I know…so much for my salad themed summer.
But, I have some responsibilities and commitments with Food ‘n Flix and Cook the Books. (Lately since CLUE folded, these are my only blogger clubs.) Both FnF and CTB have deadlines near the end of the month and I am once again down to the wire. Today’s post is to celebrate Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn, the Cook the Books’ selection for April/May. (For my latest Fnf post, see Wicked Fruit.)
“Burnt toast makes you sing good,” is a saying that Flinn’s grandmother would use. It exemplifies the hardships of Flinn’s family and the practicality of a grandmother who didn’t waste anything. Flinn’s memoir is full of practical recipes (some that could be leveraged to feed an army) along with an honest telling of her family and her own formative years.
Deb from Kahakai Kitchen is hosting this selection.
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good is divided into three parts and I sometimes felt like I was reading three different books. Part I deals with her parents early married life and their decision to move across country from California to Michigan. Part I was not my favorite part of the book and it took me a while to really feel like Flinn had found her voice. Her retelling of this time, a time that she herself had not yet been born, felt a little stale to me.
She continues retelling family lore in Part II as her parents continue to meet life’s challenges. A lucrative business deal soon goes south and leaves the family in debt. I enjoyed reading how Flinn’s mother made the most of their farm’s bounty. Each year, she would put up hundreds of jars of everything from applesauce to chili sauce.
By Part III, Flinn had found her voice. She was the youngest by far in her home and most of her siblings were away during her early teens. Although her family had suffered hardships throughout the book with grace and dignity, Flinn is herself trying to deal with her father’s death at the age of fifty. Similar to her parents’ move across country from the west coast to the Midwest, Flinn spends the final year of her dad’s life being transplanted to Florida. Although she had to deal with being the new poor kid in school at the tender and awkward age of thirteen, Flinn retells her time in Florida with honesty and clarity. (Flinn still resides part of the year on Anna Maria Island where she spent this time with her father.)
One can safely say that the Flinn family is resilient, resourceful and full of adventure. The family was always up for a good time and I loved that they joined a German-American society because of the dances and the food. (Flinn’s family was of Irish and Swedish descent.)
Sprinkled throughout the Flinn family saga are recipes from paprika fried chicken to her grandfather’s famous chili.
That chili was really calling to me but as the temperature is nearing 80 degrees I will save that recipe for this fall and winter.
Although my cucumber plants are vining up nicely in our garden with all the rain that we’ve had, they are far from harvest-ready. I wish I had a bushel or two of farm fresh cucumbers like the family did during their days on the farm in Michigan. If I did, I would be presenting her mother’s Bread and Butter Pickles (page 115). These pickles were her family’s favorite and were always the first jarred goods to be consumed. My own grandmother made a mean bread and butter pickle and there was nothing I enjoyed more than slathering bread with Miracle Whip and sandwiching a slice of bologna between them with enough pickles to almost make the sandwich too soggy to eat.
When Flinn mentioned the very strange combination (and family favorite) of grilled cheese with bread and butter pickles, she definitely had my attention. Flinn writes:
Every year, they ran out of bread and butter pickles first. Mom made grilled cheese sandwiches with Velveeta and sliced homemade bread slathered with butter. She says she bought Velveeta, a “Cheese-food product,” not only because it was cheaper than real cheese but because in the 1960s, the ads heralded Velveeta as nothing short of a nutrition “superfood.” It melted particularly well, making it perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches. Something about the cool, sweet pickles hit just the right note when paired with the hot Velveeta sandwiches. The family could go through a whole quart in one lunch.
If you are of a certain age, I think Velveeta just makes you nostalgic.
I’m not really presenting a recipe here, but let me tell you how good these sandwiches are. I used some good sourdough bread, rubbed the outside slices with olive oil, slapped on a slab of Velveeta (yes Velveeta), and sprinkled on a good quantity of bread and butter pickles. I totally recognize that Velveeta is a artery-clogging man-made cheese-like product and definitely not a superfood, but let me tell you that ooey-gooey warm cheese will make you nostalgic for comfort food of your youth.
If you can’t get past Velveeta, a good brie will work as well.
I made one of each.
I enjoyed the brie version more. (For another great grilled brie sandwich, click here.)
I would like to coin the new adage that grilled bread makes you sing good as well.
Kathleen Flinn has been featured in publications like Bon Appetit and on NPR. She is also the author of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry. She attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris like her idol Julia Child.