“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Imagine attending a sumptuous banquet where the invited guests are fascinating historical figures from around the world.
Seated to your left, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II feasts on “tortillas, corn, roast duck, rabbit, turkey, and fruit,” before swigging a dozen gold cups of frothy, spicy chocolate. Ahhh!
To your right, Christopher Columbus tentatively samples an avocado, a few guavas, some peanuts and pumpkin. He’s already devoured all the pineapples in sight. “Got any spices?” he asks.
Up at the head table, the ravishing Cleopatra nibbles on a few apricots and figs before fixing her make-up. Pharaohs must always look their best, after all. Her homemade lipstick made from crushed beetles and ants always does the trick. That, and a few pickles.
In Pass the Pandowdy, Please: Chewing on History with Famous Folks and Their Fabulous Foods (Tilbury House, 2016), author Abigail Ewing Zelz and illustrator Eric Zelz shine the spotlight on 16 cool movers and shakers through the ever tempting lens of food. As Abigail notes in her introduction, “food reflects culture, climate, time period, wealth, and beliefs.” No better way to get to know someone, I always say.
This thoroughly delectable smorgasbord dating from the time of Cleopatra all the way to Neil Armstrong, is chock full of just the kind of interesting, surprising, amusing, and inspiring nuggets young readers love.
Would they like knowing that George Washington used to crack walnut shells with his teeth, or that Leonardo da Vinci ate off of thick slices of stale bread instead of plates? Would they enjoy hearing about Babe Ruth’s enormous appetite, how he was a “bad boy” growing up before becoming a really good ball player? You bet.
Like me, they might especially enjoy reading about Napoleon. Who would have thought that such a whip-smart commander actually liked to eat alone, and when he did, he ate several dishes all at the same time? No orderly courses for him; he even made such a mess that sometimes he had to change his clothes after a meal. Not a bread eater, he also disliked the strings in string beans (don’t we all?). If you can ever convince him to come over to your house, best to feed him roast chicken and pasta with Parmesan. Even better, you’ll be sure to get on his good side by serving a dish that was invented just for him, Chicken Marengo.
Each noshing notable is presented via a double page spread that includes a lively and engaging profile as well as a sidebar note written in the imagined voice of the subject. Talk about making history come alive! This personal approach helps to humanize each of the figures, making him/her more accessible (and likely making the reader hunger for more).
Here’s Queen Victoria:
I did not like jokes during mealtime. I ate fast and a lot, and became quite plump.
In 2015, a pair of my cotton knickers (underwear) with a 45-inch waistband fetched over $18,000 at auction.
We are not amused.
See what I mean? I live for this stuff.
Lest you think this toothsome tome is all fun and games (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, by the by), we also learn that besides fuel for the body, food can play an important role in political and social activism.
We read about Gandhi’s vegetarianism and how his eating habits reflected his desire to live a healthy life in accordance with his religious principles. He fasted “to draw attention to violence and injustice in his country.” His inspiring words hold special relevance today:
You don’t need to be big, strong, wealthy, or wear fancy clothes to be powerful. I know, because my simple life made a huge difference for millions of people.
We also read about Martin Luther King’s important work during the civil rights era, how he often met with people in their homes or in restaurants to plan peaceful protests over a meal of traditional Southern food. His acts of civil disobedience set the stage for the lunch counter sit-in movement, which began in a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s in 1960.
Eric Zelz’s entertaining line and watercolor caricatures ramp up the fun with fetching, chewy details. He effectively captures the essence of these “badass” figures with telling facial expressions and exaggerated posturing. You can’t miss those pointy chins and noses, and will smile at Queen Victoria’s regal bearing (love her table utensil-spiked crown), as well as upside down Neil Armstrong’s packets of space food. Would you like to kiss Cleopatra’s pouty red lips?
Several of the double page spreads have a vertical orientation just to keep readers on their toes. There’s Marco Polo high atop a stash of scored goods on his camel, Babe Ruth balancing a sky-high stack of hot dogs, and tall, lanky Abe Lincoln holding his stove pipe hat full of apples.
Speaking of which, what of the pandowdy, for which this book is named? Some of you may know that Lincoln loved apples. He enjoyed eating them out of hand or in cooked dishes like applesauce, pie, or apple pandowdy, which is like a cobbler or crisp.
