I've returned to This Book Makes Me Cook, a delightful little Internet "Cooking The Books" reading group that I chanced upon a while back, after a lazy summer where I neglected everything blog wise.
I'm glad I picked this month to return, else I would have missed out on reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which had been on my back burner for a while as it had come heavily recommended by two of my enthusiastic reader friends.
So I picked up the book late on one of those blissful rainy weekends where the stage has practically set itself up for a good read, thunder rolling outside, rain pelting the windows, the amorous glow from a well positioned lamp, the bed covers drawn just high enough to not interrupt the frequent page turning.
And then I thought "What on earth is this book on about?".
I couldn't figure it out for the first five pages. The text was in the form of a series of letters back and forth between people that hadn't even been introduced to me and I felt a little lost. I put the book down, bemoaned the choice, but returned later that night and gave the book one more try. Darn it, if anything, I had to unearth what the Potato Peel Pie was about!
And that was when the magic happened.
The characters grew on me, the letters started to make sense. New characters came and went, but their stories lingered on. The protagonist Judith, an authoress with an independent feminist streak frowned upon by society and her era, is stuck mulling about what her next novel should be about as she is hounded by publishers, friends and editors. She chances upon a book club filled with haphazard characters. They have formed a reading group in Guernsey as a ruse to avoid detection by the Nazis that they were feasting on hidden, contraband foods, namely a roasted pig. She is drawn by their story of hardship, friendship and perseverance and inevitably travels to meet them at the expense of some of her personal relationships and commitments.
The story telling is gentle, humorous, sad and poignant and Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (yes, two authors wrote this book!) effortlessly transport us from our comfortable suburban confines to the windswept, rugged Channel Islands. Your heart winces at the stories of hardship and the fate of some of the characters and you manage to crack a smile or two at the witty dialogues that are intermittent in the story. If you are a fan of British writers of the Wodehouse and Blyton ilk, then this book will probably appeal to you as it did to me.
Now onto the cooking part of this book club!
Unfortunately, the Potato Peel Pie described in the book was as awful as it name suggests, Potato Peels layered with a smattering of beet juice. Can I get a collective Eeeewwwwww.....
To turn the gist of the book completely on its head, I chose to serve up the rather royal and decadent Duchess Potatoes which I ogled for a very long time at Cynthia Nelson's brilliant Tastes Like Home.
While everyone else in the Book Club rightfully made intellectual attempts to imagine what meagre offerings the characters of the book had to endure, I decided to cook something that they NEVER would have had the chance to eat.
Duchess Potatoes (entirely sourced Cynthia's recipe which was featured in the Stabroek News and her Taste Like Home website)
4 large potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 heaped Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sour cream (optional)
¾ cup grated cheese (I use my personal fave Monterrey Jack)
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon water
Parsley - to garnish (optional, I omitted)
1. Wash and peel potatoes. Slice into big pieces and add to salted, boiling water. Boil till potato pieces are cooked and are fork-tender. Drain from water and mash potatoes in a bowl.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
3. Add butter, sour cream and cheese to potatoes while it is still hot. Mix thoroughly and taste for seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste).
4. Mix in beaten egg. At this point the potatoes must have a very soft consistency, like thick porridge.
5. Pour the potato mixture into a Zip-loc bag or clean cellophane or wax paper cone, and snip off one end of the bag to form a piping spout.
6. Pipe the potatoes into oven proof ramekins going in a circular motion. Transfer the bowls onto baking sheet/tray.
7 Sprinkle paprika mixed with water and stir into a paste. Brush or spoon onto the tops of the potato mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden-brown.