Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Charming Billy?

First place in the church pie bake off is in Shirley Tedesco’s sights. Ever since she joined as a newly-wed wife, her goal has been to reach the coveted spot held for far too long by fellow contestant, Claudia Romero. A sour cherry rhubarb pie is Shirley’s first third-place win, and Claudia can feel the younger woman breathing down her neck as she inches closer with every delicious baked creation.

I included cherry pie in my novel, The Tedescos, because it’s been a favorite since childhood. As delicious as sweet cherry pie is, there is just something—how can I describe it—more old-fashioned tasting about a sour cherry pie. The inclusion of rhubarb, traditionally featured alone or in combination with strawberries, makes Shirley’s pie a titch more special. Then there is the addition of a few ingredients even Claudia can’t discern.

Sour cherries were more readily available when I was younger. These days I have to travel a bit to find them, but they are worth it. Their too-short season of availability makes them even more desirable. If you can pick and pit your own, do so. However, fresh, pitted sour cherries can be purchased from farmer’s markets. I’ve heard good things about particular brands of jarred sour cherries in syrup, but I’ll let you do your own research and taste testing. Buying frozen sour cherries is an absolute last resort. I will say, though, that if you freeze sour cherries yourself, you’ll have better luck with them because the delicate fruit won’t be bashed about during transport and the defrosting process can take place slowly in your refrigerator.

Pre-picked and pitted sour cherries come in juice. Measure out four cups to a bag (enough for a ten-inch pie), and freeze them. Take care to evenly distribute the juice and don’t stack the bags on top of each other or place them where other frozen items will be stacked.

Rhubarb is easier to find in grocery stores and can be frozen until used. Neither the amount of red on the stalks nor the width has any bearing on the flavor. Wash the stalks, trim the ends, pat them dry, and cut into half-inch pieces. Lay the cut rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet with edges, freeze them for a couple of hours, and transfer the frozen pieces to a large plastic bag that can be sealed. Return them to the freezer immediately.

Because I freeze fruits and vegetables in amounts for one pie, the following recipe makes two pies because I’m combining sour cherries and rhubarb. Don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity, though. The pies will get eaten, and if you’re feeling guilty about consuming too much pie, you can always give one away or cut the recipe in half.

One last note: this recipe uses fresh sour cherries that came in their own juice. If you use cherries you picked, you’ll need to cook them with a little water, store bought cherry juice, or liquid from cherries you juiced yourself to soften them and bring out their natural juices.

Shirley Tedesco’s Sour Cherry Rhubarb Pie

For the Crust:

4 c all-purpose flour

2 t sea salt

4 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

Ice water

Sift the 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, but you can work quickly with your hands so the mixture stays cool. Add ice water a little at a time, forming a dough ball with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. Preheat your oven to 375° while the dough is chilling.

For the Filling:

4 c sour cherries, with their juice

4 c rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces

3 c sugar (I used raw)

4 T kirsch

⅛ t mace

1 t sea salt

4 T butter

6 – 9 T corn starch

In a large pot over a medium heat, add the sour cherries with juice, rhubarb, and sugar. Stir gently to incorporate the sugar but not break apart the fruit/veg. When the sugar is melted and the mixture begins to steam lightly, add the kirsch, mace, butter, and salt. Stir gently.

Start with six tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl and ladle hot liquid from the pot into the bowl until there is equal dry to wet. Stir the corn starch and juice until thoroughly blended, and then slowly pour it back into the pot. I pour the mixture into a particularly juicy area and whisk quickly to incorporate. Gently stir through the mixture and increase the heat to medium high to thicken the juice. Only use the remaining three tablespoons if your sour cherries and rhubarb are particularly juicy. Keep a close eye on the mixture so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sour cherries and rhubarb are thickened, set them aside to cool.

Assembling the pie:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Return the other three to the refrigerator while working. Roll one quarter into a circle to cover the bottom of a ten-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the bottom of the pie plate and trim the edges to fit. Remove and roll another quarter for the bottom of the second pie and trim the edges.

