31 March, 2011

Rereading and Learning from the Classics: Raggedy Ann

Did you ever own a Raggedy Ann doll?  If you're female, I'm betting you did. 

I live in Wilton, CT.  I've lived here for almost 30 years, but it wasn't until recently that I discovered that Ann -- and her equally raggedy brother, Andy -- were created right here in my home town.

The duo's creator, Johny Gruelle, was born in Illinois.  He eventually moved his family to the East Coast, where he'd accepted a full-time position with The New York Herald, turning out a weekly comic strip - "Mr. Twee Deedle" - about a sprite who lived in an old gnarled apple tree, befriended a small boy named Dickie and sometimes Dickie's sister, Dolly, and  dispensed homilies about proper behavior.

Around 1912, he built a house in the Silvermine area of Wilton -- home of Mr. Deedle's tree.  Somewhat of a pioneer, he included amenities most homes didn't have: electricity, running water and -- ta dah - indoor plumbing.

There are several versions of the story of how Raggedy Ann came to be, but around here we go with the bittersweet version. 

Marcella, the Gruelles' 13-year old daughter, contracted smallpox (perhaps after being vaccinated at school without her parents' consent.  In order to amuse his ailing child, Gruelle created entertaining stories,  about the rag doll she'd found earlier in her grandparents' attic -- a plain doll with no face until Gruelle penned one on, including her trademark triangular nose.   It was not until after Marcella's death that the stories  -- featuring Raggedy Ann, her brother, and Marcella's playroom friends --were put down on paper for generations of children to enjoy.

But what about the candy heart?  That red heart survived dousings and drenchings, and even a trip through the ringer.  and still held together.  The candy heart was, it seemed, the invincible, and spiritual, source of Raggedy Ann's kind, sweet nature.   One legend claims that the first dolls, created by Gruelle's own family, did, indeed, have real-life candy hearts, with "I Love You" printed on them, sewn into their bodies.  True?  Who knows. 

My red-headed doll may not have had a real candy heart  --  just a heart-shaped stamp and "I Love You" heart embroidered on her chest -- but I remember clutching her tightly as my mother read from tattered copies of  Raggedy Ann Stories and Raggedy Andy stories, the same copies that lulled my older brothers to sleep when they were young. 

I recently read Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land to a friend's granddaughter. I'd forgotten the pure joy of these books.  In Cookie Land, Raggedy Ann and Andy fall down a deep hole,and find themselves in a magical world called Cookie Land. There they meet Little Weakie, Hookie-the-Goblin, and Mr. and Mrs. Cookie and their two cookie children. It's the Cookie family who award bravery medals to the Raggedys after they save them from one of Hookie's sneak attacks. Then Hookie brings along his friend the Snitznoodle to help him capture the Raggedys, but Snitznoodles don't mess with dolls wearing bravery medals, no siree. Don't worry, though, the Raggedys find a way to make everyone friends.

And therein lies a lesson for all of us.  And here's a pie (eating cookies seems barbarian right now).

Snitz Pie

  •         1 lb. dried tart apples
  •         3 cups water
  •          1 orange, zested and juiced
  •         2 Tbsp cinnamon
  •        2 cups sugar
  •        2 9-inch pie crusts
  1. In a heavy panl, cover the dried apples with the water and cook over medium heat to a pulp.Be careful not to burn them.  Add cinnamon, sugar, orange juice and zest.  Mix well.  Allow mixture to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 450.
  3. Line pie plate with one crust. Fill the pastry with the schnitz mixture, Cover with the second crust, crimp edges, and cut several slits in the top to allow steam to escape.
  4.  Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
Serves 8 - with ice cream.

08 March, 2011

Lent: Then and Now

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, or Mardi Gras, depending on your religion, location, and frame of mind.  

 But any way you look at it, today is the last day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins.  It’s interesting that the Mardi Gras season, with its parties and gluttonous meals, begins with 12th Night (twelve days after Christmas) and runs through today, while Lent  -- and fasting -- only lasts 40 days. 

 Shrove derives from the verb to shrive -- to obtain absolution for one's sins, usually through confession and penance. Mardi Gras, translated to Fat Tuesday, so named because it marks your last chance for rich, calorie-ridden food before the fasting of Lent begins.

Things have changed a lot since the days when I attended a Catholic boarding school.  Back then, fasting (no meat) and abstinence (limiting your daily eating to only one full meal in a day) were observed on both Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.  At school, that translated to sardines and beans in oil on Wednesdays, and coddled eggs and creamed spinach on Fridays.  Add that to the fact that the nuns expected you to give up something you loved for the full 40 days.  Sweets were strongly suggested (if you went to Catholic school, you understand), although I always rooted for vegetables.  

Today, Catholics, 14 and older, are expected to abstain from all meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent, while fasting is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those aged 18 to 59.   Yeah! I no longer have to fast!  I knew old age had some perks!.

It has always fascinated me that a bishop can alter rules in his diocese.  For example, New Year's Day is a must-attend-mass day in some dioceses, but not in others.   For Lent, many bishops give dispensations from the normal Lenten regulations if St. Patrick's Day (March 17) falls on a Friday.  And most of us who are Irish believe the dispensation is lifted no matter what day of the week – just in case you gave up liquor for Lent.

Growing up in Belgium, the big Mardi Gras celebration took place in Binche, in the Wallon part of the country.  The main event is a parade of “Gilles” – men between the ages of 3 and 100 – dressed in clogs and a traditional costume, hung with bells and stuffed with straw, giving the Gille a hunched back. . During the parade, they throw blood oranges to (and sometimes at) the crowd .
In honour of this memory, rather than another recipe for King’s Cake (though it is delicious), here’s one for Orange Cake

Orange Bundt Cake
·        1 cup sugar
·        1 cup butter, at room temperature
·        3 eggs, separated
·        1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
·        1 3/4 cup sifted flour
·        1 tsp. baking powder
·        1 tsp. baking soda
·        grated zest of one orange, coloured part only.

Preheat oven to 325o.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, sour cream, and orange rind; beat until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder together into the first mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and fold into the batter.

Turn the batter into a well-greased, floured Bundt pan. Place in preheated oven and bakes for one hour.
Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes. Loosen carefully around edge and turn-out onto a rimmed plate (this is important when you glaze the cake.).

Deeply and repeatedly pierce the top of the cake with a very thin skewer (eg, a wooden skewer or cake tester) and then slowly spoon the hot orange sauce over the top of the cake.

Orange Glaze
·        Juice of 2 oranges (a little less than 1 cup)
·        Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp);
·        3/4 cup of sugar
·        dash of salt
Combine ingredients; let sugar first dissolve over low heat, then bring to a rolling boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
Note: if necessary, substitute 6 oz of frozen orange juice concentrate, but then you miss the zest for the cake.