Anne of Green Gables: The Culinary Triumphs and Trials of a Titian-Haired Spitfire

30 Oct

Out of nostalgia, I started re-reading one of my favorite childhood books with one of my favorite heroines: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I had lucked upon the reruns of the PBS miniseries earlier in the year while I was in culinary school. After watching Anne of Green Gables again, I was instantly smitten and had to Netflix Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel.  To this day, I can’t hear the words “Anne of Green Gables” without picturing the stunning, spirited and poised Canadian actress Megan Follows who played the series’ namesake. She truly embodied that role and somehow made “that Anne girl’s” maudlin speeches equal parts heartfelt and humorous. And when she broke that slate over the ever-dashing Jonathan Crombie’s (Gilbert Blythe’s) head, it was magic. I’ll show you CARROTS!!!

Of course, I can never forget the genius supporting performances of Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnswsorth. I’m 34 years old, and it still brings a tear to my eye when Matthew succumbs to a bad heart in the middle of a cow pasture and, gasping his last breath,  tells  Anne that he “is so proud of his little girl.” (Matthew’s demise in the novel is much less (melo)dramatic, but nevertheless deeply touching given its roots in financial woes.)

While reading AGG this time around, it occurred to me that a large part of Anne’s education and “civilization” in Prince Edward Island (the P.E.I.) revolved around learning the domestic arts of entertaining and cooking.

 

After all, Montgomery was writing about prior-to-the- turn-of-the-century womanhood. As Anne became less scatter-brained, and more sensible and grounded, she is also transformed into a competent hostess and caretaker. Marilla admonishes early in Anne’s education, “You’ve got to keep your wits about you in cooking and not stop in the middle of things to let your thoughts rove over all of creation.” Does that mean cooking is not an act of imagination? I’d like to think Marilla, excellent hostess that she was, was wrong on this front.

And yet, AGG is so remarkable because we are given more than just the lesson that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. We also get an Anne who is a scholar–a remarkable, fearless and brilliant heroine and role model for young girls. She is the winner of the Avery scholarship and at the top of her class– an equal rival to the class’s smartest boy.

Given my interest in all things food, however, I couldn’t resist compiling ten AGG food scenes involving our Titian-haired protagonist.

1# Anne serves her bosom friend raspberry cordial with disastrous results in Chapter 16 – Diana is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results. This moment is pretty much synonymous with Anne of Green Gables. Anne is always getting into scrapes despite being well-intentioned and quite earnest. Anne hosts Diana for tea without Marilla’s supervision, and despite the girls’ best attempts, the afternoon concludes prematurely with Diana’s intoxication from consuming three tumblers of currant wine. Anne thought she was offering her friend the non-alcoholic raspberry cordial; unfortunately, Anne had never sampled the cordial herself, and so didn’t know the difference. Diana instead gets treated to Marilla’s secret stash of (controversial) homemade wine. She tells her bosom friend, “That’s awful nice raspberry cordial, Anne . . . I didn’t know raspberry cordial was so nice.” Neither did we!

Anne subsequently becomes the target of Mrs. Barry’s contempt and is forbidden to play with her Darling Diana. Ultimately, she redeems herself in Chapter 18 when she rescues the croup-ridden younger sister of Diana, Minnie May. A sniveling and remorseful Mrs. Barry invites Anne over and uses the best company china. Anne is also served “fruit-cake, and pound-cake, and doughnuts and two kinds of preserves” as well as biscuits.

2# Anne puts anodyne liniment in the company’s cake in Chapter 21 – A New Departure in Flavorings. Anne thought she had “done right” by the cake this time, despite her previous struggles with the art of baking. “The cake did rise . . . and came out of the oven as light and feathery as golden foam.” She then “clapped [it] . . . together with layers of ruby jelly.” Unfortunately for Anne, and the horrified Marilla and guest of honor Mrs. Allan, the bottle marked “Best Vanilla” that Anne used turns out to be anodyne liniment; Marilla had poured the liniment into the other container when the original shattered. If you ever wondered what anodyne liniment is, it appears to be some sort of cure-all elixir, used for everything from muscle pains to coughs, colic, “cuts and pain.” Marilla decides the cake isn’t even good enough for the hired hand (!), but that it is ok for the pigs to eat.