Divide the sour cherry/rhubarb mixture between the bottom crusts by ladling it in. Remove and roll another quarter of dough for a top crust. Place it over the filling and tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the bottom crust. Crimp the edges between your fingers or seal them with the tines of a fork. Do the same with the last dough quarter for the second pie.

Place the pies on the middle rack of the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the pies for 45 minutes, and then check them. You may need to keep baking in ten-minute increments until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to rest for fifteen minutes to set up. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

Order in the Court

One of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos, is Officer Ted Conley. Lieutenant Conley first makes a casual appearance in a chapter where I mention him as a friend who is visiting Joe Tedesco’s bowling alley. Ted and Joe are high school football buddies who stayed in touch after graduation.

It’s probably because I grew up around cops—my dad served twenty five years as a police officer—that I subconsciously chose the profession. But then I realized how handy it was to have a cop on the scene especially with a family like the Tedescos whose escapades sometimes require the compassionate arm of the law. For this reason, Officer Ted Conley makes several more appearances in my novel as both friend and policeman.

I didn’t pin down exactly where the Tedescos live right off the bat because I want my readers to relate to them as members of their own family and/or as friends. Really, where they live isn’t as important as what goes on between them. But I mention their locale every now and then as well as drop in clues.

One such hint came from my own memories of visiting my dad at work. The police station where my dad worked is located next to the courthouse, and in front of the courthouse are two amazing lion sculptures. They are the stuff of childhood fantasy, and more than once I imagined them coming alive. They made such an impression on me as a kid that is seemed natural to have Officer Conley waiting in front of one of the lion statues to be picked up by Joe for poker night.

While the history of the courthouse is quite interesting, this blog post focuses on the lions. After the original courthouse was demolished in 1905, a new one was completed in 1908. The new building was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style of architecture and included two male statues and two lion statues.

The two seated males, one with a scroll and the other with a sheathed sword, represent law and justice. The two carved male lions are symbols of the law’s majesty and are sculpted of Salem Limestone (commercially known as Indiana Limestone). The lions, mirror images of each other, flank the courthouse sidewalk with one facing northwest and the other facing southwest. The lions rest on their hind legs with their front legs outstretched and mouths open slightly to reveal their teeth. The pair has impressively large manes, and their tails curl around and up to rest on their backs. They are placed on limestone plinths which set on mortared sandstone bases.

The lion sculptures cost $1,160 in 1908 which, according to an inflation calculator, would be $32,127.49 in 2017. In order to position the lions without cracking the stone base blocks, large blocks of ice were placed between the lions and the stone bases. As the ice slowly melted, the lions gently came to rest on their stone bases.

The only information I could find about the sculptor was a snippet by someone commenting on another website. Supposedly, August Blepp, a master stonecutter, is responsible for the carved lions guarding the courthouse. I shall continue to search for any details regarding the sculptor and update this post as needed.

Perhaps you noticed that I still have not mentioned the location of the lions or the county in which they and the courthouse reside. I enjoy a little mystery, and I’d rather these details be revealed within my published novel. Until then, I’ve provided a picture clue of one of the lions.

Happy hunting!

Southern Fried Solution

Joe Tedesco has a big heart, and he can see that his wife, Shirley, could use some cheering up for Mother’s Day. So, he pulls out all the stops when planning Shirley’s Mother’s Day celebration. Joe also has a big appetite, and the lure of a home-cooked meal is more than he can ignore. This is why the Tedesco Family will be attending church with their friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, on Mother’s Day. The Baptist church where Smiley and Charlene are members is hosting a meal in honor of mothers, and the dishes the men will prepare are the recipes their wives and mothers use. For Joe, this translates into culinary heaven. But really, the day is all about Shirley.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Tedescos. This recipe is a meal unto itself, but when paired with other Southern favorites, then Joe is right in believing it’s ecstasy for the taste buds.

Southern Fried Cabbage

6 – 10 bacon slices

4 T butter

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large head of cabbage, sliced or chopped

2 T Worchester sauce

3 T apple cider vinegar

2 T brown –OR– raw sugar

½ t hot Hungarian paprika –OR– ½ t Cajun seasoning

Sea salt

Black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1 t crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Side Note: I used an 8-oz. package of Applegate uncured turkey bacon for this recipe which produced less fat. You will need to increase the butter to 6 T to take the place of the bacon drippings should you choose to do the same.

Slice or chop cabbage, taking care to remove any ribs and the core, and set aside.

Stack the bacon slices and cut them into strips across the width. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until brown and crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside and reserve 2 T of drippings.

Add the butter to the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Add the Worchester sauce, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Stir gently and allow the onions to caramelize slowly and the liquid to thicken as it cooks off. Return the bacon to the skillet and stir gently.

Add the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and hot Hungarian paprika ­–OR– Cajun seasoning. Cover and allow the cabbage to cook down about half way. When the cabbage has begun to wilt, stir the mixture. Return the cover to the skillet and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender.

Remove the lid from the skillet to allow the excess liquid to cook off. Stir gently to coat the cabbage and keep it from burning. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy!

Mockingbird Calling

As a teenager, there are so many things that one doesn’t appreciate. My ninth grade Honors English teacher assigned the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, as part of our reading for the year, and we didn’t question it. I wondered who this man, Harper Lee, was and what sort of book this dead man had written. While my teacher, Mrs. Kraft, quickly corrected our wrong assumption about Harper Lee’s gender, she didn’t mention that the authoress was still alive. It was a small oversight, and being teenagers, we were either too disinterested or too lazy to care. I ended up loving the book so much that I read it a couple more times throughout my life.

Fast forward to the release of Go Set a Watchman. By then I was writing and seeking publication, and if there is one thing I’ve learned as a writer it’s that I would never want my first draft of anything published for the entire world to read. The idea was horrifying, and since I had heard that Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee’s first draft, I refused to read it in honor of her. Still, the point I made at the beginning of this post didn’t hit home with me.

It wasn’t until I read Charles J. Shields’s Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee that one particular fact become apparent. Harper Lee had still been alive in 1984 when I read her iconic novel for the first time. At least this time I had a better understanding of who she was and how much of herself and her life she had written into her novel.

I’ll provide you with my impressions of Nelle Harper Lee rather than bore you with facts. At first I wasn’t sure I liked this brash person who didn’t seem to recognize or understand boundaries in other people’s lives. In situations where most people would be embarrassed by such behavior, it appeared that Nelle didn’t have the good sense to be ashamed. What I thought of as her complete lack of social skills made me wonder if she was autistic, and I absolutely do not say that as a thoughtless insult. On the contrary, Nelle’s haphazard navigation of life touched my mother’s heart, and I wondered if she had anyone who truly understood her.

Adding to my concern was Nelle’s mother’s mental illness, and I wondered if the lack of maternal guidance toward her late-in-life daughter also affected the formation of Nelle’s personality. Alice Lee, the oldest sibling, and A. C. Lee, Nelle’s father, certainly filled any void in her life. According to Shields’s account, they presented a resilient style of parenting that I don’t believe the sensitive artist within Nelle was strong enough to withstand. Support for her chosen career came reluctantly, and only after her success with To Kill a Mockingbird did they come on board.

Then the pendulum would swing in the other direction, and a soft, caring Nelle appeared. She was still outspoken but also attentive to other people often to her own detriment. Her close friend, Truman Capote, benefited the most from this side of Nelle. He took advantage of her gentle nature when he employed her as his “assistant researchist” during the writing of In Cold Blood. A bare mention that had to be shared with Capote’s lover was all Nelle received for the extensive work she did. Along with Capote badmouthing Nelle on several occasions and his obvious envy of her success, it’s no wonder their relationship became strained.

I believe the pressure to live up to the success of To Kill a Mockingbird overwhelmed Nelle. I also believe that as much as she wanted to be a writer, she only had one novel in her, and this is absolutely fine. She could have been quite happy for years writing articles for newspapers or short stories for magazines, and if the idea for a novel came along, she could have penned it free from the burden of living up to her prior achievement. But the public and her family wanted more. The public wanted another book they could sink their teeth into, and for some reason I never truly understood, her family wanted her back home in Alabama at least six months out of the year. The tug of war on Nelle, both internally and externally, did little to encourage her writing. A second novel never came to light, and after ten years the bloom of her success from To Kill a Mockingbird had faded.

For the remainder of her life, Nelle viciously guarded her novel and characters, not so much as allowing a cookbook named after Calpurnia to be published. She basked in the waning glow of her novel, occasionally enjoying a resurgence of celebrity with anniversaries of the novel or when someone wrote an article about her or her famous book. Otherwise, she led a reclusive life to the degree that no one could ever convince me she wanted or approved the publication of Go Set a Watchman.

So do I have a clearer picture of Harper Lee? Actually, without her memoirs or at least a book of her personal correspondence, I’m left with more questions. I would have loved to speak with her, to wrestle her out of her insecurities, or at least understand where she was coming from. I believe we could have been friends.

– – – – –

The copy of Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee that I read was published prior to Nelle Harper Lee’s death. I do not know how the revised and updated copy reads, or whether it supplies further insight into the authoress or the publication of Go Set a Watchman. Quite frankly, I enjoy the mystique surrounding this simple woman, and I don’t feel as if I need to know more.

God Gives Us Teenagers Because He Loves Us

I have a theory. I’ve been sitting on it for about six years, keeping it to myself as I mulled it over and tested it. I experience it in daily life especially when interacting with my teenager. It goes like this: I ask Joshua to do something, and he responds with “Oh joy, oh rapture” to let me know that he is not going to enjoy what I’ve asked him to do. I already knew that what I requested of him wasn’t meant to produce pleasure, but nevertheless, it needs to be done. A voice in my head whispers, “Kind of like I told you (insert request here) needs to be done.”

Another example is when Joshua asks me for something, and the answer is no.  I usually follow up with a tactfully pointed out, “Why would I spend money on (insert desired objection) when you don’t appreciate what I’ve already given you?” And the gentle voice in my heart says, “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Then there are the times when I give Joshua instructions for completing a task, and he does it wrong because he doesn’t listen and/or doesn’t care about the outcome. It takes him twice as long to finish (insert task here) and often things end up broken. I say, “Why didn’t you do it the way I told you the first time?” and the loving but firm voice speaking to my will sighs, “Exactly, beloved.”

My theory: God gives us teenagers to let us know what it’s like for Him when dealing with us. If I hadn’t heard His voice every single time I corrected Joshua, I would never have come to this conclusion. And because I’m the adult, the parent, the smart one who has lived more than twice as long as my child, I have it all together and nailed it the first time, right? Wrong.

I’ve grumbled, complained, whined, begged, pleaded, made deals, and sulked my way through life just like a teenager. God—being the great parent that He is—never backed down. Discipline and guidance came my way whether I wanted it or not. The lessons flowed from God to me to Josh, and still I didn’t catch on.

Until one day last week when I had a moment of brilliant insight. I had been moping because I received my first rejection notice concerning the novel I’m currently querying. Instead up getting right back up in the saddle and sending out another query, I sat in a chair at the kitchen table and sulked. It was a most unproductive day until my teenager came home. While Joshua may be a sluggard when it comes to picking up the dirty socks on his bedroom floor, he’s a drill sergeant when it comes to my writing.

“How many queries did you send out?” he asked. No “Hello, Mother, how are you? It sure is wonderful to see you.”

“None,” I replied.

“Get up.”

“What?”

“Get over to the laptop and send out a query letter.”

“I don’t want to.”

Without further comment, Joshua pulled out the chair with me in it, used a karate hold on me that put my arm behind my back, and led me to the computer at the other end of the table. Before you become upset thinking that he hurt me, please be assured that we laughed throughout the whole process. No bullying was involved as my son strong-armed me out of the doldrums and into positive energies. It worked.

Here’s the key: I knew better than to resist the karate hold because it was a real one he learned on his way to becoming a red belt. It didn’t hurt at all when Joshua helped me from the chair and gave the instruction to get back to work. If I had pushed or leaned in any direction against the hold, it would have been painful, and that’s when it hit me. God’s instructions only hurt when I resist them.

Finally, I’ve learned my lesson. Will I always apply it to my life perfectly? Probably not, but that doesn’t let me off the hook from trying. Just as I expect Joshua to strive for new levels of maturity in his life so, too, am I expected to stop behaving like a child, grow up, and pass the lesson forward.

Danny Does Denim

The younger Tedesco brother, Danny, is not known for his success with the ladies. It could have something to do with his perpetually broke-down car (his dates always have to drive), his constant lack of funds (his dates always pay for dinner and entertainment), or his questionable sense of fashion (his only decent suit is made of denim). Fortunately for Danny, his most recent girlfriend is not at all put off by her new beau’s style choices.

Known as the Canadian tuxedo or the Texan tux, Danny’s suit, manufactured by Lee, comes with a lovely matching vest. No doubt Grandma Josephine Tedesco bought the ensemble for him, but whether or not she remembers doing so is another matter.

Keep in mind that a denim jacket (also known as a jean jacket) is a different animal altogether. Denim jackets are a stylish staple in casual wardrobes and enjoy varying degrees of popularity throughout the decades. It’s also commonly worn by those in a more rugged line of work (think cowboys and roughnecks). But when it comes to tailored suits, denim is rarely if ever well received.

The history of the denim suit is short and infamous, and its origins don’t go all that far back. Levi Strauss is credited as the originator of the denim jacket in the 1800s, but the earliest reference to a denim suit that I could find was 1951. A story exists of singer Bing Crosby being denied access to a hotel in Canada because he was dressed from head to toe in denim. Although the was eventually allowed in, Levi’s made him a custom double-breasted denim suit jacket so that he would “never have problems wearing Levi’s jeans, even in fancy establishments.”

The jacket, presented to Crosby at the 1951 Silver State Stampede in Elko, Nevada, contained a leather label on the inside bearing a “Notice to all Hotel Men” stating that denim was acceptable to wear on any occasion. At least Danny is in good company. Bing’s suit now lives in the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.

In 2015, Ralph Lauren took a stab at the denim suit with a hipster and Wall Street version. In my humble opinion, both look like something a demented college student would try to pull off as good fashion sense. I have no doubt CEOs avoided these two suits like the plague they are.

If these denim suits don’t float your boat, you can always opt for one of the two hundred, limited run reproductions of Bing’s jacket that originally went for $1,800.00. I’m sure eBay is stocked with these little goodies.

 

Latkes Like Momma Makes

Muriel Shapiro is one of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos. The shy, intelligent native of New Jersey flees her home state with the dream of starting afresh in Northeast Ohio. When she moves into Joe and Shirley’s neighborhood, all memories of her disastrous cooking experiences under the tutelage of her impatient mother have been left behind. So have comparisons between Muriel and her well-married, grandchild-producing sisters, a father whose every sentence is spoken in a yelling voice, and the constant reminders of her failed art gallery. If ever anyone needed a peaceful environment in which to recoup, it is Muriel Shapiro.

The following recipe for latkes is quite easy, so perhaps dear Muriel’s talents simply lie elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll have splendid success when making “Momma’s” latkes and enjoy eating them even more than preparing them.

Momma Shapiro’s Latkes

12 Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

2 eggs, beaten

4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Peanut oil

Peel the potatoes and place them whole in a large bowl of cold, salted water until all twelve are peeled.

I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.

Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the peanut oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and gently press them into patties. Fry the latkes until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter to drain excess oil. Serve them warm with sour cream and applesauce.

Enjoy!

Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

The Luxury of Chocolate

Chocolate ranks high among all the comfort foods in which one can indulge. It’s even better when it’s incorporated into a homemade recipe lovingly prepared by Grandma’s hands. And while chocolate in all its many forms is delicious, I do believe there isn’t anything that can’t be made better by eating homemade chocolate pudding.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco believes in love as the main ingredient in everything she makes for her grandkids. And even though Grandma’s mind isn’t always in the present, when it comes to cooking or baking, she’s as sharp as Gordon Ramsay’s knives. The following recipe for chocolate pudding is the one I had in mind when writing about pudding in my novel, The Tedescos. It’s absolutely decadent and just the sort of dessert Grandma Josephine would proudly serve. It’s simple, elegant, and a little bit of chocolate heaven.

Grandma Josephine’s Chocolate Pudding

2 ¼ c whole milk

½ cup sugar (I used raw sugar for a deep, rich flavor)

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

2 T cornstarch

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

5 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped or in chips

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

STEP ONE: Whisk the cornstarch, cocoa, and ¼ c of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add ¼ c of milk, and whisk until it’s smooth. Set aside.

STEP TWO: In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the whole egg with the two egg yolks. Set aside.

STEP THREE: Combine the remaining 2 cups of milk, ¼ c of sugar, and the sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture in the saucepan comes to a boil, reduce the heat and stir in the mixture from Step One. Once the two are thoroughly combined, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Do this for about two minutes or until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

STEP FOUR: Reduce the heat to low under the pudding and gradually whisk about ½ c of the hot pudding into the egg mixture from Step Two until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg/pudding combination back into the saucepan taking care to scrape out the bowl. Cook the pudding over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a soft boil is achieved, about two minutes.

STEP FIVE:  Remove the pudding from the heat and add the semi-sweet chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and the pudding is smooth. Pour the pudding into six dessert dishes or ramekins that hold about 6 ounces each. A piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the pudding will keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pudding until chilled.

Serve with whipped cream and/or chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!

Bad Medicine

One of the weirdest things I had to research for my novel, The Tedescos, was the song “Witch Doctor.” I checked first of all to make sure it had been released before my story took place. The song, performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr., was released in 1958 by Liberty Records. Bagdasarian is better known by his stage name David Seville.

The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Top 100 and was considered a surprise hit on the chart. “Witch Doctor” became David Seville’s first number-one single and held this position for three weeks. The single sold over one million copies in the United States and finished at the number-four spot on Billboard for 1958.

The ridiculous song tells the story of a man in love with a woman who does not feel the same way about him. In an effort to secure her affections, the man visits a witch doctor for advice. The witch doctor replies with the now-famous refrain, “Oo ee oo aa aa ting tang walla walla bing bang.” This phrase is repeated throughout the song with the alternating endings of “bing bang” and “bang bang.”

And let me tell you, there is heated debate to this minor detail. Some people will sing every line of the witch doctor’s comments as “bing bang” while other sticklers for detail will insist upon singing it the correct way as “bing bang” the first time followed by “bang bang.” I actually watched the video of David Seville singing the song, my eyes narrowed in concentration to read his lips, just so I could settle the dispute.

The witch doctor’s voice is Bagdasarian’s own voice sped up to double speed. This technique was later used when Bagdasarian, as David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco borrows the witch doctor’s famous line when her youngest son, Danny, involves her in a crazy, money-making scheme. Because Grandma Josephine isn’t always aware of what she’s doing, she’s given a pass. However, Danny does not fare so well when his older brother, Joe, finds out he employed their mother in shady business.

Since I don’t want to be the only one with this annoying lyric stuck in my head, I have provided a link to Ross Bagdasarian/David Seville singing “Witch Doctor” on The Ed Sullivan Show.

%d bloggers like this: