friday feast: barbara crooker’s “sugar” + 2 sweet recipes

(click for Homemade Cotton Candy recipe via Cooking Books)

Do you remember the last Barbara Crooker poem I shared, where her ailing mother refused to eat her food, but demanded marshmallow Peeps?

This craving for sweets seems to be common among the elderly. A good friend of ours with an incurable lung disease would always pick at her dinner, but had no trouble at all polishing off a big piece of coconut pie. I could always make her smile just by saying,”crème brûleé.”

When I saw my mother in Hawai’i last month, I noted her diminished appetite and drastic weight loss. She did enjoy my Christmas cookies, though, along with chocolate truffles, bread pudding, cranberry muffins, apple and lemon meringue pie, Chantilly cake. No coaxing needed when it came to dessert.

In “Sugar,” another poem from Barbara’s luminous collection, Gold (Cascade Books, 2013), she ponders what this craving for sweets might mean. What do all of us hunger for the most?

Barbara: Something that I observed about both my parents in their last year was that they craved sugar. Normally healthy eaters, suddenly bowls of candy started appearing by their arm rests. So I started thinking about this, and the poem was the result. It seemed to me, at the end of my mother’s life, that there wasn’t much I could do to stem the tide that was slowly ebbing out. But I could bring treats, like that sundae.  Boy, did the workers at Friendly’s think this was an odd request!

*   *   *

via the Sweet Swiper

by Barbara Crooker

My mother is a hungry ghost. She comes to me
in dreams, asking, Where’s the applesauce?
The kind you make? Cooked with the skins on,
whirled with cinnamon and nutmeg, swirled
through a food mill, smooth fruit separated
from skins, cores, seeds. Shouldn’t this sweetness
exist in the afterlife? I’ve heard that’s what angels
crave those times they’re glimpsed, partly visible,
a rustle of wings, an opening in the air. Apparently,
they shimmer, made of gossamer and light.
We always long for what we don’t have,
and they yearn to be incarnate, to know the hunger
of the tongue. Filaments of cotton candy, fistfuls
of sugar, the long slow drip of honey and molasses.
I tried to sweeten my mother’s last days, bringing
her a deconstructed sundae — coffee ice cream
in one cup, hot fudge in another, whipped cream
in a third. But her hunger is not appeased. She still
longs for this world, its confectionary
splendor. She would, if she could, open her mouth
like a bird or a baby, and let me spoon it in.

~ posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2013 Barbara Crooker. All rights reserved.

*   *   *

What a gorgeous poem! I especially like the lyrical mention of angels “made of gossamer and light.”

Sweetness is the first taste we are exposed to as infants, and the last flavor to go once our taste buds begin to diminish after the age of 70. In that sense, it frames our lives on earth — why would we not eternally desire it?

As the parent becomes the child, she wants what she first knew, what she’s known the longest, to revert to the “confectionary splendor” that defines childhood and happiness.

Lucky for us, Barbara has generously offered to share two recipes her mother especially enjoyed. One is for the applesauce mentioned in the poem, and the other is for a cookie they liked to make together. I imagine both recipes were flavored with much love, and continue to engender great memories.

*   *   *

via Super Healthy Kids


16 apples, quartered and cored (skins on)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Simmer apples in one inch of water until soft.

Sieve through a food mill to remove skins.

Stir sugar and spices together, add to cooked apples in the pan. Bring back to a boil to dissolve the sugar, cool and freeze in small containers.

*   *   *

Vintage Mirro Cookie Press, like the one Barbara and her mother used.


1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Cream butter and sugar.

Blend in the rest of the ingredients. Gather into two balls, cover and wrap, chill.

Take out of the fridge, bring back to room temp, kneading with your hands to soften.

Put into cookie press and press out, using the #5 star shape.

Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 6-9 minutes until set, but not brown.

*   *   *

poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Tara is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at A Teaching Life. Scamper on over to sample the full platter of tasty poetic delights on this week’s menu. Don’t forget to share and enjoy a little bit of sweetness this weekend!


Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

41 thoughts on “friday feast: barbara crooker’s “sugar” + 2 sweet recipes

  1. I have the book. A dear friend sent it to me last year, a treasure of both observations and memories, I think. I remember well my own mother in her last years survived mostly on those little chocolate cakes that can be bought at the store. When I was home, we made other deserts, but sweets it was. A lovely post from Barbara Crooker, Jama.


    1. I love Barbara’s work too — she’s been so gracious and generous about letting me share her poetry here at Alphabet Soup. Nestle’s Cookies and Cream candy bars — don’t think I’ve ever seen those.


  2. Beautiful, sad, and powerful poem, Jama. Thanks for sharing! I recall as my maternal grandfather got older, most of his tastes changed…he used to enjoy savory dishes, but eventually he disliked most foods except for cookies.

