Cook the Books Club kept me reading all summer. I had all the upcoming books bought soon after the new book selection announcement. I read ahead and had this book finished by mid-July. (This coming from someone who hates deadlines. I wrote papers all night long the night before they were due in college. I still “wing it” quite a bit when it comes to deadlines at work. And, I truly have made my “inspired from” recipes for CTB the morning of the posting deadline.)
If you don’t know about this great group of hostesses and their desire to keep us all reading, cooking and creating, read this paragraph. (Skip it if you are a participant.) Every two months, we read a pre-selected novel, memoir, or non-fiction book. These reads are carefully chosen by the hostesses Rachel from The Crispy Cook, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, Simona from Briciole, and Heather from girlichef.
Heather made the recommendation for this round of Cook the Books with The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy. Since I had this book read and the recipe decided upon almost two months ahead of the game, I hope that is an indication to you of how much I loved this book.
Heather presents the novel in this way:
A story that flawlessly weaves the past with the present. Two bakeries. Two countries. Two eras. We start off the year 1945 with Elsie Schmidt a teenager who works in her father’s bakery in Nazi Germany. Her life changes forever when an escaped Jewish boy appears on her doorstep on Christmas Eve. Sixty years later in El Paso, Texas, journalist Reba Adams plans on interviewing an older baker from town for a feel-good Christmas story in the local magazine. Little does she know the impact that speaking with the owner of Elsie’s Germany Bakery will have on her outlook of life. Family, forgiveness, strength, and a testament to power of sharing a good loaf of bread. I hope that you’ll take as much inspiration from this novel as I did – I know I can’t wait to read it again!
I would even hasten to say that there were more than two plot parallels here or at least there were more plot twists that kept me page flipping. (What do you call “page flipping” on an iPad? Page sliding? Just curious.)
- There was Hazel Schmidt’s perilous existence in “The Program.” I had never even imagined such a life.
- There was Nazi Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hub’s crisis of conscience and his debilitating migraines and subsequent methamphetamine use.
- There was Tobias, the waif that Elsie saves from certain death. (Spoiler alert: I just knew he would make an appearance by the end of the novel.)
- There was Reba and her decision to go after her dreams only to realize that life was right smack dab back in El Paso.
- There was Reba’s father who dealt with his own demons, marking his family with their own crosses to bear in the process.
- There was Riki, a border patrol agent who is having his own crisis of conscience.
- There was Jane who finally decided to embrace her romantic destiny and marry her love (even if it was a hasty shindig).
- There was Elsie and every event that brought her to Texas.
I, like Heather, loved how McCoy wove together all of these characters’ lives, from the war torn German town of Gramisch through 1967 to 2008 El Paso.
This poignant and beautiful clip covers the themes, triumphs, and fears of the novel.
I imagine it is Tobias that composed and is playing this lovely accompaniment.
Much more than a summer read, I would recommend this novel to anyone and everyone. It caused me to revisit historical atrocities and rethink some of our own practices today. This novel of crises of conscience is ultimately a novel of hope and love.
Obviously there was much to choose from for inspiration for Cook the Books. There were delicious baked goods and traditional German delicacies, all made in the Schmidt Bäckerei n Germany and Elsie’s German Bakery in El Paso. I kept coming back, however, to the magazine page that the teenage Elsie has clipped out as a keepsake, an advertisement for Texas baked beans of all things. It is one of the “secrets” she shared with Tobias during his hiding.
At every meal, Elsie would share half her food with Tobias. She also shared the secret items she’d collected in the hollow wall. “His favorite was the advertisement for Texas baked beans, which featured an illustration of an American cowboy riding through a field of sunflowers. Tobias would run his fingers over the man’s smiling face, drawing up and down the sharp letters U-S-A” (p 86).
During the Schmidt’s meager existence during the war, “Sometimes at night, she dreamed of the TEXAS, U.S.A magazine advertisement, envisioning a land with row upon row of fat loaves laden with jeweled fruits” (p 171).
When she meets her future husband and he introduces himself as being from “A little state called Texas,” Elsie excitedly responds with “Texas ovenbaked beans?” (p 242).
Fate is an interesting thing.
Elsie opened can after can of these baked beans upon coming to the States as a war bride, apparently thinking this is what Texans ate. Luckily some kind Army wife finally introduced her to the Commissary.
I decided this was my inspiration for CTB, a big bowl of fateful “Texas Ovenbaked Beans” only I would have to change the name a bit. :)
This recipe is a family favorite from a cookbook that all three of us have—Mom, Sis, and me. I guess you could say this dish has become part of our own family cooking tradition and lore. It is very versatile as well so please read all the notes and tips. Mom makes it as the cookbook mandates; my sister started adding black beans (which I copied); and I make a vegetarian version.
TexasOklahoma Ovenbaked Beans
Adapted from Oklahoma Baked Beans from Stir Ups by the Enid Junior League
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/4 c. bell peppers (red, green or yellow), chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. ketchup
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. chili powder
1/2 t. liquid smoke
1 t. ground mustard
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 can (15.5 oz.) pork ‘n beans
1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil in a small skillet and saute onions, peppers, and garlic until just soft (about 1-2 minutes).
In a large mixing bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire, chili powder, liquid smoke, ground mustard and pepper. Whisk until smooth. Add beans and sauted veggies. Stir.
Prepare a 2 quart baking dish by coating it with cooking spray. Pour in bean mixture. Bake for 20-45 minutes. Let cool five minutes before serving. May also be served at room temperature.
Notes: For a non vegetarian version, cook 4 slices bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towels and saute vegetables in the bacon fat. YUM!
I am so excited for the next selection. Rachel, The Crispy Cook, gets us thinking local with her pick of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp. This book was the catalyst for starting this blog in 2009. We have gotten away from our original intent so I am anxious to revisit this pivotal (for us) work. Please grab a copy. I know that it will spark a lot of good discussion for the next round.
For all my CTB posts, click here.