julia Child, knew about knives and where to get exactly what he sought. Off she went, bought a knife, put it in the mail.
            DeVoto, a busy man and popular author didn’t respond. His equally busy and talented wife Avis did with a more-or-less routine thank you note. Julia answered Avis. Avis wrote back to Julia. Years of writing and friendship began.
            Here’s an aside concerning the DeVoto family. It’s a familiar name to me. My dad about whom I’m blogging ( more about that another time—another time soon) was a journalist-historian of Texas and the Southwest. He greatly admired Bernard DeVoto and owned many of his books. I grew up with The Year of Decision, 1846 and Across the Wide Missouri. I never, until now knew or even wondered much about the author—just another famous writer. And I never thought to wonder about his wife although I knew my dad would never have enjoyed the career he had as a writer without the support, help (writing and otherwise), hard work of my mom. This was the case in the DeVoto household. Avis was a writer/reviewer in her own right; plus, she acted as the business manager, the personal secretary, the proof-reader, and, I suspect, sometimes co-author. I have a new heroine.
            More than a half-century after they wrote the letters I’m grateful that both women were not only fine writers and dependable correspondents, but that they both kept things. I recently came into possession of box full of my father’s letters to my mom. She kept things. Apparently he didn’t. Now I ache for her letters to him. Three cheers for Avis and Julia.
            As their friendship grew, so did the range of the letters. Of course, there was lots of cooking, and entertaining. Together they wrestled around with a perennial hostess problem—how to throw an elegant dinner party without help and without the hostess being held hostage in the kitchen by the demands of a “serve immediately” menu.  They’ve got some dandy solution—some show up in Mastering the Art. Politics took up lots of space coming to a peak during the outrageous and outraging McCarthy hearings. And, naturally, they spend lots of time discussing the perennial “what happens next in my life?” The friends are candid and engaging. Avis knew the ins and outs, the snarls and the pitfalls of publishing. She gave Julia more than just advice on writing and managing unruly co-authors, she shepherded Master the Art of French Cooking across the decade, yes, I said the decade, until its triumphant publication in 1962.
            The friendship was not always in letters. Exchanging over 100 letters, the nw fast and best friends met. The friendship deepened and became not only between the women, but between the families. It continued as long as both lived.

Lamb with garlic sauce. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
            A great story, a great friendship, a great book, two great lives, and lots and lots of good times and food. My two word review: Read it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bouncing with anticipation

I clearly am still a little girl. And I have no plans for growing up. I am as excited now that my birthday is tomorrow as I was maybe, no maybe about it, 65 years ago—yep 65—waiting to be six—finally old enough to go to school. Bounce, bounce.

And already—I’m bouncing because the greetings are beginning to roll in. And a box arrived from Oklahoma yesterday. I’ve got two cards from Alaska—they are all on the mantel. No peeking ‘til the big day. BUT

I got a wonderful card via e-mail. It’s so fine, I must share—right now! No waiting.

Thanks go to Linda Clayton Hicks of Amarillo—where else?—in the growing up years and now of Massachusetts. Creative person? Just a little bit! She sent another draft—and I can’t decide between them.
 Linda knows my writing love/anguish. I'm posting this one over my worktable.

Linda is an artist, quilter, beader, friend par excellence! Lucky me! Lucky you getting to visit Linda's quilting blog--

and her website--outta sight!

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Honey of a Patriot--Happy July 4th

It’s the glorious Forth of July, celebrate, eat hot dogs and peach ice cream, and take time on this happy day to fly the flag and remember some of our early patriots—and, remember, we have American heroes and American heroines. One of my favorites is Nancy Hart who was - -

A Honey of a Patriot


 Up in Wilkes County, around Washington, Georgia, things were rough ‘way back in 1780.  It looked like the English and their loyalist supporters (the Tories) were about to win the war and force Georgia to resume her role as a colony.

            But the woods held many American patriots who didn’t agree.  They kept fighting the battle for freedom whenever a chance came along.  According to legend and folk history, one young patriot was galloping along with several Tories in hot pursuit.  Then, suddenly, he disappeared--vanished into nowhere.

            A few days later, six Tories retraced their steps and stopped at the cabin of Nancy and Benjamin Hart.  Nancy and her daughter Sukey were tending Nancy’s herb garden, while Ben and the boys labored in the field.

            A tall woman, some say over six feet, and rough, Nancy told them straight out, yes, she’d helped that poor lad.  When he came up to the cabin, she’d thrown open both doors so that he could gallop right through and disappear into the swamp.

            Her story outraged the men.  But they didn’t shoot her.  Instead, they shot her turkey—the last one scratching around the cabin yard—and insisted she cook it for them.  Nancy put the bird on the fire, then she offered her unwelcome guests a tot or two of Ben’s homemade whiskey.

            Meanwhile, with a wink, she told Sukey fetch some spring water so she could make hoecakes to serve with honeycomb alongside the turkey.  Sukey, a patriot herself, ran not for the spring, but for the conch shell the family used to call the men in from the field; then she brought her Mom the water.  The Tories, getting relaxed, stacked their guns up and enjoyed another round or two.

            Nancy served the turkey and hoecake and sent Sukey back outside.  While the men ate, Nancy slipped over to the stacked guns and began passing them through a chink in the cabin wall to Sukey.  When a couple of the fellows noticed and demanded that Nancy quit, she raised a gun and told them she’d kill the first one who moved.

            This concerned them all, because, the story goes, Nancy was crossed-eyed and they could not be sure exactly who she was looking at.  She spoke to them in no uncertain terms—she was known for her salty language.  No matter.

            One of them moved.

            Nancy shot him.

            No one else moved until Ben, the boys and some men from the neighborhood appeared.  They decided to shoot the other five Tories.  But Nancy shook her head.  “Too good for a Tory,” she decreed.  They ought to be hung.

            And they were, the legend continues.  The last thing they heard was Nancy singing “Yankee Doodle.”

            In later years, some folks said this was a good story, but that was all.  Nancy never lived, and no six Tories ever died.    But in 1912, workmen constructing the Elberton and Eastern Railroad found a grave near the Hart cabin site.  In it—the remains of six human skeletons.

            Folklore recounts that Nancy’s neighbors held her in awe.  One man said she was “a honey of a patriot, but a devil of a wife.”  Her Cherokee neighbors called her “Wahatchee”—“War Woman.”  A creek by her old cabin bears this name.

            Nancy’s stories gained wide circulation as early as 1825 when the Milledgeville Southern Record told of her bravery. (However, this account says the meat was venison.)  A later account, embellished a bit, and with the number of Tories reduced to five, appeared in the famous women’s magazine, Godey’s Ladies Book.

            Nancy is more than a legend. The Daughters of the American Revolution recognize her as an American Patriot. Some DAR members trace themselves as Nancy’s lineal descendent rather than following the more usual pattern of tracing back to a male revolutionary.

            The State of Georgia acknowledges this brave daughter.   In 1853, the state created a new county from portions of Franklin and Elbert Counties—Hart County.  Writing in 1919, Rebecca Latimer Felton (later the first U.S. woman senator) lamented “True it is, she married a Hart, yet it was Nancy who captured Tories. . . Hart County should have been called Nancy Hart County.”

            Nancy’s full name appeared on the marker when, on November 11, 1931, in Hartwell, Hart County, Georgia, Senator Richard Russell retold the story of Nancy Hart and dedicated the Nancy Hart Highway, which begins in Hartwell and runs though the entire state.  It is the first highway in the United States dedicated to a woman.  In 1997, Georgia recognized Nancy Morgan Hart as a Georgia Woman of Achievement.  Her portrait hangs in the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.  (She looks considerably calmer and more cleaned up than she probably did the afternoon she captured the Tories.)

            Nancy’s life went on for a good while after the Revolution.  She and Ben pulled up stakes and moved to near Brunswick, where Ben died.  Nancy then went to live with her son John in Clarke County.  About 1803 the family moved to Henderson County, Kentucky.  Nancy lived there until her death in 1830.  She is buried on John’s farm in a grave marked by a monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

            After all the excitement on that eventful afternoon, it would not surprise me to learn that Nancy grabbed the leftover turkey, sent Sukey to the garden for tomatoes and greens, then whipped up supper. I’ve substituted canned broth and tomatoes and bagged frozen vegetables.

Revolutionary stew—in honor of Nancy Morgan Hart

 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup diced onions

2 cloves minced garlic

 2 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes

1 cup corn kernels

15 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 quart chicken stock

3 cups diced turkey (or ham or chicken)

salt to taste

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (or fresh rosemary and thyme to taste)

1 generous cup frozen collard or turnip greens

            Cook the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil until soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste for seasoning, and serve.

            Nancy probably offered leftover hoecakes.  I made corn muffins. 

            There are many stories about Nancy Morgan Hart.  I’ve told only a few here.  If you’d like the references to learn about her, or if you have some stories to share, please get in touch.

 A longer version of Nancy Hart’s story appeared in my food and history column, “Stirring Up Memories” in the Bainbridge, Georgia Post-Searchlight  January14, 2004