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THE PUDDING HOLLOW COOKBOOK:Author Tinky Weisblat writes:
A decade ago, my friend Judith Russell approached me with the idea of doing something called "The Pudding Hollow Cookbook." A folk artist, Judy announced that she had been inspired by Hawley's 1992 bicentennial pageant, in which a legendary 18th-century pudding-preparation contest was reenacted. The contest gave its name to the hollow in which the victor lived, and Judy and I both happily participated in the pageant.
Judy quickly painted the picture that graces the cover of the book. In it she chose to blend the present and the past by blurring the reenactment and the original contest. We still had no idea just exactly what a Pudding Hollow cookbook might be, however.
Slowly, I developed the ideas and Judy the art that make up this book. It describes our views--my "I" and Judy's "eye"--of the western hilltowns of Franklin County, Massachusetts (known collectively as West County), with special emphasis on Hawley. We decided to let the book by and large follow the rhythms of the year in our rural community, beginning with the season that dominates our landscape--winter.
Both scenerywise and foodwise, we had inspiring material to work with. Our countryside is lovely and serene; our mountains homey rather than daunting, lingering in neighborly fashion on the horizon. Our sky, unimpeded by city lights, is strewn with friendly stars at night. We are awash with color most of the year. Winter's dazzling white snow and blue-and-pink skies yield in turn to spring's hesitant greens and pastels, summer's bright lights and brighter flowers and berries, and the glorious New England autumn that has inspired poets.
Our relative lack of population helps preserve peace and quiet for humans and animals. Ironically, it also gives us a strong sense of community. Towns are small enough so that most of us know the others--and poor enough so that the majority of municipal tasks are performed by civic-minded amateurs rather than civil servants. We are proud of the area, its people, and its accomplishments.
We thought a cookbook was a particularly appropriate forum for showcasing our area because of the importance of food to the local landscape and peoplescape. Despite relatively adverse soil and climate, we still have farmers among us. The hilltowns produce fruit, corn, maple syrup, potatoes, timber, and a variety of animals--cattle, sheep, hogs, poultry, and even llamas. Food is therefore not just something we buy in the store. We see it produced around us and remain tied to its seasonal patterns.
From their earliest days, the hilltowns have also depended on traditions of shared cooking and eating: food serves as a nexus of social life. Jams, jellies, preserves, and homemade mixes of one sort or another are a common gift. Bounteous church suppers, bake sales, and seasonal festivals are catered by traditional good plain cooks. Many use recipes handed down for generations.
Of course, this cookbook is more than just a tribute to Pudding Hollow and the ways of life it represents. Like much art and writing, it is autobiographical. Judy painted scenes that appealed to her because they reinforced her benign view of a world in which lions lie down with lambs and fields are full of flowers. I tend to view recipes and places as keys to memory, and so I write not merely about food but about what it says to me about family, community, and nature.
Sadly, Judy died in the fall of 1994, after completing some but not all of the sketches and paintings for this book. Her family has supplied additional examples of her art, and friends have lent paintings to serve as illustrations. Readers will notice, however, that some chapters have a great many illustrations while others have practically none. I decided to leave the book this way rather than to seek out another illustrator who (however talented he or she might be) just wouldn't be Judy.
I'm sure readers will be as charmed by the art she left as everyone who met her was by Judy's talent and personality. Through the images she left her spirit sheds a gentle, loving light on the annual cycle of growing, cooking, and eating in Pudding Hollow.
Tinky is also the author of Pulling Taffy: A Year with Dementia and Other Adventures, a memoir (WITH RECIPES!) about taking care of her mother Jan/Taffy, who had Alzheimer's disease. The book's topic is serious—but Tinky and Taffy found laughter where they could. For more information about this book, visit its website: www.pullingtaffy.com
This project has been funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council as administered by the Charlemont/Hawley Cultural Council.
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