Pumpkins, Playpens, Poetry, and Pies

Pumpkins have countless uses: pies, muffins, soups, cheesecakes, and playpens. Yes, playpens! And eventually those playpens lead to poetry… or to pies.

Pumpkin Use #1: Playpen

When the corn crop is ready to harvest and no childcare is available, simply take your infant with you to the field and surround him or her with a circle of pumpkins. This orange fence will happily entertain your child for hours. At least that’s Catharine Parr Traill’s advice in The Female Emigrant’s Guide (121).

Catharine Parr Traill

Pumpkin Use #2: Story

Traill’s pumpkin plot, or story, highlights settler ingenuity and the need to re-write gender roles in the Canadian backwoods. Intense physical labour was entirely unfamiliar to refined 19th-century middle-class emigrants, yet Traill recommends that in a new place, one must adopt new perspectives and practices. The story she tells, then, is about a female emigrant who single-handedly harvests an entire crop while her husband, who is ill in bed, remains indoors. The story’s lesson is that backwoods femininity can include “a tone of energy and manly independence” that directly benefits one’s children  (Traill 121).

Pumpkin Use #3: Poem

Traill’s story is about crossing “physical and ideological boundaries” by reframing “the feminine sphere, pushing outward into the masculine domain” (Boyd 91). The unconventional nature of this female emigrant character eventually inspired Canadian poet Robert Kroetsch to write a tribute to Traill in his “Pumpkin: A Love Poem.”

Rather than writing from the female emigrant’s perspective, Kroetsch assumes the position of the pumpkin-encircled infant, and even takes the scenario one step further by placing the child “Inside the pumpkin” (1). Is the pumpkin now a cradle? Is it a womb? Is it a head? Perhaps it is all of those things and more.

From inside his orange globe, the young male speaker carves outward, forming a jack-o-lantern face with genitalia-like features. His sensual orange face is ambiguous in terms of sex and is clearly inspired by Traill’s own 19th-century re-imaginings of the feminine and the masculine (Boyd 92-93). While the carved pumpkin signals fertility and creativity, it is also a chance to create a new identity. The young poet-speaker attempts to “lift the old eye to its new vision” (13) and to “cut the new mouth” (25) while he “slice[s] out the old” (29).

Thus, just as the female emigrant’s pumpkins served as a playpen for her child, Kroetsch uses his single vegetable to create a new space for the next generation of Canadian writers who want to challenge their own boundaries and conventions.

Kroetsch once described Canada as “as relatively young country with few of its own literary models,” which meant “literal objects” had to become the sources of poetic inspiration (Brown 7). As a playpen, a story, and a poem, the pumpkin becomes the site of colonial and post-colonial Canadian literary traditions responding to each other across time. How fortunate for us that during October, this vegetable is capable of appealing to all our senses!

Pumpkin Use #4: Pies

In The Female Emigrant’s Guide, Parr Traill writes of pumpkin pie that there is “not a better dish eaten” and proceeds to give readers a number of tips on the making of this cross between “a custard and a cheese-cake” (133).

Her instructions are loose: soft pumpkin, new milk, two or three eggs, with grated ginger and “as much sugar as will make it sweet enough to be pleasant”(134).

I (Alexia here) have used Anna Olsen’s recipe for pate sucree and a Williams Sonoma recipe for the pie. This because I require a little more precision in the way of ingredients and measurements, not being a terribly deft baker, (as anyone examining my crust will  quickly discover). Using a small, sweet pumpkin from our farm share gave this pie a lovely yellow colour. The taste, the result of this fresh pumpkin is light and subtle.

pastry2

pastry1

pie

Text Credits: Shelley Boyd and Alexia Moyer

Photo Credit (except where indicated): Alexia Moyer

Boyd, Shelley. Garden Plots: Canadian Women Writers and Their Literary Gardens. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013.

Brown, Russell. “An Interview with Robert Kroetsch.” University of Windsor Review 7.2 (1972): 1-18.

Dodge, Abigail J, Chuck Williams, and Maren Maruso. Williams-Sonoma: Dessert. New York: Simon & Schuster Source, 2002. 58.

Kroetsch, Robert. “Pumpkin: A Love Poem.” The Stone Hammer Poems, 1960-1975. Lantzville: Oolichan Books, 1976. 26-27.

Traill, Catharine Parr. The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic. Ed. Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

 

Children of My Heart

“An apple for the teacher” is a timeworn cliché, so when the CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge announced that “School Food” was September’s theme, we at Canadian Literary Fare agreed that it was time to go back to school and reconsider the significance of student-teacher food exchanges.

Apples

In particular, we wondered what it means when the direction of the food-gift is reversed, such as in the opening scene of Gabrielle Roy’s Children of My Heart. On the first day of school, the young teacher gives a terrified five-and-a-half-year-old boy a red apple, quieting his tears with the knowledge that school is “a treat” (10).

