Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

One of the most interesting and disturbing eras I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the Great Depression.  Of all the details I studied, I found those affecting farmers to be the most heartbreaking.  This is probably because my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, came from a farming family.  The Welleses survived, but they did not come out unscathed.

Before the stock market crash in October of 1929, farmers were already experiencing hard times.  One contributing factor was the forty percent drop in prices between 1920 and 1921 as the overseas market disappeared.  World War I had led to a time of prosperity for farmers as war-torn European nations needed produce grown in America.  This need led to a remarkable increase in agricultural production, income, and purchasing power.  The profits farmers made were reinvested in more land and machinery.

Once the war ended and the European markets no longer needed American food products, prices and profits plummeted.  The price crop supports that existed at the beginning of World War I guaranteeing farmers minimum prices on certain crops disappeared in 1921 when President Harding announced their end.  Further exacerbating the problem was President Coolidge’s increase in taxes on imports, which decreased foreign trade for America and removed more of the farmers’ markets.  Many farmers lost their new land investments to foreclosure and/or experienced bankruptcy.

The construction of new homes, usually an indicator of economic strength, declined from 1926 to 1929.  It is not surprising that no one paid attention to this warning sign especially since the crisis in the farming community, the truest measure of economic success or failure, was already in trouble.  When added to the faith people placed in the stock market and the endless purchases made on credit, it is no wonder America experienced the Great Depression.

As I watched videos of farmers dumping milk into ditches on the side of the road and apples into piles left to rot, I knew in my heart that even if it meant their downfall, John’s stepmother, Collie Mercer Welles, wouldn’t let anyone go hungry.  The character I created in Collie wouldn’t and couldn’t justify throwing food away when people around her were starving.  Greed in that form simply did not exist in her.  She may not have had the means to transport food, but anyone who made his or her way to the Welles farm would not be turned away empty-handed.

Farm protestors attempt to block roads leading to markets.

Unfortunately, many in the farming communities did not share the opinions and morals of my fictional character, Collie.  The withholding and destruction of food was one of the most hideous consequences of the Great Depression.  Desperation hit farmers when the expense of producing crops exceeded what they could make selling them.  Groups known as Farm Holiday Associations were formed to stop selling crops until prices were forced higher.  They operated under the motto, “Neither buy nor sell and let taxes go to hell.”

While in my heart I believe the Welles family would have risen above such actions, I wonder if they would have found resistance in their own community to helping those who were starving.  It wasn’t uncommon for farmers who bucked these types of associations to find their efforts met with violence from a pitchfork in the tires of their vehicles to standoffs between deputies meant to protect food convoys and farmers armed with guns.

The stock market crash of 1929 will probably always be the most well-known contributing factor to the Great Depression.  Billions of dollars were lost literally overnight by 1.5 million Americans who were involved with the market enough to actually have a broker.  However, 40 million people living on farms had already been enduring hardships since 1919, and it is these people who would be hit the hardest again, particularly on the Great Plains, during the aftermath of the crash.  The farmers knew what those living in the cities and banking on the stock market had yet to learn:  the Great Depression was already upon them.

The title for my blog post came from a Depression Era song, the details of which you can read about here:  “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and listen to the Bing Crosby version here:  “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Enjoy other interesting Depression Era history on Prohibition (I’ll Drink to That), speakeasies (Welcome to the Apple Crate), and moonshine (By the Light of the Silvery Moon).

Taking Stock of the Situation

Taking Stock of the Situation 1The summer of 1929 held a world of promise for young John Welles. He was succeeding brilliantly at the University of Maryland, had made two lifelong friends in Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, and the once competitive relationship he had with Garland Griffin turned into a romantic one unlike anything John ever imagined.

The opportunity to pamper the young woman who was swiftly becoming the love of his life occurred a few days after their visit to Garland’s home. An unexpected cold kept Garland away from John for a few days, and when he could stand it no longer, he took a crock of chicken soup to her.

Lucia, the sassy cook who works for John’s Aunt Prudence and keeps her on her toes, made the recipe for chicken noodle soup Sam’s mother, Gladys Feldman, gave her. Per Mrs. Feldman, Jewish chicken soup cured everything. Unfortunately, neither Lucia nor Gladys could predict how Garland’s secret would crash down upon John’s world, a secret for which there was no remedy.

The recipe I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene actually starts with the post Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. This recipe provides the carcass you’ll need for the stock that is the base of the soup. I highly recommend using this particular carcass as the seasoning from that recipe tastes amazing in the soup.

Chicken Stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass

2 T olive oil

12 c water

1 medium carrot

1 medium celery stalk

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 t quad-colored whole peppercorns

Remove the meat from the chicken carcass and reserve it for the soup. Break up the carcass into several pieces using a large knife or kitchen scissors. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot to medium heat and brown the carcass pieces on all sides. Be sure to scrape any browned tidbits from the bottom of the pot and occasionally turn the pieces.

Peel the vegetables and coarsely chop them. Add the water, vegetables, and seasonings to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Do not let the stock boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, occasionally skimming any scum off the surface of the stock using a large spoon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the stock at a simmer until the flavors have melded, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Remove and discard the pieces of chicken carcass. Pour the stock through a wire mesh strainer placed over a large crock or bowl. Do not save the vegetables for the soup as the flavor has gone into the stock. The stock can be cooled to room temperature and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for one month.

