Sunday, January 25, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly #17

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #17: 

"Revolutionary Foods"




The Challenge: Revolutionary Foods
The theme is revolution, and it’s all about ch-ch-ch-changes. Food can be inspired by revolution, can showcase a revolutionary technique, or come from a revolutionary time. Give us your best documented interpretation of revolution.

The Recipe: 

Rumford Peanut Biscuit Flakes


Why is it revolutionary?
First, baking powder, invented around 1850, replaced pot ash and saleratus, making it possible to bake bread quickly and easily. The Rumford Company was founded by Eben Horsford and George F. Wilson in 1854 (incorporated in 1859)  in what is now the Rumford section of East Providence, Rhode Island. They produced and shipped baking powder all over the country until 1968. Rumford Baking Powder was revolutionary during World War II. I'll let the original pamphlet explain:

A basic biscuit dough recipe can be made up quickly and easily for the busy mother/homemaker/working woman. This recipe follows the war time maxims:
War-time baking must be thrifty
-with Rumford's even, gentle action you don't have to rely on eggs to accomplishing your leavening.

War-time baking must use less sugar:
-Sugar tends to mask flavors . . . so when you use less sugar in a recipe you must be careful of your other ingredients. Rumford is an all-phosphate powder. It contains no alum, so it will never leave a bitter taste to spoil the flavor of sugar-shy foods.

War-time baking should contribute to good nutrition:
-Rumford contains valuable amounts of calcium and phosphorus .  . . those important minerals that help build and maintain strong bones and sound teeth.

War-time baking should waste nothing:
-Rely on Rumford's double-action to give you good leavening every time. 

Rumford Time-Saver Baking Plan saves time. Each of the eight recipes in the pamphlet will bake at the same temperature as the other seven recipes. Two, three, four or more of these good things can be baked at one time . . . using the same oven-heat (a time saving in itself!). You simply remove some of the dishes from the oven ahead of the others. Each of these baked things will keep well , properly stored. Just select a day and mix and bake your breads, cookies and cakes at once. Serve during the week as needed. What a thrill to be able to bring out some different homemade delight every day or so . . . to have something always on hand.

Takes Rumford to Make it Work

It's a Rumford idea . . . and it takes Rumford all-phosphate Baking Powder to make it work. When you open the oven door during the baking process, the gentle, even leavening action of Rumford protects you against baking failures.You want all your baked goods  . . . whether bread or cookies . . . to rise evenly, perfectly . . . and things raised just right are achieved with Rumford's controlled double-action. Baked goods to be kept for a week must stay fresh and moist. Actual laboratory testes prove that things made with Rumford keep fresh longer. 

Nutrition Dividends From Rumford
Rumford contains valuable amounts of calcium and phosphorus . . . those important minerals that help build strong bones and sound teeth. Every time you serve Rumford-baked things to your family, you're helping to fill a vital part of their daily diet needs.
   Remember, too, that because Rumford is an all-phosphate powder, it contains no alum, will never leave a bitter taste. All your baked goods will taste good down to the last tender crumb. 

from Rumford Quick Breads leaflet, Rumford Chemical Works, Rumford, Rhode Island
Johnson & Wales University Library collection 2011.164.0012

How Did You Make It:

Peanut Biscuit Flakes
2 c. home-made Rumford Biscuit Mix*
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. peanut butter
honey or corn syrup

Measure mix. Add milk. Wrap dough in waxed paper; chill. Blend peanut butter and honey or corn syrup until spreadable consistency. Divide dough into 4 pieces; roll each piece into an oblong 6 1/2" X 3". [I did mine about 5 X7"]. Spread each piece of dough with peanut butter mixture; place piece of dough on top of one another in layers. Roll up jelly-roll fashion; cut in 1/2" slices. Place each slice cut side up in greased muffin pans. Bake in very hot (450 degree F) oven 10-15 minutes.




First I made my biscuit mix:
Home-Made Rumford Mix
4 c. flour
6 tsp. Rumford Baking Powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening with two knives or pastry blender. Store in tightly covered glass or china container in the refrigerator. [I stored it in a zip lock bag for a few hours].

Then I followed the recipe. I ended up with 4 large biscuits and placed them on a cookie sheet, cut sides together, with toothpicks to hold the rolled shape.



 I baked for 15 minutes and they were perfectly done. 

Time to Complete: Not counting chilling, 20 minutes

Total Cost:
I don't know. We had all the ingredients on hand.


How Successful Was It?:
Mostly. I had a hard time rolling the dough to the recommended size which made it hard to roll. The taste is fine though. It's not very sweet but not bad. 



How Accurate Is It?: 
100% down to the Rumford Baking Powder. (I grew up in the shadow of the old factory and always use Rumford Baking Powder).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #16

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #16: 

"Celebratory Foods"




The Challenge: Celebratory Foods
It’s the end of the year, a time for celebration! Pick a celebratory food (either inspired by the season or not, it’s your call). Make it up and share it with loved ones!

The Recipe: 

I turned again to my family history for inspiration. I decided to make
Moravian Sugar Cake


About the Moravians
The Moravian Church started in present-day Czech Republic in the 14th century. By that time most of what is now eastern Europe had converted t0 coptic Christianity, however Bohemia and Moravia fell under the jurisdiction of Rome. Some of the inhabitants of the area protested. John Hus (1369-1415),a  professor of philosophy and rector of the University in Prague, became the leader of the religious protest and was burned at the stake for his criticism of the hierarchy and practices of the Church of Rome. By 1457, supporters of Hus gathered in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia, and organized the Moravian Church, 

Over the next 100 years, the Moravians emphasized reading the Bible in the vernacular and spread word of the Scriptures to the people of Bohemia, Moravia and later Poland, where they forced to relocate after persecution. 

The 18th century saw a revival of the Moravian Church through the patronage of Count Nicholas  Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony. He encouraged the Moravians to take the word of the Gospel to other countries. 


The first Moravians to set up a permanent settlement in America settled in Pennsylvania in 1741. The newly arrived Moravians settled on the estate of George Whitefield at first and then purchased 500 acres to establish the settlement of Bethlehem in 1741. Bethlehem became the center of Moravian activity in North America. 


Bethlehem 1754

















A Brief History of the Moravian Church, Moravian Church of North America, http://www.moravian.org/the-moravian-church/history

The modern Unitas Fratrum (or Moravian Church) continues to draw on traditions established during the 18th-century renewal. In many places it observes the convention of the lovefeast, originally started in 1727. It uses older and traditional music in worship. Brass music, congregational singing and choral music continue to be very important in Moravian congregations. 
Moravian Church, wikipedia

My grandmother lives in Bethlehem and my mother grew up in the Moravian Church. My mom remembers the lovefeasts, services dedicated to Christian love. Traditionally during Lovefeasts, a sweetened bun and coffee is served to the congregation in the pews. The foods and drinks consumed from congregation may vary tremendously at the Lovefeast and are usually adapted from what the congregations have available. Services in some Colonial-era Lovefeasts, for example, used plain bread and water. A Lovefeast may be held on any special occasion, typically on certain established dates including Good Friday, the Festival of August 13th (the 1727 date on which the Moravian Church was renewed or reborn), and Christmas Eve, where each member of the congregation receives a lighted candle at the end of the service in addition to the bun and coffee.
Lovefeasts, Wikipedia

My mom remembers eating Moravian Sugar Cake on Christmas Eve and I remember my grandparents bringing it for Christmas morning breakfast, though they no longer attended the Moravian Church. I found an account of Moravian Sugar Cake being eaten on New Year's Eve:
"On New Year's Eve it was customary to hold three services in the church with an intermission namely preaching at 8 o clock reading of the memorabilia and statistics an elaborate review of the year's work at I0 o clock and the closing services at 11.30 o clock Some of the members served sugar cake a raised cake often called Moravian cake made according to a special recipe and coffee at their homes during the first intermission."
Weitzel, Louisa, "How the  New Year is Celebrated by the Moravians," The Penn Germania, vol. 10, 1909 

According to foodtimeline.org, the first recipe for Moravian Sugar Cake was included in In Eliza Leslie's cookbook, Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches by Miss Leslie, in the 1837 edition, though references go back to the early settlers. The original Leslie recipe is as follows:
Moravian Sugar Cake
Cut a quarter of a pound of butter into a pint of rich milk, and warm it till the butter becomes soft; then stir it about in the milk so as to mix them well. Sift three quarters of a pound of flour (or a pint and a half) into a deep pan, and making a ole in the middle of it, stir in a large table-spoonful of the best brewer's yeast in which a salt-spoonful of salt has been dissolved; and then thin it with the milk and butter. Cover it, and set it near the fire to rise. If the yeast is sufficiently strong, it will most probably be in two hours. When it is quite light, mix with the dough a well-beaten egg and three quarters of a pound more of sifted flour; adding a tea-spoonful of oil of cinnamon, and stirring it very hard. Butter a deep square baking pan, and put the mixture into it. Set it to rise again, as before. Mix together five ounces or a large coffee-cup of fine brown sugar; two ounces of butter; and two table-spoonfuls of powdered cinnamon. When the dough is thoroughly light, make deep incisions all over it, at equal distances, and fill them with the mixture of butter, sugar and cinnamon; pressing it hard down into the bottom of the holes, and closing the dough a little at the top to prevent the seasoning from running out.. Strew some sugar over the top of the cake; set it immediately into the oven, and bake it from twenty minutes to half an hour, or more, in a brisk oven in proportion to its thickness. When cool, cut it into squares. This is a very good plain cake; but do not attempt it unless you have excellent yeast."
 Several other recipes and a more detailed description can be found on foodtime.org


How Did You Make It:
I found several more modern recipes for Moravian Sugar Cake and of course, the definitive modern recipe which comes from the Waconia Moravian Church. The recipe I used as a guideline comes from
The Book of Priceless Recipes, 
George F. Lasher, printer, 1907, p. 118 (no. 2)

MORAVIAN SUGAR CAKE 
One pint yeast one pint sweet milk lukewarm one cup butter and lard mixed; one cup sugar one half teaspoonful salt. In the evening mix these well together adding flour until in kneading the sponge no longer adheres to the hand. The next morning knead and spread dough one half inch thick on cake tins. Let it rise until light. Spread with butter make holes here and there and fill with lumps of butte.r Strew the whole richly with brown sugar and bake. After removing from the oven dress with nutmeg and cinnamon.
 Elizabeth Comfort Gerhart 118 


I used half butter and half shortening instead of lard. I melted that on the stove, added the milk and then the yeast. While letting that sit a few minutes, I put the sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Then I added the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mixed in about 4-5 cups of flour to make a yeast dough. 



I let the dough rise (unsuccessfully) for several hours before kneading and  spreading it in a 9X13" cake pan. I let it stand for a few more hours to see if it would rise. 

For the topping I used the modern recipe as a guideline since nutmeg is not traditional.  I then mixed the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon into a syrup and poked holes into the dough.



Next I poured the syrup into the holes and pinched them closed.


I baked it at 375 for 30 minutes. 

Time to Complete: several hours

Total Cost:
I don't know. We had all the ingredients on hand.


How Successful Was It?:
Not very. My dough wouldn't rise at all and the inside of the cake didn't really cook all the way through. It tastes OK thanks to the cinnamon and sugar.


How Accurate Is It?: 
Mostly accurate from the 1907 recipe. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15: 

"Sacred or Profane"




The Challenge: Sacred or Profane

I found it difficult to document any of the traditional recipes we made for Christmas. I can't read Italian or Norwegian and my Nonnie put her own spin on her traditional Neapolitan desserts so that was out, despite the feast of 7 fishes and numerous desserts...

I made two recipes that fit the category: St. Lucia buns and rice pudding. December 13, by the old calender, was the darkest day of the year in Sweden. In Christian times it became the Saint's day of St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. Lucia or Lucy was an early Christian martyr who donated her dowry to help the poor. Supposedly she sent food supplies to Sweden during a famine. December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia's Day in Sweden as a festival of light. One young woman (historically the oldest girl in the family) is chosen to be the Lucia bride or queen and she leads a procession and serves sweet saffron buns twisted into special shapes to her family and visitors.

Rice Pudding is a Christmas Eve tradition in my family going back to my grandmother's child and before that her mother and Norwegian grandmother. Christmas Eve was their big holiday and they had a meatless meal of fish. There was dried fish called lutfisk and fish pudding called plukfisk.

Plukfisk ready to go in the oven

"Plukkfisk is a classic Norwegian dish which consists of pieces of fish, potatoes and onion cooked in a bechamel sauce.  The dish is originally from Hordaland county, on the west coast of Norway and the home of the second largest city in the country, Bergen.  Cod is traditionally used as the fish, but you can use any white fish you like. “'Plukk' means 'pick' in Norwegian, and refers to the fact that you pick the fish and the dish is served in small pieces. 
from Arctic Grub

Following the fish pudding came risgrøt, rice pudding served with butter and cinnamon sugar in a soup bowl.  My great-grandmother told the story that one must always leave a bowl of rice pudding for Nissen (an elf-like creature who lives in the barn) so he wouldn't cause mischief.

Originally, from the Viking times to the late nineteenth century, Grøt was made from barley. In Christian times it was eaten on Sundays and holidays. This dish was not sweet like the modern dish until the late 1800’s when sugar and cinnamon was introduced to Norway. Sweet risgrøt, rice porridge has been around since the 1800s, when rice began to be imported to Norway, and it was included in the first Norwegian cookbook published in 1845.
I was able to document the traditional Christmas rice pudding in several sources:
"On Christmas Eve every person of condition has a mess of rice-porridge..."

Frederick Metcalfe, The Oxonian in Thelemarken; Or, Notes of Travel in Southwestern Norway in 1856, Hurst and Blackett, 1858.

 "In every house from that of the wealthy nobleman to that of the peasant the same Christmas supper is served a specially prepared fish for the first course rice with cream and powdered cinnamon for the second and roast goose for the third ...." 
Christopher Orlando Sylvester Mawson, Doubleday, Page & Co's Geographical Manual and New Atlas ,1918


"Our Swedish supper. The first course was lut fisk. This is a ling or a cod prepared for a Christmas delicacy by being buried for days in wood ashes. A piece of lut fisk placed on your plate immediately falls apart into flakes each flake is translucent and trembles like jelly. When eaten alone it is tasteless but when seasoned with salt much pepper and lots of butter sauce of two kinds and well mixed with a mealy potato the lut fisk is delicious. The next course was rice porridge with powdered cinnamon and cream and the third and last a great fat goose roasted to a turn. These are the three time honored dishes for Christmas eve and while we supped every family in Sweden from the King to the peasant was eating just the same sort of supper with the same courses and in every home throughout the Northland from the palace to the backwoods hut stood the Jul gran the Christmas tree with ribbons fluttering from its branches and wax tapers burning brightly from every bough."
William Widgery Thomas, Sweden and the Swedes, Rand, McNally, 1891

The Recipe: 

Ideal Rolls
Butter an earthen bowl
Melt two table spoonfuls of the best table butter but do not burn it
Keep it melted until you need it
Then heat to boiling one pint of milk and one half pint of sweet cream
Cool to a tepid state
Mix one cake of compressed yeast with a little of the milk
Add one generous half spoonful of salt
Sift a quart of flour into an earthen bowl and make a batter with the milk and cream
Beat with a wooden spoon or spatula the more air you can beat in the better and the fresher the air the more improving it is to the bread
When the batter is smooth stir in flour until it is too stiff to stir then mold it thoroughly pulling it and beating it with the palms of the hands until it will mold free of the board without flour Put the dough into the buttered earthen bowl and brush it over with the melted butter. A paint brush is best for this purpose I use a large and a small one .
Cover over the dough and put it into a warm place but not on the stove. It needs an even heat this is why it is put into an earthen. It will take from an hour and a half to two hours to rise. It must not crack open but be on the verge of cracking. Mold again and shape into rolls. Brush the rolls carefully over with melted butter set them to rise for an hour or an hour a quarter. When they are light bake from ten to fifteen minutes in a hot oven and just before they are to come out them over with milk. This makes a brown crust. A hot oven and quick makes them tender They should be snowy white very light but with rather a fine texture and should have a very sweet rich taste .If the directions are followed and the yeast and flour good this will be the case Octave Thanet
Marion Harland, The Home-maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 1889  
 Rice Milk Pudding