A Governor General’s award-winning novel and one-time nominee in the CBC Canada Reads Series, Children of My Heart is Gabrielle Roy’s fictionalized account of her own experiences working as a teacher in rural and urban Manitoba schools. Set in the 1930s, the novel is filled with gifts of food – edible tokens of affection that Roy’s character bestows upon her students. So why are Roy’s teacher-pupil relationships punctuated by these exchanges?

In her study of American cinema from 1909-1939, Heather Weaver sheds light on the fact that student-teacher relationships were often portrayed as romance narratives, many of which used food symbolism. This notion of teachers “winning students over was rather new to the twentieth century,” Weaver notes (9). Gone were the days of corporal punishment and harsh discipline. New educational theories suggested teachers should nourish “the emotional lives of children, or what pedagogist Jasper Bennett had in 1888 called the ‘heart culture’ of pupils” (Weaver 9).

Biographer François Ricard notes that as a young, modern teacher, Roy followed a similar practice of “light-handed discipline, affectionate relations with the children, a great deal of time for games, picnics, stories, and demonstration lessons” (113).

In keeping with her generous spirit as an educator, Roy-the-writer incorporates the romance genre with her storied memories. One sign of this literary re-construction is Roy’s modest self-presentation as the teacher-hero, a role that Weaver argues is especially prominent in North American film: “the teacher meets the student; the student is unsure what to think of the teacher; the student falls into peril or otherwise demonstrates a need; and the teacher saves the student, thereby winning the latter’s approval and affection” (10).

On her first day of work at a Saint-Boniface elementary school, Roy’s character gazes at 35 uneasy young faces and thinks, “We’re going to be friends” (11). As the novel unfolds, readers witness Roy’s character winning the affections of her students through gifts of food, such as wrapped Christmas cones filled with candies, walnuts, a Brazilian nut, an apple or orange, and a small toy (27-28).

As the teacher-hero, Roy’s character bolsters her students’ confidence and sense of belonging, a life lesson that is especially crucial since many are from immigrant families struggling financially and socially to build a new life in Canada. Her teacherly concern and its impact are communicated through the language of sweets. When Roy warmly greets the single mother of an impoverished student, the boy is “radiant . . . , the tip of his tongue emerging to taste – you could imagine – a touch of honey on his lip” (27). Later, when he appears on her doorstep with an unexpected gift of an old Irish handkerchief, Roy feeds him chocolate cake and milk. Her praise, gratitude, and food infuse the young student with the joy that comes from participating in meaningful relationships – a social and emotional experience that lies at the heart of learning.

Cake

Recipe Note: This week we opted for Anna Olson’s recipe for a French flourless chocolate torte. It’s rich yet surprisingly light, like a baked chocolate mousse. To be reserved for favourite students.

Cake_IV

 

Ricard, François. Gabrielle Roy: A Life. 1996. Trans. Patricia Claxton. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999

Roy, Gabrielle. Children of My Heart. 1977. Trans. Alan Brown. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000.

Weaver, Heather. “Beyond Apples and Ice Cream: The Teacher-Student Relationship as Cinematic Romance, 1909–1939.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. 39.1 (2009): 9-20. Project Muse. Web. 23 Sept. 2017.

 

Text Credit: Shelley Boyd

Photo Credit: Alexia Moyer (unless otherwise indicated).

Put up your green beans

In Carol Shields’s fictional worlds, dinner parties are transformational. People assume their “party selves,” she once wrote, that party-self being a more sociable, lighter version of your everyday personality. (“Parties” 45) Sadly, this positive renewal is not the experience of Dot Weller, wife of Stu Weller and mother to Larry Weller in Shields’s novel Larry’s Party.

For Dot, even casual family get-togethers cause copious perspiration and “jittery detachment”. (Larry’s 44) Her parties are haunted by “the poison of memory” (44)— a summer dinner that she hosted for her in-laws back in England and that sealed her fate and “exodus” to Canada. (52) Dot’s canned beans were to blame.

beans

Continue reading

Feast

As longtime readers may have noted, Shelley and I do not share a time zone. We trade recipes, reading lists, and wise saws over the Interweb, and every so often we have a chance to share a meal. This time ’round, as Shelley edged away from the west coast and stopped in on an island in the St. Lawrence, we met in view of putting together a post.

We shopped, we cooked, we took photographs, and then we ate. The results of this collaboration are as follows. First, we concluded that “Wild Mushroom Toasts with Goat Cheese & Black Garlic Vinaigrette” are indeed as marvelous as they sound.

mushrooms outside

mushrooms in garlic dressing, outside

Continue reading