Special Guest Post: Deborah Hopkinson on Independence Cake

Award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson is here to talk about Independence Cake (Schwartz & Wade, 2017), her brand new picture book that officially hits shelves today.

Illustrated by Giselle Potter, this scrumptious “revolutionary confection” is a fictionalized account of how Amelia Simmons, who would go on to write the first American cookbook, bakes 13 Independence Cakes to celebrate George Washington’s inauguration.

Since I loved Deborah’s Fannie in the Kitchen (2001) and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig (2016), I am especially excited about this new book: American culinary history! English dishes! Tea biscuits and flapjacks! CAKE! Another serving of this tasty read, please.

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As an author for children and teens, I visit schools all over the country, and like to begin by asking students the difference between nonfiction and historical fiction. My new picture book, Independence Cake, is most decidedly fiction, as the subtitle makes clear: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History is Unfortunately Unknown. In this light-hearted story with delicious illustrations by the incomparable Giselle Potter, we meet an orphan girl named Amelia, who is sent by the town to live with the fictional Bean family to help the exhausted mother of six sons and no daughter (“Definitely a recipe for domestic disaster in 1789”).

The real Amelia Simmons authored American Cookery, the first American cookbook. On the title page she identified herself as “An American Orphan.” Although historians know little about her, she may have been a “bound girl,” or indentured servant. In any case, the actual Amelia no doubt led a much harsher existence than her fictional counterpart.

In my story, Amelia’s reputation as a cook results in the town asking her to bake a special cake for George Washington at his 1789 inauguration. Amelia makes thirteen: one for each of the original colonies, which are carefully packed in wagons and driven off to New York to be pronounced “delicious” by the first president. (As the author’s note declares: this is entirely a confection!)

What is true about Amelia Simmons is that her cookbook expanded on traditional English cooking to include culinary influences and available ingredients in America. The legendary food historian Karen Hess, in an introduction to the second edition of American Cookery, published in Albany in fall 1796, speculated that the author may have lived near the Hudson Valley and been influenced by Dutch settlers. Simmons used terms such as “slaw” based on the Dutch “sla” for salad, and “cookey,” from “koekje.” In some recipes, Simmons substituted cornmeal for the oatmeal of English cooking, reflecting the influence of Native American traditions. Simmons seems to have been intentionally creating something new: the long subtitle of her cookbook notes that recipes are “Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life.”

The recipe for “Independence Cake” first appears in this second edition, directly following one for “Election Cake,” of which it is a variation; both contain raisins, brandy, and spices, similar to a traditional English fruitcake or plum cake. The cakes were part of the holiday spirit that surrounded early election days. Amelia’s patriotic fervor may have led her to call one “Independence Cake.”

I like to imagine Amelia as an American version of Daisy in Downton Abbey – a cook eager to try new things and embrace the future, although clearly Amelia had a pinch of Mrs. Patmore in her too. Here’s a snippet from her book in which she opines about the character-building properties of cultivating apple trees:

Apples…. ought to be more universally cultivated, excepting in the compactest cities. There is not a single family but might set a tree in some otherwise useless spot, which might serve the two fold use of shade and fruit; on which 12 or 14 kinds of fruit trees might easily be engrafted, and essentially preserve the orchard from the intrusions of boys, &c. which is too common in America.

If the boy who thus planted a tree, and guarded and protected it in a useless corner, and carefully engrafted different fruits, was to be indulged free access into orchards, whilst the neglectful boy was prohibited–how many millions of fruit trees would spring into growth–and what a saving to the union. The net saving would in time extinguish the public debt, and enrich our cookery.”

Although I wrote Independence Cake long before the 2016 presidential election, I noticed some bakers took the election season as an opportunity to share historical tidbits about the culinary tradition of election cakes. I’ve included a few below.

And speaking of elections, given Amelia’s interest, noted above, in extinguishing the public debt, she might well have wished for a political career herself.

Except, of course, in 1789 women couldn’t vote. But that’s another story.

To read more about the history of Election Cakes:

NPR: A History of Election Cakes
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/10/23/498974733/a-history-of-election-cake-and-why-bakers-want-to-makeamericacakeagain

Bon Appetit: “Election Cake” Makes a Modern Day Resurgence
http://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/trends-news/article/election-cake-history

What’s Cooking America: Election Day Cake History and Recipe
https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ElectionCake.htm

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Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 45 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction.  She has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other titles include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; and Sky Boys, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book. In addition to Independence Cake (May 2017), she just published a contemporary picture book, A Letter to My Teacher (April 2017).

Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor and Dive! WWII Stories of Sailors and Submarines in the Pacific. Her nonfiction picture book, Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole, won an Oregon Book Award.

Visit Deborah Hopkinson online at www.deborahhopkinson.com, or follow her on Twitter @deborahopkinson and Instagram @deborah_hopkinson

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INDEPENDENCE CAKE: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History is Unfortunately Unknown
written by Deborah Hopkinson
illustrated by Giselle Potter
published by Schwartz & Wade (May 2017)
Historical Fiction Picture Book for ages 4-8, 44 pp.
*Includes Authors Note and Original Recipe
**Starred Review from Publishers Weekly**

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📕 MORE 📘

♥ Check out the other stops on Deborah’s Double Blog Tour!

♥ Enjoy this interesting blog post about Election Cakes (+ a recipe) at Revolutionary Pie.

♥ See my reviews of Fannie in the Kitchen (+ Griddle Cakes) and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig.


Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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beatrix part one: a review of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig + other guinea pig musings

My Dear Reader,

Since I’m a big Beatrix Potter fan, I was happy to see Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson and Charlotte Voake published in time to celebrate Miss Potter’s 150th birthday this year.

I enjoyed the story immensely, but I must confess it reminded me of my own tragic guinea pig experience (*shudder*). But more on that later.

This charming cautionary tale is about the time young Beatrix, who loved to draw and paint wild as well as tame animals, borrowed a guinea pig from her neighbor to use as a live model. She and her younger brother Bertram had lots of pets in the third floor playroom/science lab/art studio of their London home — pets such as snakes, snails, bats, ducks, rabbits, hedgehogs and salamanders. Though Beatrix loved all these creatures, we are warned early on that “she did not always have the best of luck with them.”

We are given evidence of several animal mishaps via journal entries that note an escaped snake and newts, a family of dead and dried up snails, and even a bat which was dismembered by a jay. And what of the unfortunate guinea pig? Beatrix especially loved painting animals doing “ordinary, everyday things, like reading the newspaper, working in the garden, or taking tea. (And why not?).” And the day came when Beatrix just had to paint a guinea pig and they didn’t have one at 2 Bolton Gardens. Not to worry, though, as quite a few of them apparently lived in Miss Paget’s parlor.

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[review and recipe] Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter

Several years ago, Anamaria at Books Together tipped me off to this charming picture book about Fannie Farmer by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. Happy to say I’m finally getting around to featuring it here at Alphabet Soup and I even rewarded myself by making Fannie’s Famous Griddle Cakes using the recipe provided in the book. 🙂

These days, most of us don’t think twice about reaching for our measuring cups, spoons, or kitchen scales when we’re ready to cook or bake. Especially with baking, when precise measurements can mean the difference between a cake that rises nicely or sinks like a stone, it’s always about starting out with a good, reliable recipe.

Boston native Fannie Farmer is often credited with inventing the modern recipe. She was one of the first to write down exact instructions for measuring and cooking. But what inspired her to do that, and to eventually publish a cookbook that’s been popular for over 100 years?

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guest post: margo sorenson on norwegian lefse (flatbread)

I’m happy to welcome dear friend and award winning author Margo Sorenson back to Alphabet Soup today. 🙂

The good news is that her middle grade historical novel, Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue (first released in paperback back in 2003), is now available as an ebook!

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all. To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined. What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

I enjoyed learning about Scandinavian customs through this beautifully written novel, which reminded me of childhood favorites like All-of-a Kind Family and the Little House Books, where family ties, simple pleasures and a strong sense of community sustain the characters through difficult times.

In the chapter “Missing!”, Tori reluctantly helps her mother roll lefse for Thanksgiving. She usually loves making the traditional flatbread, but this would be their second Thanksgiving without Papa, and besides, she was angry that Mama had invited suitor Bjorn Oppestadt to dinner. How dare she? He wasn’t family!

Today, Margo talks about rolling lefse with her own family. It sounds like such delicious fun. Adopt me, please :).

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a delicious peek at mr. emerson’s cook by judith byron schachner

“Your work should be in praise of what you love.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The best cooks know that sometimes it’s those intangible ingredients that can make or break a recipe.

A certain slant of light, a sprinkling of happy anticipation, a generous cup of love. Two people can prepare the same dish with notably different results. That’s because cooking is a transformative process — part magic, part spiritual, part meditative. Every cook brings his or her own je ne sais quoi to the table.

In Mr. Emerson’s Cook by Judith Byron Schachner (Dutton, 1998), we see what happens when Irish cook Annie Burns finally discovers what special ingredient she must use to help employer Ralph Waldo Emerson regain his appetite.

Emerson lived at “Bush House” from 1835-1880. Here, he raised his family, wrote his most important works, and entertained leading transcendentalists like Thoreau, the Alcotts, and Elizabeth Peabody.

Fact and fiction are interwoven in this beautifully written gem of a story, which takes place at Emerson’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, where he lived with his second wife Lidian and their three children.

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