RICE MILK. --Pick and wash half a pint of rice, and boil it in a quart of water till it is quite soft. Then drain it, and mix it with a quart of rich milk. You may add half a pound of whole raisins. Set it over hot coals, and stir it frequently till it boils. When it boils hard, stir in alternately two beaten eggs, and four large table-spoonfuls of brown sugar. Let it continue boiling five minutes longer; then take it off, and send it to table hot. If you put in raisins you must let it boil till they are quite soft.
Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper Family Receipt Book,
Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1845


This recipe is the closest to the modern one we make. 

The Date/Year and Region:1889 United States, 1845 New England

 
How Did You Make It:

St. Lucia Buns/Lussekatter

 Ingredients:
7/8 c.butter (3/4 c +2 T)
2 c. milk
1 pkg. yeast
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. saffron (to taste)
2 eggs
5 cups flour (approx. you will probably need more)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Directions:

Melted the butter on the stove, added milk and turned the heat up until the mixture was lukewarm. Then I added the yeast and stirred the mixture, letting it sit for a couple of minutes while mixing sugar, salt and crushed saffron. I  beat an egg and added the milk mixture and then the dry ingredients and mixed with an electric mixer. I then added as much flour as needed to form a ball. I turned the ball out onto a floured surface and kneaded for a few minutes before leaving the dough to rise for several hours. After the dough rose, I broke pieces and knead each piece before rolling into snakes. I made two snakes, crossed in an X and curled the tops under and the bottoms up. I added Craisins (since I don't eat raisins) to the curls and brushed with a beaten egg. I placed the buns on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 375 for 20-25 minutes. I serve warm with melted butter on Christmas morning. Some people like to split them in half and toast them.

from Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas by Astrid Karlsen Scott


Rice Pudding
We rub butter over the bottom of a saucepan to prevent burning. Then place 1 cup or 2 cups (we did 2 this year for a large crowd) in the saucepan with the same amount of water and a cinnamon stick. With the stove on medium heat, we brought the rice to a boil and then lowered the heat until it simmered. We covered the pan and simmered until the water was all absorbed. Next we added 4 (or 8) cups milk and brought the mixture to simmering over medium-high heat. When the milk simmered, we lowered the heat to low and added 3 (6) tablespoons of brown sugar and stirred. Covering the pan again, we let the mixture simmer until thickened. When most of the milk is simmered away, remove from heat and take out the cinnamon stick.

Adapted from The American Girls Collection Kirsten's Cookbook, Pleasant Company 1994
 


Time to Complete: several hours

Total Cost:
I don't know. We bought the saffron (cheap saffron) rice,  and whole milk and had the rest on hand.



How Successful Was It?:
I cheated and used the modern recipes we always use so I knew they would both be delicious!


How Accurate Is It?: 
Ideal rolls: Somewhat. I used modern powdered yeast, regular 1% milk and rolled into special shapes. I brushed with an egg but when I don't have egg, I use milk.
 

Rice Pudding: Mostly. We added the cinnamon stick and omitted the raisins. We serve with cinnamon sugar sprinkled from my great-great grandmother's slotted spoon. 

Longer story about St. Lucia's Day:

The Legend of Lussi

In old Sweden, the 13th of December was known as Lussinatt or Lussi night, the most frightening night of the whole year. Lussi was a demon who caused havoc haunting every farm in the district. Children who had been naughty feared Lussi would sweep down the chimney, scoop them up and take them away.
In parts of Europe, including Sweden and along the coast of South Central Norway, Lussi was a winter tradition. It was believed that all Christmas peparations had to be completed by the winter solstice, December 13. It was feared that Lussi and her cats were would harm anyone working on December 13th. Also on this night, domestic animals were given the power of speech.

