Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Quirky Writer's Kitchen

When I discovered my milk was tainted, on its way to being all-out sour, I did what any red-blooded child of a mama who survived the Great Depression would do; I set it out on the counter to let it get good and tangy. Now I'm about to bake a genuine scratch Sour Milk Chocolate Cake. I'll slather it over with homemade caramel icing good enough to cut in squares and sell in any fine candy shop.
I'm beginning my third middle-grade novel, this one set in east-central Indiana during--you guessed it--the Depression. As I searched for the cake recipe, I got to thinking about how much the 1930s changed the way we cook. It certainly affected Mama's style. 

I was born post-WWII, but I know that much of what Mama cooked was the result of having lived through the dark decade in America's history. We were "economically challenged" throughout my youth. I guess the Depression hung on longer for some folks. My mama had a talent for making something delicious out of nothing. 

There's a wonderful little restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans that's famous for its bread pudding. It's good. Really good. But not better than Mama's. And the money I paid for one helping of that N'awleans treat was more than Mama had for a week's groceries. I loved Mama's bread pudding, but I just thought of it as something you do with old, stale bread.

Pies--vinegar (tastes like lemon pie), buttermilk, custard, and old-fashioned sugar cream--were among her specialties. Some of those predated the Depression, coming through the generations from our pioneer foremothers, but recipes that reflected the frugality of the times gained popularity after the stock market crashed.

Casserole recipes abounded during the 1930s, also. Homemakers could stretch a little meat to serve a family by mixing it with something rich in carbs--potatoes, macaroni, noodles/dumplings (homemade, of course), or rice. Toss in some leftover veggies and add a cream sauce of some kind. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour and serve with bread. The wolf at the door was staved off one more night.

Back to my research. (After all, I must eat what my characters would eat.) The cake should be cool enough to cut in about three hours. Come on over, and I'll serve you a slab, along with some hazelnut coffee, fresh from the quirky writer's kitchen. Sound good?

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Postscript: Cake and frosting are delicious! Come back in a little while for the recipes.

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