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Black Pepper Visions: Original Folktales & Stories You Can Eat Paperback – March 1, 2012
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
Black Pepper Visions brings to the table i a good read, great foodlore, and recipes. The fictional characters use food as a port of entry to other realms where hearts can mend and isolation can dissolve. The 160-page book (16 delectable stories) is for those who can taste the magic of food. It's also for those who want to.
From the Author
For almost two decades I have been facilitating writing workshops. During that time I have met many writers who wanted to chronicle the lives of people and important events they experienced. These subjects were beloved, accomplished, outrageous, notorious, or all of the above.
The writers just didn't know where to start.
I listened to writers lament: they weren't sure enough of the facts, were concerned about the amount of time and effort that would go into writing anything of significant length, or they worried that family
members and friends would not agree with what they had written. From this I realized that the process of writing about someone, a special time, thing, or place needed to be as simple as the process of writing a piece of fiction. In other words, it had to be something that could be done in
stages that were easy to manage.
And what better management tool than folklore motifs? Drawing upon my own understanding and experience with folklore, and my work as a fiction writer, I discovered something. Similar to the vignette writing exercises I provided as springboards for writing topics, folklore motifs (categories of character and themes, such as the trickster who stole fire or the hero who made a special birthday gift) naturally lent themselves to writing processes as well. These folktales could be as complex or as brief as necessary and required nothing more from the writer than an ability (and commitment) to record what has been remembered.
In fact, the ease of creating personal folktales opened up unexpected doors of creativity for writers of all levels. For me those doors opened up another realm of folklore: the rich and vast landscape of food. Complete with its culinary wizardry and fascinating historical roots that literally span centuries and continents, foodlore about how we grow, prepare, and eat our food allows us to creatively preserve important cultural traditions and beliefs that are designed to sustain and protect us.
My Aunt Pearl, now in her mid 80s, measures cooking ingredients with her hand. "A palm full of ground meat and a pinch of salt," is how she determines how much of what goes into her savory keftikas (Sephardic meat patties). If she spills some salt along the way, she may toss a few grains
over her left shoulder to ward off evil spirits. And she learned this from watching and helping her
mother Fortunee, an immigrant from Rhodes, who learned from her mother and so on.
When I am at my aunt's table enjoying her food, I am reliving many generations of connections among people who shared (and still do share) a common faith and values. Through this the food has become magical for me. I believe the cooks and chefs of my ancestry imbued the food they made with special properties: love, care, and wisdom. I can taste it! As mistress of my own kitchen I know that when I prepare special family foods, or new and exciting dishes, I am passing on to my
daughter what's most mysterious about food. In the right setting its ability to unite the past, present, and future is endless.
These 16 original folktales and stories, the researched foodlore, and personalized recipes reflect some of the many ways I imagine food can exhibit supra-natural abilities. From tea to turnip soup, whether real or not, this book suggests the food that nourishes us can also remedy undesirable external circumstances. In the literary realm the use of such folklore motifs is known as magic realism. In everyday life, it is simply delicious.
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So is Karen Pierce Gonzalez's book. There is no better way to trigger memories than to talk about food. Or maybe better have memories flood back at the first bite of--what? For me, my grandmother's "cheese and s'hetti" or my Aunt Meri's special cranberry cookies. Gonzalez agrees with me, for she couples recipes with charming and original folktales.
For me this is not a book to be gobbled up but to be slowly savored, maybe with a cup of tea. (Be sure to read the chapter about tea on the beach while you nibble a savory.) The stories range from here at home to far away--the turnip soup is from Brazil--and from long ago to here and now.
Hmm. What next? Maybe the clam chowder from California--it's supposed to be cold tomorrow. And, if I get my confidence up, Sunday we'll have flan just like Philip makes it in El Paso.
by Trilla Pando
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women