Monday, December 27, 2010

MFK Fisher's War Cake, How to cook in a time of war

When I returned to work this November, I found myself in an old yet distinguished building, built in 1863. It has been remodeled and updated per need and change of law, as years turned to decades and decades turned to centuries. This is home, to many people. Each of them with a past, personal history and stories to tell. These lives, also having been updated as life changed and personal decisions made, took effect. It is rare to find an unchanged person, for change is the only constant in this journey.

This building is owned and operated by the Oddfellows. Knowing the history of the International Order of the  Oddfellows, mandates that you be a kind person, who has a silent yet strong desire to serve others. The service you provide may be hands on, such as care giving, cooking or cleaning. Or you could be one of the necessary folks who process paper, enforce rules or oversee the day-to-day operations that a Senior Housing complex might need. All positions however, are service and caring orientated. I am one of those who works on the day-to-day operations, and lots of paperwork!

There is a woman who lives in this building; she is soft spoken, traveled and very kind. Anna walks her dog Lady several times a day and cares for the dog deeply. Lady is also in the older category, prone to falls and has at time simply fallen over. Lady’s sight is also failing, yet she “knows” where the treats are kept in the office I currently share. Lady, like the rest of us needs to be concerned about her weight, so her treats are broken in half, that way she gets “two” treats when she visits. I have yet to share this "tip" with those at home, I have concerns it might affect the cookie jar!

When I first began working, it was casually mentioned that Anna’s mother had written a book. I was at some point going to research that bit of information, to help me, get to know Anna better. I would then have a bit of knowledge, that I thought might act as a commonality for us to chat about, when she and Lady dropped by. Shortly after that I learned the title of the book, at that point I had enough information to help me in my search, and the rest as they say, is history.

St Helena, CA
My personal philosophy is that you should always be kind, because you never know to whom you are talking to. Not that all folks don’t deserve kindness, but some folks have very interesting histories that they bring along with them. However if you have not been kind from the beginning, it is very difficult to take back any unkindness when you find out something interesting about someone and then want to chat with him or her about it. And such is the case with Lady’s owner.

Remember all this started with a simple remark that a book had been written.

Oh do you want to know the book that was written? I must tell you right now; in actuality it is a book among many books written. The third book written from more than 20, in a lifetime lived with passion, hard work and some sharp witted humor. The book title was,

I must confess right here and now, I was not familiar with the title of this particular book. But I clearly knew of M. F. K. Fisher the writer. When I brought up the title of the book on Google search that evening, I was flabbergasted. I even shouted out, not my usual method of communication, to describe my enthusiasm! I was stunned and thrilled at the same time. For instance, what on earth would I do with this information?

Fortunately I already had had several enjoyable encounters with Anna and Lady to develop a very nice rapport. In a short time we had learned of several commonalities shared. I knew instantly I would want to write about this, yet also wanted permission from Anna, in order to do so. So I did what any bold person does, I asked for permission, and she said yes. Yes! When I got home I could not contain myself and told Honey all about it! 

"First we eat, then we do everything else."

On Christmas Eve my granddaughter and I paid a visit to Anna and Lady. We took a small gift of rhubarb jam and a clove studded orange pomander for Anna and a dog bone treat for Lady. We stayed only a brief time, as Anna had guests coming for dinner and there were tasks left to be done. During our stay, we also got to meet Mr. Elliott. A feisty apricot colored cat, with his own multi-story cat tower. My granddaughter was very interested in playing with Lady and Mr. Elliott, but in a short time we said our good-byes and made our way home to wrap presents.  

“People ask me: "Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?" . . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.”

Last House, Sonoma CA

I am excited for the opportunity to learn more about Anna and the life she lived. I already know from our Christmas Eve visit, that her daughter is a performer with an all woman circus (Circus Artemis). She has three grown children, two that live close by and one in Virginia. She is a mother, a grandmother, a sister and for me, now a friend.  There is more, as there always is, when learning about someone and the life they have lived. Alas this story today is simply an introduction, to my friend Anna. 
"When shall we live if not now?"
M.F.K. Fisher

MFK Fisher's War Cake
adapted from:
How to Cook a Wolf
350 degree oven

1/2 cup shortening - (note: you may use part bacon fat**)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon other spices (cloves, mace, ginger..)
1 cup chopped raisins or other dried fruit (prunes, figs, etc.)
1 cup sugar, white or brown
1 cup water (note: you can substitute coffee for part of the water)

Bring to a boil, cook 5 minutes. Cool thoroughly. 

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. 

When the raisin mixture has cooled, add sifted dry ingredients, mixing well. 

Turn into a loaf pan and bake 45 minutes or until done in your oven. Let cool 15 - 20 minutes then turn out from pan, if desire.


