Blog Archives

Southern Women Writers Serve up Some Fantastic Fare!

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

Mmm, Mmm…

March is National Women’s History Month, an excellent time to recognize the talents and achievements of the South’s female writers. Through the years, Southern women writers have cooked up some amazing literary works, often focusing attention on relationships and families and advocating for gender, racial and socioeconomic equity.  And of course, southern food is key in Southern life and culture and is often used as an important tool for these writers. Won’t you join me for this literary feast?

Appetizer:

Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty

In Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty examines the complex relationships of the many individuals in the Fairchild family.  The story is set in rural Mississippi during the 1920s, at the family’s plantation, Shellmound.  The novel focuses on a wedding between the family’s 17-year-old daughter, Dabney Fairchild, and Troy, the caretaker for the plantation. From the rehearsal dinner, to the wedding feast, to the post-wedding picnic, Welty gives us Southern cuisine aplenty.  As the Southern women in the story cook together and talk together, we learn much about them, their values, and their commitment to family.

Entrée:

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg

From the first three words on the cover of Fannie Flagg’s book, our mouths are watering.  All through the book, food is important.  The novel tells the story of a friendship between the elderly Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode and the middle-aged and discouraged Evelyn Couch.  When Evelyn’s husband visits his mother at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home, Evelyn instead visits with Mrs. Threadgoode in the lobby.  She returns time after time.

As the two women talk, Mrs. Threadgoode reveals the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who opened a café together in Whistle Stop, Alabama, back in the 1930s.  In a setting fraught with poverty and racial tension, Idgie makes the café food available to everyone – although she is unfairly required to feed her black friends outside the back door.

The Whistle Stop food was home-cooked, nourishing and comforting, based on recipes from Sipsey, a black woman who had been working in the Threadgoode house since she was a girl.

“Even at eleven they say she could make the most delicious biscuits and gravy, cobbler fried chicken, turnip greens and black-eyed peas,” recalls Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn.  “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”

A sharp contrast is provided by the pre-packaged snack foods and vending machine fare that Evelyn eats and shares with Mrs. Threadgoode.  We see that Evelyn has an unhealthy relationship with food, gnawing through dozens of candy bars in one sitting and then obsessing about being overweight.

Later in the novel, Flagg depicts a heightened understanding in Evelyn, who prepares a lovely dinner for her friend:

“When Mrs. Threadgoode saw what she had on her plate, she clapped her hands, as excited as a child on Christmas. There before her was a plate of perfectly fried green tomatoes and fresh cream-white corn, six slices of bacon, with a bowl of baby lima beans on the side and four huge light and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.”

Dessert:

Hallelujah!  The Welcome Table, by Maya Angelou

I saved a book by one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou, for our final course. While best known for her autobiographical memoirs, poems and essays, Angelou has also crafted cookbooks among her “lighter fare.” The subtitle to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table invites the reader to enjoy “A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.”  The Random House book jacket proclaims that the book is “a stunning combination of the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.”

Each section of the book is introduced with personal reflection. In one of these, Angelou recalls the desserts that were shared to cap off local quilting bees:

“Mrs. Sneed, the pastor’s wife, would bring sweet potato pie, warm and a little too sweet for Momma’s taste but perfect to Bailey and me.  Mrs. Miller’s coconut cake and Mrs. Kendrick’s chocolate fudge were what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden just before the Fall.  But the most divine dessert of all was Momma’s Caramel Cake.”

Angelou goes on to share a poignant memory of how her mother baked a caramel cake to lift her spirits after an incident earlier that day.  A teacher had slapped the then-mute Maya and demanded that she talk. Read the rest of this entry

Happy 150th Birthday, Half-Pint!

laura_ingalls_wilder_cropped_sepia2By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

“The ‘Little House’ books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with the simple pleasures; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.”

—Laura Ingalls Wilder

On February 7, 2017, Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been 150 years old.  Though she died in 1957, she lives on through her beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  This enduring children’s fiction series gives readers a glimpse of life in another time, based on Wilder’s experiences from her birth in Pepin, Wisconsin, to her childhood as a pioneer girl traveling through the upper Midwest, to her life as a young teacher and wife in De Smet, South Dakota.

010087I was in fourth grade when I first discovered the Little House books.  I was in a new school – with a new library – and I remember seeing the books on a shelf to my right as I walked into the room.  The cover illustrations by Garth Williams first drew me in, but it was the colorful word pictures created by Wilder that kept me transfixed.  I kept returning to the library, reading each book in the series until I had completed them all.  We didn’t have American Girl dolls or books in those days, but I think that many from my generation thought of Laura and her sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace as our American girls.

As fictionalized autobiographic material, the books don’t give us an entire or entirely accurate picture of history.  This was a limited picture of America (an approach that took on a largely hushed tone about Native American and black history) but one that many still find valuable and enjoyable.   I know that Wilder’s words helped me to travel to another time and place, to experience things that I would never experience in my lifetime – from traveling in a covered wagon and living in a log cabin, to churning butter, harvesting maple syrup, and smoking meat. I felt as though I knew the Ingalls family and was right there with Laura (a.k.a. Half-Pint) as she experienced each new task, trial or tribulation.

The story of how Wilder came to write the books is in itself an interesting one.  In midlife, Wilder wrote a biweekly column for the Missouri Ruralist, which featured her opinions on country life, housekeeping, and marriage.  Her adult daughter, Rose, a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin and already a published fiction writer, encouraged Wilder to write about her childhood.  That autobiography, Pioneer Girl, was rejected by several publishers at the time.

little-house-in-the-big-woods-cover-imageThe tide turned when an editor at Harper & Brothers asked Wilder to reframe the autobiographical material into a fictionalized children’s book.  With help from Rose, Wilder did exactly that.  The editor liked the revised manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods and published it. It was 1932, and Wilder was 65 years old. (For adults who are aspiring fiction writers, this is an especially encouraging fact!)

Wilder’s first book was quickly successful, and she was asked to write more.  Rose helped her mother, although the extent to which she served as editor or ghostwriter is a subject of debate among literary experts. By 1943, the core eight novels of the series had been published: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. The final book in the series, The First Four Years, was published in 1971, almost 15 years after Wilder’s death.

The Little House series opened the doors of history to girls and boys across the country – and later, around the world.  Wilder died on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday, on her farm in Mansfield, Missouri.  Yet she lives on today through her literary legacy.  About 60 million copies have been sold of Little House in the Big Woods alone, and her books have been published in 30 languages.

910dqmhfpelIn 2014, the South Dakota Historical Society Press published a hardcover edition of Pioneer Girl, the autobiography first refused by Wilder’s contemporary publishers.  The text, annotated by Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill, has sold more than 140,000 copies.  For 2017, Harper Collins is releasing new, anniversary-themed editions of the books – a testament to their enduring popularity and appeal.

Want to Know More?

The library is a great way to learn more Laura Ingalls Wilder and get acquainted (or reacquainted) with her Little House books.   Ask one of our children’s librarians for the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Bibliography,” which lists titles and locations of the original books, as well as non-fiction companion books, and books by other authors based on the lives of Wilder’s female relatives.

Upstairs, in the nonfiction area, we have a variety of writings by Wilder, as well as books about her by other authors.  Stop by the reference desk and ask about them.  We’ll be glad to help you!

publication2

Laura Ingalls Wilder Children’s Bibliography…Click to Enlarge


Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: