Cycle 12 – Item 180
4 (Sun) July 2021
Bread and Cheese (and Other Stuff)
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (54-57) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal (i.e., give us this day our daily bread). The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
For the first time in this project, multiple titles are presented in a single post. The primary reason is to accelerate progress – still barely halfway through, nearly 10 months into it. Though otherwise unrelated, the four books are set in New England during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, respectively. The stories barely mention food, whether as a deliberate historical reflection of American culture at the time, more likely a lack of interest in describing food by mid-20th century authors of children’s literature. If the writers didn’t bother, then I won’t try to make something from nothing.
The Matchlock Gun would’ve fit perfectly in this group.
Johnny Tremain (1944) by Esther Forbes. Set in Boston, leading up to and during the American Revolution, the book is about Johnny Tremain, a boy who starts the story as a silversmith apprentice but befalls a terrible accident that leaves him disfigured, forcing him to find a new path, whereupon he joins the growing revolutionary forces seeking to oust the British and participates in various activities, including the Boston Tea Party (1773).
It was okay. As historical fiction, the book touches on many important events and political issues of the time. The story is also a bildungsroman that traces Johnny’s growth into a young man.
On the eve of war, all men in the militia are called to report for battle. Rab, who is Johnny’s best friend and mentor, prepares to go.
[paraphrased in part]
Rab did not seem to feel any grief at abandoning Johnny. The older boy was cutting himself a final piece of bread and cheese. How many hundreds of times Johnny had seen those strong white teeth tearing at coarse bread. Rab had been eating bread and cheese all through their first meeting – and that was long ago. It seemed he’d be eating bread and cheese to the end. There was a sick qualm at the pit of Johnny’s stomach. He couldn’t eat bread and cheese, and it irritated him that Rab could.
I wasn’t intending to save Johnny Tremain for Independence Day, but I suddenly realized that the day was upon us, so the timing was perfect.
Invincible Louisa (1934) by Cornelia Meigs. The book is about Louisa May Alcott, starting with her birth (1832), suggesting how various experiences throughout her life in and around New England shaped her to become an author, eventually publishing Little Women (1868).
It was okay. Ostensibly written as a biography, the protagonist is imbued with thoughts and feelings that make the story feel more like dramatic fiction. Indeed, she led a more eventful life than I would’ve imagined.
[paraphrased in part]
Even though their food was not much more than fruit, vegetables, and grain porridge, it was hard to supply that household.
I shudder at the thought of making grain porridge.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1959) by Elizabeth George Speare. Set in the late 17th century, the book is about 16-year-old Kit Tyler, who had enjoyed a carefree life in Barbados with her grandfather but, upon the death of the grandfather, is sent to live with her aunt’s family in a puritan community in Connecticut, where the ultra-conservative ultra-superstitious townspeople in witchcraft.
It was pretty good. Something of a slow burn, a sobering historical examination of puritan lifestyles and beliefs, culminating in a dramatic courtroom showdown accusing Kit of being a witch. Also a lot of quiet puritan-style romance woven throughout the story.
[paraphrased in part]
The bread tasted delicious, though of a coarse texture like nothing she had ever tasted before. Kit lifted the pewter mug thirstily, and abruptly set it down. “Is that water?” she asked politely. “Of course, drawn fresh from the spring this morning.” Water! For breakfast! But the corn bread was good, and she managed a second piece in spite of her dry tongue.
There was also a reference to something called “skunk cabbage,” a medicinal herb, that might’ve been interesting to interpret.
A Gathering of Days (1980) by Joan Blos. The book is structured as the personal diary of 13-year-old Cath Hall, recounting several events taking place in their New England village from 1830-1832, including her encounter with an escaped slave, her father’s remarriage, and her best friend’s death.
It was meh. Exactly what it sounds like.
[paraphrased in part]
To the soup we joined bread and cyder, also nuts and apples. To offset the plainness of the food I set out the pewterware and not the wooden bowls.
In fairness, the book does include a recipe for mince meat, which was already covered (avoided, actually) in Ginger Pye.
The sandwich was excellent. Crispy bread, soft cheese (not yet melted), silky ham with slightly toasted edges, bits of tanginess from the tomatoes, freshness from the lettuce, mayo to bring it all together. An instant classic.
Johnny Tremain encounters Samuel Adams, as a character, in the book.
I was in Boston on a research trip in July 2007 (almost exactly 14 years ago) and drinking nothing but Samuel Adams beer in the evenings with my best friend HSK (who was living there at the time), when I received a call on the morning of July 15 that my son DJ had been born (3.5 weeks premature) (this story was previously recounted on GMTD from a different angle (see 3.271 Larb Gai)). The beer will always remind me of that summer.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager was previously featured on GMTD, also in the context of July the 4th (see 1.179 Chili-Cheese Dogs).
Samuel Adams Boston Lager was considered as a contender in the World Series of Pilsner but dropped in favor of Tiger (see WSP).
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)