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This post is shared with:
Hearth n Soul Hop @ a moderate life

weekend cooking@beth fish reads

Tuesday Night Supper Club @ fudge ripple

** I adore bacon, yet have found that personally, I do not care for the taste of the bacon fat in baked goods. 


~ Lyndsay The Kitchen Witch said...

I LOVED this! New reader and, hopefully, new friend here. As a foodie, kind person, and fellow writer I appreciated every word of this wonderful story including the quotes and look forward to reading more.

a moderate life said...

Melly baby!!!! OH my god what a surprise! This is so much fun! I am jumping for joy and enthusiasm as well~ What a wicked cool ahead of her time and passionate woman MK was! You my dear are so good at listening with your heart as well as your ears and knowing WHEN something magical is afoot!

I also love the idea of the Oddfellows! I will certainly be looking into that much more~ Thanks so much for sharing this lovely story on the hearth and soul hop. It was my week off commenting, but you know, i had to come see you~! Happy new year my dear~ Alex

Swathi said...

I love the way you write the story. War cake sounds delicious.

ya ya's mom said...

olivia is still talking about her visit with mr. elliott and lady :) what a nice story!

Hoosier at Heart said...

I could sit and listen to Anna all day long and still have questions. This is fascinating to me. What an amazing friend you have found.

Donnie said...

That was so interesting. Looking forward to learning more about her and her family.

Miz Helen said...

Hi Melynda,
I just loved your post, I didn't want it to end. It was like being in the room with one of my aunts. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Hope you have a Happy New Year!

kitchen flavours said...

What an interesting story! I read about her from google search. She had a very interesting life. I can understand how thrilled you are when realizing MFK Fisher is the mother of Anna. Anna must be very proud of her mother.
Glad to hear that you have received the gift. Hope you have fun trying out the recipes!

Sense of Home said...

What an amazing encounter. Everyone has a story, we just have to listen. As someone who has been interested in all things food since I was a teenager, this encounter caught my attention.


Sage Trifle said...

Your new job sounds wonderful and what a great new friend you have made. Once I recover from all the Christmas sweets, I'm going to make this cake--I love the recipe!

J L Health 918-836-0565 said...

I think I enjoyed the story as much or more than the recipe! I looove listening to the stories of people's lives and met an interesting person the other day who sounds similar. Thanks so much for sharing with the Hearth and Soul hop!

Mexico in my kitchen said...

What a great post. I am glad you shared it with the Hearth and soul hop. What an interesting way to meet Anna and then get to know about her background.

This is the first time I see a recipe asking to melt the ingredients and then cool to mix later one.

it will be interesting to read more about her in your blog.

Elsa said...

Very exciting! And the food looks yummy as well!

Christy said...

Melynda - what an awesome post! I too want to learn more about Anna, and her mother! I love learning about how things "were" and the stories that go with them! I would imagine the cake is amazing tasting. Thank you so much for sharing this with the Hearth and Soul Hop!

Christy said...

holy mackeral...i always is easier to be looks like it paid off in spades for you. what a wonderful find and friend. thank you for the fabulous recipe...we will enjoy it over at the supper club. Happy New Year!

Carolyn T said...

What a coincidence, or a magic moment. I'm almost finished reading one of MFK's books she wrote near the end of her life. How I wish I could have met her. You're so fortunate, Melynda, to have discovered her daughter (or one of her daughters since MFK mentions have had "children"). Do hope you're able to have many more conversations with Anna. We had a dog named Lady too. Even more coincidences.

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook said...

I enjoyed your post. Second on MFK Fisher that I read this morning. I'm heading off to check out her books. The cake looks great!

caite said...

Yes, I confess I do not know the work of MFK Fisher..and now, today, she is everywhere.
That is a totally delightful story!

Beth F said...

HOLY COW!!!!!!! Wow, wow, wow. OMG. I couldn't be more excited for you. What a thrill and an opportunity. I discovered MFK Fisher's writing in the late 1970s, when Fisher was still alive. I've read everything by her that I have been able to find.

What a great post and what a great connection.

Col (Col Reads) said...

Tamar Adler's An Eternal Meal led me to How to Cook a Wolf -- in fact, I'm reading it now. Great post. How lucky for you!

Carole said...

Very interesting. I hadn't heard of MK Fisher before today.

Have a great week.

Vicki said...

This post was so interesting that I googled MKK Fisher and wow!!, what a life she led. How awesome that her daughter is your friend!

Linda said...

After reading this recipe, I realized I had all the ingredients so I decided to whip it up. Delicious. Thanks for posting it.

Joy said...

I loved learning about your friend, Anna. And the cake looks good, too!
Joy's Book Blog

Heather said...

Great post. I enjoyed every word of this story. Thank-you.

Marg said...

Fascinating post! Thanks for sharing it with us!

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

What a lovely post and I love your philosophy about meeting people with kindness. You've given me something to ponder.