We learn that Lincoln was actually a poor eater, sticking to a few favorites (toast and egg for breakfast, fruit or cheese for lunch). Though as President he could dine on roast stuffed quail or salmon with anchovy sauce at formal dinners, he preferred simpler fare (chicken fricassee and oyster stew). It’s perfectly understandable that our greatest President was so engrossed in his work that he sometimes forgot to eat. Preserving the Union was no small feat.
Pass the Pandowdy, Please actually had me at the cover and endpapers. How could I not swoon when greeted by such words as “smack,” “munch,” “chew,” “belch,” and “burp”? I must say the book turned out to be a most satisfying banquet: I savored Abigail’s light-hearted approach to serving up an ample taste of food preferences and customs with just enough historical context, and of course Eric’s illos had me giggling and marveling throughout (for some reason I simply cannot get the image of Washington’s stack of dentures out of my head, and I am crushing on the endearing Paul Revere).
This captivating, thoroughly researched gem includes a tidbit-rich timeline, additional endnotes for each of the subjects, a detailed bibliography, and of course, a vintage recipe for Pandowdy from Mary Whitcher’s Shaker House-Keeper (1882).
I hope the Zelzes are working on a sequel (more female subjects, please). Can’t think of a better way to devour good grub and beguiling biography in one flavorful bite. Fried ox feet, anyone? I am most definitely amused. 🙂
🍎 PASSING THE PANDOWDY 🍎
Naturally everyone in the Alphabet Soup kitchen was drooling and smacking their lips after reading this book. We are also especially fond of President Lincoln, so a pandowdy was definitely in order.
Since the historical recipe included in the book didn’t have exact measurements, we opted for a modern version via Pastry Affair. A pandowdy is like an apple pie (sliced fruit mixed with sugar and spices), but with only a top crust. They were popular during the 19th century; some say the name “pandowdy” refers to the crust being “dowdied” or broken up to let the juices bubble up and caramelize.
As you can imagine, there are many pandowdy variations out there. Most call for a buttery pastry dough covering the apples (often baked in a skillet), but I’ve also seen recipes calling for a biscuit dough or puffed pastry. Truly, they all sound delicious and worth a taste. 🙂
Pastry Affair suggested using cookie cutters to make pretty shapes, or simply cutting the pie dough into squares, and then laying them atop the apples in a patchwork pattern (we used a combination of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples). The recipe also calls for chilling the pandowdy for 30 minutes before baking and then letting it set up for a minimum of 3 hours before eating it (it comes out of the oven very liquid-y).
It was well worth the wait. Lincoln, Cleopatra, Washington, Leonardo and Napoleon all enjoyed the pandowdy with vanilla ice cream. They could be heard making all the endpaper noises, too. A classic Fall dessert, apple pandowdy is also great winter comfort food and a nice way to celebrate Valentine’s Day or President’s Day.
- 3 lbs apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Single Pie Crust recipe, chilled
- Egg wash (large egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked)
- 1 tablespoon raw or demerara sugar
In a medium bowl, coat the apple slices with lemon juice to prevent browning. Combine the brown sugar, flour, spices, and salt and toss with the apples until they are evenly coated. Place into 9-inch pie pan.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough until 1/8″ thick. To create a patterned top, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, or use a knife to cut dough into squares. Place the dough pieces evenly over the top of the apples.
Brush the exposed dough with egg wash and sprinkle evenly with raw sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the apples are bubbling. If the edges begin to darken too quickly, cover the pastry with aluminum foil to prevent additional browning.
Cool the pie for at least 3 hours before slicing to allow juices to set. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
~ adapted from Apple Pandowdy by Kristin Rosenau (Pastry Affair), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
PASS THE PANDOWDY, PLEASE: Chewing on History with Famous Folks and Their Fabulous Foods
written by Abigail Ewing Zelz
illustrated by Eric Zelz
published by Tilbury House, 2016
Picture Book Biography for ages 8-11, 40 pp.
*Notable Trade Book in Social Studies Award
🍎 Visit the Pass the Pandowdy, Please Website for more!
🍎 Check out this Pandowdy recipe at Revolutionary Pie, which uses a biscuit dough. Yum!
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on you best aprons and bibs and come join the fun!
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**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.