St. Lucia, Catholic martyr

The legend of St. Lucia varies greatly. She was generally believed to be a martyr in the year 304 A.D. She was from an aristocratic family who lived in Syracusa, Sicily. Lucia's mother became very ill when Lucia was a young girl. They traveled to a neighboring town where they prayed for healing in front of a picture of St. Agatha. The saint appeared to them and Lucia's mother was healed by St. Agatha. Lucia was deeply touched by this miracle and she vowed to dedicate her life to Christ and remain pure throughout her life. She distributed her dowry among the poor people of Sicily. Her fiance was furious and informed the authorities that hs bride-to-be was a Christian, which was a crime punishable by death. They agreed to burn Lucia at the stake. When the judgement was being carried out, she was smeared with oil, resin, and pitch, but the flames could not harm her. God was protecting Lucia from the flames. Lucia's definace of death enraged her fiance and he thrust his sword through her neck, thus killing her. 200 years later she was canonized by the Catholic church and became the patron saint of light.


Lucia comes to Sweden
In the middle ages, the solstice was a time of great festivities and celebration. By the 1700s, the date of the winter solstice was changed to December 21 and December 13 was saved for Lussi. The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia.
The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia. Lucia originally came to Sweden from Syracuse where she was a saint in the days of Christian persecution. She appeared for the first time in Västergötland at the beginning of the 19th century. Lucia Day is December 13th because that was belived to be the midwinter solstice.
The Lucia Queen or Lucia bride is traditionally the oldest girl in a family. Lucia appears early in the morning wearing a long, white robe, red sash and a crown of glowing candles on her head. She is accompanied by girls also wearing long white robes amd by "Star Boys" with tall hats and Tomtar (elves). She brings a tray of coffee, Lucia buns (Lussekatter) or gingerbread cookies.

Other versions of the myth
The Legend of Sankta Lucia

History of St. Lucia
 



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What I Read in October Part VI

What I Read in October Part VI . . .


A Cathedral Courtship and Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin -- Historical Romance

Miss Katherine Schyler is traveling with her Aunt Celia to visit the Cathedral towns of England in 1900. Aunt Celia is so focused, she won't even allow Kitty to have a Season. She doesn't even notice when Kitty encounters a handsome angel of mercy at Winchester. Jack Copley is in England to sketch the cathedrals and when he sees Kitty, his concentration is shattered. It's love at first sight, but first he must win over Aunt Celia. Will she ever look at anything other than a cathedral long enough to realize he wants to court her niece?

This is a very simple short story. The heroine is very young, innocent and a little silly. The characters don't have any depth and the story progresses quickly. It's only 50 pages long so there isn't much plot. The writing is nice but nothing spectacular.

The rest of the book contains Penelope's English Experiences. I own Vol. I so I will be reviewing that separately when I finish it.

Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya -- Historical Fiction

Tony Marez/Antonio Marez Y Luna is six years old; the son of the seas (marez) and the moon (luna). His mother's family is tied to the land while his father comes from a line of vaqueros (cowboys). His father dreams of moving to California when Antonio's brothers return from the war; Antonio's mother wants to stay put and dreams of her youngest son becoming a priest to lead her people. Tony isn't sure what he wants but he feels he must obey his mother's devout Catholic Faith. Then Ultima, a cuarandera (healer) moves in with the Marez family bringing with her strange healing potions. Antonio feels drawn to her, but when the community starts buzzing about her being a witch, particularly one old man who seeks to destroy her, Antonio's beliefs are challenged. He believes in Ultima but he also believes in God and the Virgin. Is this part of growing up? The losing of innocence his mother despairs? This book blends traditional New Mexican Indian folk beliefs and Catholicism to show how one boy comes of age in the 1940s.

The writing in this book is beautiful, especially the dream sequences and the passages involving mysticism. I thought some of the message was heavy handed, especially towards the end. There's a lot of Spanish phrases that aren't defined. I know enough Spanish to understand the basics but I suspect a lot of the phrases are vulgar slang they don't teach us in school! I wish there was a glossary to refer to. There's also some vulgar English language and as the book progresses, a lot of violence. The children in this novel are very precocious and talk about adult things. Even Antonio worries a lot about adult problems. The central question is whether one has to believe either in Ultima's shaman medicine or in Senora Marez's God. This is a hot button issue right now and though the story takes place in the 1940s, it sounds very contemporary. I think people who grew up with old school Catholic parents and grandparents can probably relate to Tony. My family isn't that devout but I know a lot of the older people around here are.

The only character I really liked was Ultima and she is more a presence in the novel than a main character. The only other characters I remotely liked were Samuel and Frances.I found myself wanting to defend her and learn from her as well. She's an amazing, strong woman. Antonio is very young and worries a lot. He also tries to fit in with the other punk kids from the town but he's different. I felt sympathetic to him but wasn't overly fond of him. He's too precocious for 6-8 years old. Antonio's brothers are losers. I understand war is traumatic and wanting to forget and wanting to get away from the small town where one grew up but they don't seem to have any ambition or any sort of redeeming qualities, much like their father though he at least has a dream. Senora Marez relies too much on her Faith and her own family importance. I don't see why Senor Marez married her. She seems to have destroyed him.

This book is undoubtedly on many high school and college reading lists. If you like books like that and want to read it on your own, it will at least make you think. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea.


What I Read in October Part V

What I Read in October Part V . . .

Netherwood: A NovelNetherwood: A Novel by Jane Sanderson -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Eve Williams is content in her role as wife of one of Netherwood's colliers and mother to three growing children. She keeps her house neat and clean and her husband (and sometimes neighbors) well fed. Arthur Williams too is content; Lord Netherwood is a benevolent employer and Arthur has no reason to get involved in this union business his friend Amos Sykes is always going on about. Eve, however, is sympathetic to the striking miners at Grangely, another mine where she grew up. She knows about the despair and lack of hope in Grangely and wants to do something to help. First she helps move peoples' belongings and then the Methodist minister comes calling and asks the Williams family to put up a young widow and her baby. Eve knows she should help but where in the world will they put two more people and what about the extra work? Arthur readily agrees, earning the enmity of his son Seth. By the time the woman, Anna Rabinovich, moves in, Eve needs the friendship of the other woman more than ever. Through tragedy, the two women bond and Anna's ambition and keen business sense help propel Eve to heights she never dared dream. Soon she's embraced by the Earl and his family (though his heir's interest is in bedding her) and she's on a dizzying track to notoriety which will change her life forever. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Netherwood have drifted apart. She has her gardens and social ambitions while he has his hounds and estate matters. The Earl and his Countess can agree on one thing: they have a problem with their children. Eldest daughter Henrietta aka Henry, is unmarried after 4 seasons, has a good head on her shoulders and plenty of compassion. If she were a boy, she would make an excellent Earl. Sadly, she's female and expected to look pretty and find a suitable husband. Henry's younger brother Toby is a ne'er to well who enjoys drinking beer at the local public house and consorting with the dairy maid and other willing women. Younger son Dickie shows up to luncheon in his tweeds and prefers horses to duty (like Henry) and baby Isabella, age 11, is a pert mix who is adored and spoiled by her father. When their world collides with Eve's, it may bring about the biggest changes in their lives they've seen in years.

