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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. Jean

    said on June 29th, 2016:

    The pie looks delicious, and I enjoyed the story behind the recipe.

    Thanks, Jean . . . Carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 30th, 2016:

    I agree with Jean, the story is as interesting as the recipe and I do love a cooked pear.

    Thank you, Toni! As I wrote the post I wasn’t thinking it was all that interesting, so I’m glad it was for a few people! . .. carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2016:

    This is exactly how my grandma’s rhubarb pie is made! The filling proportions are a bit different, but it’s the same ingredients and procedure. I would never thought of doing it with other fruits, but the pear pie sounds lovely. Makes me think it could work with peaches, too.

    It MIGHT work with peaches, but they have a lot more juice, so I’d probably fiddle with the filling proportions a little bit. I love rhubarb – and I rarely buy it. I should! . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on July 1st, 2016:

    Rhubarb produces a lot of liquid, so I’d probably compare proportions for that recipe to your pear one. I agree that more thickener would likely be needed for peaches than for pears.
    Back home in Nebraska, both when I was growing up and when my husband and I lived there, we had rhubarb growing in our yard, as did most everyone. I have to buy it here–unless my sister is able to give me some when I go home or when she visits–so it’s shocking to have to pay $4 a pound for something that was always free.

    I don’t have any place on my property where rhubarb would thrive – it needs just the right environment. My mother had a patch underneath a big tree, so it was mostly shady. The plant was prolific. I’m with you – seems a shame to have to pay for something that can almost grow wild – except it doesn’t. . . carolyn

  5. Debbie

    said on July 2nd, 2016:

    This recipe sounded so easy that I have made 3 of these pies since yesterday! I have given two away to friends recovering from surgery and plan to take one tonight to a dinner party. Both of my friends called and said it was delicious. I can’t wait to try mine tonight.

    How nice of you to make some for friends. Good thing you had a lot of pears!!! Hope you enjoy yours. . . carolyn t

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