"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 48: Concluding Miscellany

The final few paragraphs of Bishop’s letter of 25 August 1959 offered a wide range of topics. First, there was the usual observation about the weather: “It is starting to get hot again; ‘winter’ seems to be over already,” at least, she said, in Rio. It was still “cold up in the mts.”

As concerned as Bishop was about Grace’s health, not all the news had been bad. Bishop congratulated her aunt “on losing 15 pounds — that’s a good bit.” There was no segue to the next comment: “Isn’t it surprising about the Queen?” What could she mean? Undoubtedly, she was thinking of Her Majesty’s pregnancy. That summer Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were in Canada, on the longest royal tour to this country in its history. By this time it was known she was pregnant again, with the baby who would become Prince Andrew. Andrew was born on 19 February 1960, so the Queen was in the early stages of her pregnancy by this time. Perhaps Grace’s declaration of weight loss made Bishop think of the Queen, who would be gaining weight (perhaps there was an announcement while they were in Canada?).
 (The expecting Queen Elizabeth, 1959.)
All this thought about weight led Bishop to her next leap: “There is a bad meat shortage here.” This statement was accompanied by a brief story of her going out that very morning at seven a.m., and standing “in the line with all the maids, and managed to get a pound of liver for the cat!” She explained further that she and Lota would “manage on eggs, or buy a chicken,” but the little cat, who was about to have kittens, needed the meat.

The food shortage might have been connected to inflation, which Bishop noted “is terrific,” observing the huge rise in the cost of “beans and rice — the national diet of the poor here.” The price of these staples had risen “500 percent since last year — if you can believe it.” Then Bishop editorializes with the comment that this development “might change the food habits,” which she felt was “a good idea”; but she did not elaborate on this observation.

Keeping on the subject of food, though not for the poor, she told Grace that they “went to a dinner-party last night — buffet, which they call here ‘American style’.” The ten who gathered at this repast included “a couple of dull scientists, one of them a friend of mine from N.Y., in town for a congress.” The main course was roast loin of pork. Clearly, no meat shortage here. One of the desserts at this buffet was “Angel’s crops”: “the kind of crop a hen has — at least I think that’s more or less what it means!” Bishop knew how much Grace enjoyed hearing about desserts, though perhaps not quite as much now with her successful effort to lose weight. Bishop described this sweet delicacy: “wet little cakes, very sweet and full of eggs, floating in syrup.”

The next segue was more logical. Bishop wrote that she would send her aunt the recipe for another Brazilian dessert, “Blessed Mothers,” assuring Grace that they weren’t hard to make “if you can get a coconut?” She was sure that if Grace attempted them, they “would impress Mrs. Max L[ayton] very favorably!”

Still not done with desserts (Bishop clearly had a sweet tooth), she asks Grace if she made “baked custards?” A Brazilian twist on this common dessert was “orange custard — made exactly like any baked custard except instead of milk you use orange juice.” Further instructions were offered with the added hint to bake it “slowly” and “caramelize the mold first.”

Turning back to Grace’s letter, Bishop wrote, “Your garden makes us envious.” Bishop noted that all they had in their garden at the moment was “too much lettuce.”

Having run the length of her time and subjects, Bishop concluded: “Now the housekeeping column will come to an end.” She concluded with her usual regards to Phyllis, “if you are with her,” and signed off “With much love.”

Then there is a significant gap before a letter dated 12 November 1959 takes up the narrative. That will be for the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment