By Augusta Scattergood
What does any self-respecting writer do when deadlines loom and words fail? Take to the kitchen! I learned to cook when I was barely tall enough to reach the counter with a rolling pin, and I learned that, until you truly know your way around the ingredients, measuring is crucial, following recipes mandatory.
What does baking have to do with writing? you might ask.
(Then again, what on earth is a Pear Purse? Stay tuned.)
Beginning to write for publication is a lot like learning to bake. When baking, you need to pay attention, use the timer, follow the recipe and add flourishes at the end. Writers need to think before embarking on a new project, assemble our ingredients, see what goes best with what. Does cinnamon spice up the apples or do you prefer nutmeg? Does your story need an old and crusty obvious villain or is it the bad boy down the street? Is your hero the one who first bites like a sour cherry and then saves the day? Choose your characters with as much care as you pick over those blackberries at the Farmers' Market.
Once your characters speak up, they often invent their own settings. Certain characters cry out for a small town, the school yard, the post office. And the dessert made with my Christmas gift pears works best in a festive setting, with real whipped cream.
Once the the recipes are part of your persona, move to the next level, break a few rules. Or at least bend them with ease.
But the writing lesson learned from baking is not to take every shortcut you can. We all know that’s a slippery slope. Instead, adapt from the tenets of baking. First, measure twice, carefully. Then be sure your spices fit the dish. Take care that your dinner guests are the right one for your pie (or your audience is right for your short story, essay or script). Pop it in the oven to rise to the occasion. Once learned, start breaking the rules. You now cook, or write, "to taste."
What else does writing have to do with baking? Actually, there's a lot home cooks can do to become better writers.
Remember that Rice Krispie ad a few years back? While sitting with a juicy romance novel in hand, the mother/chef called out “Ready in a minute” a few times. Before stepping through the swinging doors, she poofed a handful of flour at her face. Then she emerged from the kitchen proudly holding a plate of Rice Krispie Treats for her guests. Any short-cutting writer/cook worth her mettle loves hiding in the kitchen penning short poems or pondering aha! moments for an essay while the rest of the family waits expectantly to enjoy the proverbial fruit of her hard work.
But writers need a dish that looks like you slaved in the kitchen and emerged with more than Rice Krispie Treats. My dessert purses take about 15 minutes to assemble, 3 minutes to prettify, and 30 minutes in the oven. Plenty of time to scribble a note or finish the last chapter of the current book to be reviewed.
The best part of being a writer who occasionally cooks? Stirring and thinking, proofing the dough while pondering plot, savoring the smells and dashing off descriptive phrases while the tart is in the oven. Ah, it’s enough to send a writer into the kitchen right now.
Just don’t forget your paper and pen.
Short Cut Fruit Purse
(NB the many uses of approximately and to taste. This is not baking science.)
1 Refrigerated Pie Crust
Fruit (whatever’s in the kitchen. Blueberries, cut-up pears, apples, alone or in combination)
Seasonings (cinnamon? grated fresh ginger?)
Sugar (to taste, brown or white, depending on your fruit’s sweetness)
Cold butter, sliced (also to taste, approx. 2 T.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter or spray your cookie sheet.
Unroll the dough and place it on the cookie sheet.
Pile the fruit in the middle.
Sprinkle with spices.
Dot with butter.
Pinch the pie crust together, attempting to close the top until it looks like one of those little purses your grandmother dangled from her wrist.
Dab milk or water on the crust.
Sprinkle outside with white sugar (approx. 1 teaspoon).
Bake till it turns brown, 30 minutes?
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream (My personal favorite being Bluebell…) or real whipped cream.
Makes 4 generous servings.
For an authentic Pear Purse recipe, AKA Pear Galette, with more exact measurements, made with homemade pie crust, check this entry on the food blog of a true Southern cook, my friend Lee Hilton,