Last week my book club met for the discussion of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. I had read and reviewed this book earlier this year and was not fond enough of it to read it again. I did consider trying it in audio but my library did not carry it.
As the time drew closer for our review… I have to admit, I was not looking forward to it. I decided to turn my focus towards the food part of our meeting and that is really when it got interesting for me.
The 1940s were all about rationing, protein stretching, substitutions, rediscovering “grandma’s foods”, and making do with less. Home cooks made sugarless cookies, eggless cakes, and meatless meals. Cookbooks, magazines, and food company brochures were full of creative ideas for stretching food supplies. Why the shortage? Food was needed to feed soldiers fighting in World War II.
When entertaining, I learned that finger sandwiches were quite popular, served open-faced (so the bread would go farther). They also drank a lot of tea as coffee was scarce and if you could find it… expensive.
At this point my creative side kicked in…. the book may not be the best for review, but by golly the food was going to make this discussion a success. 😀
The day of the review, I made the open-faced sandwiches, a cucumber one with a spread of cream cheese and ranch dip mix, and a delicious seafood one (see recipe below).
Then I also made a potato chip and tuna casserole, apparently popular in the 1940’s. This consisted of very few ingredients…. cream of mushroom soup, tuna, peas, and potato chips. Yup. I read the recipe and literally said, “ewww!”
other entries that the Bookies brought were Angie’s (By Book Or By Crook) Grandmother’s stand by hot dish of noodles and tomato’s…
the only meat available in the 1940’s was what you could raise and prepare yourself so…
Side dishes were often garden vegetables or a jello or pudding…
Maybe Creme Brulee was not quite the dish of the 40’s…. but after trying it, who was I to complain…. oh YUM! (recipe below) Thanks Sharon!
It was time to discuss The Postmistress. The surprise is, I loved our discussion and here are some of the things that came out of it. (Should be spoiler free)
We discussed how in the 1940’s your news came mainly from radio. We wondered if the news being broadcasted seemed more real than it does in today’s world of over saturation of all things media. This led to how powerful news was then and led us to discuss the airing of The War Of The Worlds and how people who tuned in late thought that broadcast was real.
When the motto for a journalist to get a story was “get in and get out” we discussed in such a story can you ever fully get out? Would not some of the things we see, hear, and do in life not ever leave us?
We had a great discussion over today’s media of too much immediate knowledge of all things considered “news worthy”. Were we better off then or now? Sure the modern ways of communicating are awesome, but I also believe there is truly such a thing as TMI (too much information). Facebook came up in the discussion of course and how some of the younger generation do not know how to filter what they put out there in the world for all to see. This led us to discuss what could possibly go even further for the next generation as so much is considered not taboo now…
Historical novels were discussed as a whole… love them/hate them… what are the pro and cons? I felt pro for historical fiction as I learn through them in a format that I may have at one time not read or found boring… the novels take me places I have not known.
Over all the discussion was wonderful and engaging. The food was good, except the potato chip tuna casserole which I did not like at all. We ended our discussion close to 9 pm which is unusual as we usually wrap up close to 8 or a little after. Maybe it was the recent anniversary of 9/11, but for some reason I feel even after the ten years of this group being together… we bonded even more on this night.
**The food portion of this review is part of Weekend Cooking, a wonderful meme you may find at Beth Fish Reads.
The Seafood Spread
This was taken as part of a recipe I usually make as a salad. You will need:
a generous dose of chopped Cilantro (I am a cilantro junky!)
salt and pepper
Chop the seafood into small pieces and place in medium bowl. I used two packages of the seafood (found in the deli department) for the Bookies. Add the mayo only using enough to coat, it should not be goopy with mayo…. sprinkle generously with the dill seasoning, add the cilantro and chopped fine onion, as well as the salt and pepper to taste. Place in frig until ready to serve. For this event I served it on Rye Bread Squares, buy you could use it on crackers too.
Yield – 4 servings
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup white granulated or brown sugar (for topping)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, heat the cream with the vanilla bean for 15 minutes, stirring to ensure it does not burn. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. Strain the cream.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer on high-speed for 5 minutes, or until they are light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add about half the cream, a little at a time (to temper the eggs), to the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Then pour the egg mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Stir until completely blended.
Pour the custard into four 9-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Place the dishes in a large baking pan. Pour enough HOT water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard is set.
Remove the dishes from the baking pan and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 or up to 24 hours.
To serve, let the ramekins stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with sugar in a thin, even layer over each ramekin. To caramelize the sugar, light a propane torch and hold it so the flame just touches the surface. Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame.
*Sharon said this recipe took her three tries to get it right and she is an amazing cook so I think this one is not for the faint of heart…. or… errr…. me. 😯