3# Anne daydream ends with a mouse in the pudding (see also Chapter 16). As Diana and Anne affect civilized conversation at their tea, Anne opines on the art of cookery:

There’s so little scope for the imagination in cookery. You have to go by the rules. The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in . . . [and it] was a dismal failure. Flour is so essential to cakes, you know. Marilla was very cross and I don’t wonder . . . She was terribly mortified about the pudding sauce last week . . . I meant to cover [the plum pudding sauce] as much as could be, Diana, but when I carried it in I was imagining I was a nun . . . I forgot all about covering the pudding sauce.

Although Anne later discovered the mouse drowned in the sauce, more reveries led to her forgetting to notify Marilla. That is, until Marilla invited Mrs. Chester Ross as a special guest.

Everything went right until I saw Marilla coming with the plum pudding sauce in one hand and the pitcher of pudding sauce, warmed up, in the other. . . I remembered everything and I just stood up in my place and shrieked out, “Marilla, you musn’t use that pudding sauce. There was a mouse drowned in it.”

4# Anne’s first taste of ice cream at the church picnic in Chapter 13 – The Delights of Anticipation. Anne raptly fantasizes about the upcoming church picnic, where she will get to sample ice cream made by town busybody Rachel Lynde. As she  gushes to Marilla, “I have never tasted ice-cream. Diana tried to explain what it was like, but I guess ice-cream is one of those things that are beyond imagination.”

Alas, Anne’s dreams are almost crushed when Marilla believes her to be the cause of her treasured amethyst brooch’s disappearance. Happily, our heroine is redeemed at the eleventh hour and she gets to sample the frozen treat. Anne’s review? “Words fail to describe that ice-cream. Marilla, I assure you it was sublime.”

5# Matthew Cuthbert buys 20 pounds of brown sugar in the name of puffed sleeves in Chapter 25 – Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves. Matthew, ever sensitive and attuned to Anne’s plight, determines that she should have a stylish frock (with puff sleeves) so that she fits in better with the other little girls her age. Only the best for his Anne. The problem is, Matthew is quite possibly the shyest of creatures on earth. He is so timid, that he can’t talk to the female clerks at the town store. When he resolves to purchase the dress, he only gets so far as to ineptly order things that he doesn’t need; among these items is frightfully coarse brown sugar.

Eventually, Matthew consults Rachel Lynde and puts the matter of Anne’s frock into her capable hands. (In the PBS series, Matthew muddles through; and the beautiful blue-rather than the book’s brown-garment is gifted to Anne for her White Sands excursion with Diana). Marilla, when greeted with Matthew’s foolishness, is outraged:

Whatever possessed you to get so much? You know I never use it except for the hired man’s porridge or black fruit-cake. Jerry’s gone and I’ve made my cake long ago. It’s not good sugar, either–it’s coarse and dark . . . .

Colleen Dewhurst’s portrayal in the PBS series is also pitch perfect, when, through gritted teeth, she mutters, “Twenty pounds of brown su-gar!”

6# Anne eats ice cream again upon which time she decides city life is not for her in Chapter 29 – An Epoch in Anne’s Life.  Anne and Diana are invited to the home of Diana’s curmudgeonly rich bachelorette aunt Josephine Barry. In the process of seeing how the better half lives (complete with concerts by prima donnas at the Academy of Music), Anne concludes that riches are all nice and good, but that even ice cream is better enjoyed occasionally. After the concert, at which “tears came into [her] eyes,” Miss Barry suggests a pick-me-up ice cream. Once again, the ice cream was “delicious,” but upon relection, “that Anne girl” tells her hostess that “it’s nice to be eating ice-cream at brilliant restaurants at eleven o’clock at night once in a while; but as a regular thing I’d rather be in the east gable at eleven, sound asleep.” Miss Barry’s reaction? Well, of course, a chuckle.

