In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Butternuts: A Kitchen Story

butternut tree


We have an enthusiastic Waterford History group that meets at the local library, the Davies Memorial Library, here in Vermont. Part of our tradition is to consider all of us to be "amateur historians," and we all make discoveries -- in the attic, in old books, behind stone walls suddenly glimpsed through November's bare woods. So each meeting begins with going around the circle, making sure anyone bursting with a new discovery (or, more likely for us, reservedly admitting they've made one) can speak up.

Somehow, last summer, we got onto talking about the old trees that are vanishing. Elms are one of them, of course; every New England town used to have some of these giants, but most were felled by a parasite known as Dutch elm disease, and few remain. Another one (I am sure it was Helen who mentioned it) is the butternut -- and people put their memories and ideas together to talk about where they might have seen a butternut tree in the past decade.

Then, of course, memories of cracking open (actually, smashing with a hammer) the tough nuts came from the oldest among us, who remembered what hard work it was! "I had a recipe for a chocolate butternut cake that was wonderful," Geneva mused. Her relatives asked, "Do you know where it it?" "No," Geneva said with a smile.

(see top recipe)
After the meeting, I went searching for butternuts online, and discovered Native Nuts, a small local firm about an hour away, up by the Canada border (website here). Brigitte at Native Nuts allowed me to reserve two pounds of butternuts from the fall harvest. Then one of Geneva's daughters asked for a two-pound addition. "They should be ready around November first," Brigitte advised.

Next came the recipe question. I didn't find a butternut cake in my own books, so I asked Lois, who has a lot of old recipes from her family. She sent me this one, from Hood's Practical Cook's Book for the Average Household, published around the end of the 1800s. "Add two squares of melted chocolate to turn it into a chocolate cake, she advised.

Today the nuts arrived! As soon as you touch one of the ridged, hard, tough exteriors, you understand why they are smashed with hammers, not politely cracked over a bowl. I'm looking forward to trying this, but ... not alone! I'll save my half of the nuts for the next meeting of our history group, which is in February, weather permitting. It clearly takes a village to prepare a cup of butternut nutmeats for this recipe!

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