This book was very different from what I was expecting. From the completely wrong description on the back of the book, I expected Downton Abbey fan fiction. The little bits of upstairs life is similar but the downstairs parts, which make up the bulk of the novel, are not at all similar. I really liked the setting of the Yorkshire coal mining town. It's obvious the author knew what she was writing about and did her research. The descriptions are so vivid, I can easily see it. I was fascinated by the culture of the town and how the people interacted with Lord Netherwood and how they felt. The story is more about labor history than anything else. I liked how the author had her characters represent both sides of the union issue. The descriptions of Yorkshire food are also incredible and there are recipes included. I gather that Eve's recipes are comfort food and the equivalent of serving pigs in a blanket or mac n' cheese. I really liked the business angle of the story too. I did not like the author's writing style. The third person head-jumping between many characters was jarring and made me feel detached from the action. Also, there are parts when i felt like the I was missing something because the action starts in the middle and then goes back to tell how the character got there. I couldn't really feel for Eve or anyone else because the writing style didn't pull me in. There are also two sex scenes I found vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Anna is my favorite character. She's amusing and ambitious. She provides the push Eve needs to maximize her potential. Her story is fascinating and she's a great character. I liked her better than Eve. Eve is a little too timid at first and then in the London section, which I hated, she does things that are so unlike her, it's hard to believe her personality changes that much in such a short time. I didn't feel her romance at all and didn't think it was necessary. It's introduced too late in the story to be interesting and Eve doesn't act like herself. I also found it strange that she is SO beautiful that every man who sees her instantly wants to sleep with her. That's just bizarre and detracts from the story. Henry is my other favorite character and I feel bad for her that she has such a keen mind but can't use it. She cares about the estate and the people and can't ever be Earl. My least favorite character was Toby. He's a stereotype of the typical young man of the period. I found him disgusting and in need of a good slap.

I give this book 3.75 stars. It should have been streamlined to focus on Eve and her coming into her own. Lose the romance and lose the upstairs plot and this would be a beautiful book.

Content warning:
Some language and violence
Two sex scenes that are vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so skip them and don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen MysteryJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron -- Regency Mystery/Austenesque

Jane Austen, her mother and sister are traveling the 17 miles from Chawton to Steventon to spend the holidays with her brother James and his family. They must travel by public stage all day and into the night to reach their old home. They're looking forward to seeing James-Edward, age 16 and Caroline, age 9. Jane and Cassandra have a special surprise for young Caroline to make her holiday special. Along the way, an accident forces them to make the acquaintance of a Mr. West who is staying with their old friends the Chutes at their home The Vyne. Soon an invitation arrives to join Mr. West and the other guests for some holiday cheer at The Vyne. Tired of James' parsimony and Mary's constant need for attention, the Austen women are eager for some gaiety. There's a lot to celebrate this season, with a new book, Napoleon in exile and an end to the unpopular American War (War of 1812). However, amidst all the gaiety come dark secrets and death. Jane suspects murder, as does Mr. West, an artist with a keen mind. Jane has not met such a mind in many a long year and she can't help but admire him, but can she trust him? If she can't, she could be the next to be killed.

If you love the idea of English Christmas then this book is for you. It's chock full of quaint customs and celebrations that seriously need to make a comeback! I loved reading about the celebrations throughout the 12 days of Christmas. There's a lot of background information on the Austens here as well.

The mystery starts almost halfway through the plot with a death. I loved how Jane jumps into sleuth mode because it shows what a sharp mind she has and how her talent is seeing people as they really are. This time she has assistance from Mr. West, a somewhat brooding man around her own age. He's a good counterpart for her. He appreciates her mind so of course I liked him. I wasn't sure who the murderer was. I thought I knew but there was so much going on, I couldn't connect the dots. I turned out to be correct about some things which were a little too obvious. I really liked the political context and learning the history of the War of 1812 from the British point of view.

The story contains plenty of humor to make it not so dark. Much of the humor comes from Mary Austen, who seems to be the model for Mary Musgrove. (If she were my sister-in-law, I'd slap her). There are other characters who are supposed to be inspiration for characters in Persuasion and Sanditon, which Jane has not yet written. The new characters are slightly more in depth than stereotypes of Regency stock characters. Only Jane Austen could make them come to life and be three-dimensional but I don't have any real complaints about the way the new characters are written here. They're mostly all secondary characters anyway.

This is another excellent entry into the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. It's been far too long and Jane Austen's life was far too short so there's only a few years left in her life but perhaps Stephanie Barron can come up with more "missing manuscripts" that show Jane Austen as a sleuth.