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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 75: Currants and chocolate

To shake off her preoccupation with the Naudins, Bishop quickly turned to the rest of the items Grace had sent. She had already waxed eloquently about the maple syrup in her 29 October 1960 letter (as well as in the previous one), so she picked up on the second item: currants, which “look wonderful — and so cheap in Montreal.” This latter comment confirms that Grace had been with her sister Mary (who lived in this city), when the items were assembled for the Naudins to transport (though by now, Grace was elsewhere, as the items had sat in customs, if you remember, for weeks).

Bishop was going to savour this treat, too; indeed, engaging in delayed gratification. She stored them in their “bags in a tight tin to keep to use at Christmas time.” The third item, however, was going to be indulged in immediately: “This afternoon I think I’ll make a chocolate cake.” After an ellipsis she went on to explain that the coming week held two holidays: “All Soul’s Day and Memorial Day” on “Tuesday and Wednesday,” which meant they were “bound to have unexpected or unannounced company,” because “most people are taking Monday off, too.” Bishop explained further that “All Soul’s is our Halloween — of course — All Hallows Evening.”

Though Grace had bought the currants in Montreal, Bishop noticed that they “came from Australia.” This multinational convergence prompted her to report that “last night it turned cold again suddenly,” which saw her “lighting a fire with a Canadian paper bag, with matches from Russia, in Brazil.”

Bishop included in this letter a ‘check which I think … should just about cover” the cost of the items, flouting what Grace undoubtedly wanted to be gifts: “although you deserve,” Bishop noted, “ten times as much … for all your trouble.”

Returning to that third item (chocolate), Bishop observed that chocolate “comes from Brazil and should be good, but it isn’t” (that is, the kind she could get in Brazil, not the kind Grace had sent). She qualified that “the powder kind is all right,:” but “the tablet kind just won’t melt.” And a baker needed to “use so much [chocolate] everything gets very dry.”

She went on to report that “raisins are fearfully expensive now.” Occasionally, they could get “Argentine raisins, but they have to be de-seeded — a hell of a job!” So, the currants were most welcome as she wrote, “I never saw a currant here.” She and Lota had tried (apparently unsuccessfully) “to smuggle in a bush or two.” They thought the weather on their mountain might be conducive for them to grow, but Bishop was doubtful “without frost.”

Even with the currants stored safely away for the next big holiday, Bishop did report that probably she would use some of them “to make a very good kind of stuffed pancake,” something done for “special company.” The stuffing contained an “egg, sugar, bread crumbs, currants, and cream cheese.” These ingredients were “all beaten up” and the pancakes were stuffed and baked. This delicacy was “lots of work, but for someone we like very much I make something fancy once in awhile.”
(These are strawberry stuffed with cream cheese
pancakes, but you get the idea.)
Having dispelled her frustrations by writing about one of her favourite subjects (food), Bishop concluded her letter by turning back to other family — the subject of the next post.

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