Saturday, November 29, 2014

Louisa May Alcott and a Homemade Food Gift

Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832–March 6, 1888), which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. 

The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters. It falls into the genre of coming of age.

Little Women was an immediate commercial and critical success, and readers wanted to know more about the characters. Alcott quickly completed a second volume, entitled Good Wives. It was also successful. The two volumes were issued in 1880 as a single work entitled Little Women. Alcott also wrote two sequels to her popular work, both of which also featured the March sisters: Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Although Little Women was a novel for girls, it differed notably from the current writings for children, especially girls. The novel addressed three major themes: domesticity, work, and true love, all of them interdependent and each necessary to the achievement of its heroine's individual identity.

Perhaps you remember this picture of the Alcott family home I posted from my New England trip and the fact it was NOT a destination stop!! It would have been a highlight for me just to stand in the house and re-imagine life with the March family.  

Today is a celebration of the birth date of Louisa May Alcott born November 29,1832. Coincidentally she and her father Bronson Alcott share the same birth date.
For her books, Alcott was often inspired by familiar elements. The characters in Little Women are recognizably drawn from family members and friends.

However, Alcott's portrayal, even if inspired by her family, is an idealized one. For instance, Mr. March is portrayed as a hero of the American Civil War, a gainfully employed chaplain and, presumably, a source of inspiration to the women of the family. He is absent for most of the novel.
In contrast, Bronson Alcott was very present in his family's household, due in part to his inability to find steady work. While he espoused many of the educational principles touted by the March family, he was loud and dictatorial. His lack of financial independence was a source of humiliation to his wife and daughters. As was common at the time, Louisa had little formal education. She was taught mainly by her father using his unconventional ideas about education. She read from the library of neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson and learned botany from Henry David Thoreau.
Louisa early on realized that her father's flighty educational and philosophical ventures could not adequately support the family so she sought ways to provide financial stability. She wrote short stories for magazines and published a collection of fables she'd originally written as tutor for Ellen Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter.

The March family is portrayed living in genteel penury, but the Alcott family, dependent on an improvident, impractical father, suffered real poverty and occasional hunger. In addition to her own childhood and that of her sisters, scholars who have come across the diaries of Louisa Alcott's mother, have surmised that Little Women was also heavily inspired by Abigail Alcott's own early life.

Of course, as a ten year old,  I was enraptured by the everyday life of the March family. I just assumed Alcott was writing her own life story. On a whim today I decided to reread the book (easy access downloading the book from the library to kindle).  I am still mesmerized by  Jo's adventurous spirit, how resilient the family members were facing poverty, their devotion to one another and the imaginative ways they were able to entertain themselves with very little. 
Banana Bread
Cook's notes: Banana bread is the first of several postings devoted to sharing homemade food gifts for the holiday. This recipe makes 2 regular size loaves or 6 mini loaves. The recipe has been adapted from Betty Crocker.
Rich buttermilk, crunchy nuts, toasted coconut and flavorful ripe bananas make this bread a gift anyone would love to receive. 
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3-4 bananas)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour or 1-1/4 cups white and 1-1/4 cups whole wheat 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • optional 1/3 cup toasted coconut
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans or 6 mini pans.
  • Mix sugars and butter in a large bowl. Beat until well combined. Stir in eggs and mix well.
  • Add mashed bananas,buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
  • Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt mix just until moistened. Stir in nuts and coconut, divide batter among the pans. 
  • Bake bread in loaf pans for 35- 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. 
  • Bake bread in mini pans 25-30 minutes.

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