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.

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