Or you can pour the stock into a six quart pot and proceed with making soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

Reserved chicken meat

2 medium carrots

2 medium celery stalks

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t sea salt

1 t thyme leaves

Freshly ground quad-colored peppercorns to taste

2 c dried egg noodles

Bring the stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Peel and dice the vegetables to a medium dice. Add them and the seasonings to the pot and stir thoroughly. Return to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about twenty minutes.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain them in a colander. Do not cook the noodles in the stock or they will become mushy and your stock pasty.

Shred the reserved chicken meat into small pieces. You’ll need about 2 c for the soup. Save any extra for another use.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the shredded chicken and drained noodles to the stock. Stir thoroughly and return to a simmer. Cook about five minutes to meld the flavors. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Situation 2

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Short StoriesAnyone who knows me knows I adore reading. And for those who don’t know me, it won’t take much time spent in my presence, whether in real life or via social media, to discover this. Recently, I’ve been reading the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I assigned this task to myself as part of the research for my new novel. My goal was to gain a better understanding of Fitzgerald through his writing first, and then I would tackle books of literary commentary as well as biographies of the man, the author, and his life.

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of Fitzgerald’s short stories because I must admit it isn’t favorable in the least. I must also confess my amazement that he earned the money he did during the era in which he wrote. This is especially astounding considering how small the payment is among literary journals today. According to the Dollar Times inflation calculator, four thousand dollars for “At Your Age” in 1929 would be like earning $55, 327.48 in 2016. The section notes prior to the story state this was his “top story price.” I interpret that as price per story and not salary for the year. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but either way, Fitzgerald was simply not that good an author.

If you read one short story, you’ve read them all and his novels as well. Beautiful, indifferent debutantes who pick up and drop men like they’re choosing and discarding shoes; rich ambitious fellas, possibly a football hero, who undoubtedly attended/will attend either Princeton, Yale or Harvard; a sprinkling of drunks, some hopeless, some loveable; endless comparisons between the North and the South or America and Europe; and the ambitious pursuit of money, fame, and power over, and over, and over again. The most unforgivable crime Fitzgerald committed in this reader’s eyes was to cannibalize his own short stories for the sake of his novels. Worse was the fact that his agent, editors, and publishers allowed him to get away with this.

Ridiculous and cliché are the two words that came to mind the most as I read Fitzgerald. The scenarios portrayed were outlandish and unbelievable, and I’m not counting “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” when I say this. Why anyone, even fictional, would tolerate the behavior depicted among the characters is beyond me. I tried to keep in mind that attitudes and actions were different in the 20s and 30s, but my opinion of the situation often deteriorated to how stupid can one person be and how much longer before he/she quits putting up with this garbage? Perhaps this was common behavior among the rich and lovesick back then. I honestly couldn’t say.

None of Fitzgerald’s stories were memorable. As I looked back through the book, I tried to recall the storylines and characters by the title alone, but ended up cheating and reading the section notes. The only exception was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that was because it had been made into a movie. So, I’m left wondering who decides what makes a piece of literature a classic. The death of the author, the passing of time, the payment received, popularity with the audience at the time of publication, being made into a movie, or some combination thereof? I shudder to think how the last four delineators will make classics of some of the drivel being produced today.

I don’t know what percentage of readers would stand with me in my assessment of Fitzgerald’s writing. Hopefully, I’ll find the commentaries and biographies more interesting. From what I already know about him, I believe if he had consumed less alcohol and been more content to hone his craft than pursue fame and fortune, he would have moved beyond his narrow world, experienced life to a greater degree, and found something new to write about. In the end, I’ll give Fitzgerald credit for leaving writers a good lesson even though he failed to learn it himself.

Hugh Griffin’s Peach Pie

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Juicy Peach Pie

It is the summer of 1929. John Welles and his girlfriend, Garland Griffin, take a trip to visit her father. It’s a big step in their relationship. She is opening up to John and showing a side of herself he never knew existed.

While visiting, Garland’s widowed father, Hugh, serves the couple peach pie he made himself. The following recipe is the inspiration for the pie in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although Hugh is, no doubt, a very talented man, it was actually my mother who made the pie pictured throughout this post.

Lightly crisp, buttery, flaky, tender, mouth-watering pie crust is the hallmark of my mother’s pies despite the flavor of filling used. She is such a master at it that I don’t even bother learning how to roll crust myself. Shameful, I know.

Anyhow, I hope you’ll enjoy the peach pie as much as John and Garland!

Hugh Griffin’s Peach Pie

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Expert Rolling of the Crust

For the Crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

1 t salt

1 c cold butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

Ice water

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Work butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry blender or two knives is recommended so mixture stays cool. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time forming a dough ball with your hands. Work quickly to keep dough from warming. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing peaches.

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Adding Peaches to the Crust

For the Filling:

5 – 6 good sized peaches

5 T butter

¾ c sugar

¼ c flour

1 t vanilla

1 t cinnamon

½ t salt

Peel and slice peaches into a large bowl. Add sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour, and vanilla. Toss until well coated. Cover and set aside.

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Perfectly Assembled

Assembling the pie:

Divide dough ball in half. Roll one half for a bottom crust to fit in a 9” pie plate. Add peach mixture and dot with tablespoon slices of butter. Roll top crust and place on top of peaches. Tuck the edges of the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust. Crimp edges with a fork. Cut slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush crust with an egg wash (1 egg beaten w/ 1 t water.) Bake at 425 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown, taking care not to burn the edges.

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The hand that rolls the pie crust rules the world!

 

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