    By the way, that’s some pretty sweet applesauce…an whole cup of sugar? When I make mine, I peel them and add a quarter cup at most, then simply blend it all with an immersion blender. Much simpler – and healthier – that way! (and btw, if you use cider instead of water, it tastes even better!)


    1. Thanks for the cider tip, Matt. I imagine the amount of sugar is easily adjusted according to the sweetness or tartness of the apples as well as individual tastes.

      It sounds like most foods become very bland and unappetizing once your taste buds aren’t working as well — sweet is the only flavor that comes through.


  3. Beautiful poem, Barbara! You brought back the memory of my late husband Bill’s last food request, hours before he died in the ICU: lemon sorbet, even though he couldn’t swallow then.

    I wrote about it more than once in my collection *Recycling Starlight.* The relevant stanza of one of those poems, “By the River” ends with: “. . .and I watched / the nurse spoon it into your waiting mouth / as if you were an infant, watched you savor / a sweetness that would carry you out.”

    I hadn’t thought of the desire for sweetness as coming with the end of life. But of course it makes sense. Gorgeous images in your poem! Love your book!


    1. I’ve wondered the same thing about myself, Sherry. I suppose for those of us with lifelong sweet tooths, it’s a relief to know our taste for desserts will stay with us. 🙂


  4. “they yearn to be incarnate, to know the hunger
    of the tongue.” Such a striking poem. I had never thought about the sweets-elderly connection.
    I second Matt’s suggestion to use cider (or boiled cider) instead of water.


  5. *Sweet* and haunting poem, Jama. I especially love the line: “I tried to sweeten my mother’s last days” Isn’t that all we can do? Thank you for the recipes…I’m going to try the applesauce one soon. =)


  6. Sara Lee coffee cakes and Pepperidge Farm turnovers – my grandmother had me buy boxes and boxes every week when I did her grocery shopping! They made her so happy! Plus a good strong cup of Swedish coffee…

    That very same Mirro cookie press is in my mother’s cupboard, minus the snazzy packaging. I was really happy to upgrade to an Oxo press myself. That screw-top version never worked that well!


    1. Funny you should say that about the Mirro — Barbara just recently got another screw top, actually prefers it because she can make “snakes” and other special shapes only with the screw top. I haven’t seen the Oxo. Mine is a Hoan with a squeeze gun handle. Works pretty well. I do remember my aunt had the screw top one — the first cookie press I ever saw. I thought it was magical!

      Lovely memory about your grandmother loving Sara Lee coffee cakes and PF turnovers (I like the apple ones).


  7. Jama, I so love Barbara Crooker’s work. Thanks for sharing this one. Sweet thoughts coming your way, too, for your mom.


  8. I love the idea that sweetness frames our time on earth!

    (But this…this is just wrong: none of the images are loading! Jama’s post without the food images = wrong! I’m off to another browser to see if I can SEE!)


  9. GORGEOUS poem. My own grandmother always had a sweet tooth, her entire life. The saddest blow was when she had a TIA that took her ability to taste sweet away.


  10. Love this poem and the whole book (I bought it and have enjoyed each sweet treat, some several times over; especially the poems about saying goodbye to mother, as I went through that myself a few years ago and these ring so true). Now that I think of it, my own mom had a thing for sweets too. Thanks for the recipes (Jama & Barbara), and all sweet things to you and your mom in her twilight years, Jama.


    1. Thanks for the sweet wishes, Violet. Barbara’s poems in GOLD really resonate with me — it’s something we all have to go through and it’s such a comfort to know others feel the same way.


    1. Laura, Thanks for the link. I sent this poem to the mother-in-law I am nursing. She drinks her tea everyday. I love discovering this new poet. She speaks to my heart.


  11. I do love this poem by Barbara. As I attend to my mother-in-law after surgery, I am thinking of the day (not yet, thank God) that I will care for her as she dies. I know that day will come and will be filled with blessings and heartache. Now I will tuck away this poem and remember to serve her sweetness, too.


    1. Hugs and Best Wishes to your MIL for a speedy recovery. Barbara is one of my favorite contemporary poets — have shared many of her poems here and am constantly amazed by the lyricism and emotional resonance in everything she writes. Most important, her work is always accessible.


  12. Haven’t visited your blog (or anybody’s) in a while, but now I remember why I love yours so much! The perfect blend of food, warmth, and poetry. Thanks, Jama.


  13. Gripping first two lines! My granny has Milky Way candy bars in her dresser drawer. She says, “when I wake up in the night and hurt or I’m sad, I just eat a Milky Way and then I feel better.” Another reason to be glad it’s not our taste for bitter things that lingers as we age!


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