7# Anne likens her loveless life to elusive caramel candies in Chapter 3 – Marilla Cuthbert is Suprised. In the beginning of the novel, after Marilla breaks the news to a crestfallen Anne that she was a “mistake” and may be sent back to the orphanage, Anne declares herself to be “in the depths of despair.”  She analogizes her position to eating chocolate caramels in her dreams when Marilla disclaims familiarity with (or even the ability to imagine) such a state of mind:

Then I don’t think you can understand what it’s like. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling indeed. When you try to eat a lump comes right up in your throat and you can’t swallow anything, not even if it was a chocolate caramel. I had one chocolate caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious. I’ve often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels, but I always wake up just when I’m going to eat them.

After such a speech, it would take a cold-heart indeed to turn your back on such a friendless orphan.

8# Tea out with the minister’s wife in Chapter 22 – Anne is Invited Out to Tea. Anne, a sensitive and contemplative soul who is oft misunderstood, is on a perpetual search for what she describes as “kindred spirits.” In the new minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan, she concludes that she has found such a soul to help her along with life’s trials, large and small. When Mrs. Allan invites Anne to tea, spoil sport Marilla can’t even put a damper on the invitation when she tells Anne that all the members of the Sunday school class would be invited in turn.

Anne anxiously consults Marilla regarding fine points of etiquette–for instance, would it be okay to take second helpings? Marilla sensibly counsels her charge to just “think of what would be nicest and most agreeable for [the host].” A whirlwind Anne returns from the tea–it was a “fascinating time”–inspired and hopeful that Mrs. Allan is “a dunce at geometry” too.

9# Bosom friends are reunited over homemade taffy in Chapter 18 – Anne to the Rescue. Diana and Anne are reunited after the raspberry cordial debacle (see Number 1) and make taffy to celebrate. “It wasn’t very good,” judges Anne, but it was the first time the girls had ever made it. “Diana left me to stir it while she buttered the plates and I forgot and let it burn; and then when we set it out on the platform to cool the cat walked over one plate and that had to be thrown away. But the making of it was splendid fun.” To me, this is the best lesson to learn when it comes to cooking (and one I try to remind myself of often).

10# The politics of sharing raspberry tarts at school in Chapter 15 – A Tempest in the School Teapot. On the first day in Avonlea, Diana is burdened with the task of splitting “three juicy, toothsome, raspberry tarts” between ten little girls in her class. It seems that the lesson of the day is learning moderation and how to share:

The little girls of Avonlea school always pooled their lunches, and to eat three raspberry tarts all alone or even to share them only with one’s chum would have forever and ever branded as ‘awful mean’ the girl who did it. And yet, when tarts were divided amount ten girls you just get enough to tantalize you.

Funny what would have constituted Mean Girls back in the late 1800s in PEI! I don’t know . . . I think I would have risked reputation in order to keep those beauties to myself.

Looking for more culinary inspiration from L.M. Montgomery’s classic novels? Check out The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook written by Montgomery’s very own granddaughter, Kate McDonald and Culinary PEI on the Prince Edward Island tourism site.

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4 Responses to “Anne of Green Gables: The Culinary Triumphs and Trials of a Titian-Haired Spitfire”

  1. Emily C October 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    This post was so much fun to read. I LOVED Anne of Green Gables and I know I watched the movie over 50 times when I was young. Thank you for reminding of this for my daughter.
    P.S. I am also an attorney and am very impressed by your decision – and wish you the best of luck.

    • levjoh October 31, 2011 at 2:07 am #

      Emily,

      Thanks so much for your kind comments! Very glad there are more Anne fans out there; if I have a daughter, i will definitely share both the books and the series with her. Yes, my decision was a difficult one to make, but it ended up being the right one for me. Best, J

  2. JanB October 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    AGG is a perennial fav and you have written very well about a well loved beautifully filmed book. Cooking is intuitive and M is stuck. If I could only live on PEI ❤

    • levjoh October 22, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

      Thanks for your kind words! I wish I could visit PEI! Some day I will get there…

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