If you’ve already read The Oleander Sisters, you know the Amen cobbler is famous in Sweet Mama’s Café. You know the recipe was developed by Sweet Mama and Beulah then left on the menu for fifty years until both Sweet Mama and her culinary miracle retired. You know how the scent can make you dream of love lost or shiver with premonition. You know that one taste can make you laugh or cry; it can make you stand up and shout, “Amen!”
Of course, there’s always a story behind the story. In last week’s post, I talked about how I keep my own mother alive by infusing specific characters with her unsinkable spirit. Very few people have the bigger-than-life quality that makes it easy to translate them into fiction. Mama did.
But there is another aspect of her that often appears in my books. She was famous throughout Lee County for her culinary skills, particularly her cornbread dressing and her peach cobbler. I could never perfect the art of cornbread dressing, but the cobbler is so quick and easy, even someone who takes a nonchalant approach to the kitchen can turn out the perfect dessert every time.
The basic recipe is this: Melt one stick of butter (the real thing) in an 8×8 inch glass baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix 1cup of self-rising flour and 1 cup of sugar. Add 1 cup of milk to the flour mixture (whole or 2 percent, not skim) and stir the batter until smooth. (For variety you can ¾ cup of milk and ¼ cup of juice from the peaches. This makes a chewier cobbler.) The batter will be thin. Slowly pour the batter into the melted butter. DO NOT STIR. Drain a 14.5 ounce can of peaches with sweetened juice. Fork one slice at a time into the casserole dish on top of the batter. DO NOT STIR. Arrange the slices until the top of the cobbler is covered. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until the cobbler is light golden brown and a fork inserted in the middle comes out clean. The baking will take about 30 minutes. Do not overcook. Serve hot with ice cream.
Since I put so much of my mother’s personality into Sweet Mama and Beulah, it was natural to give them a café and make this old family recipe a customer favorite. Little did I know how the cobbler would evolve!
During the initial stages of writing a book, I layer my characters until they spring to life and lead me through the story. This writing process has been called many things: organic, spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants. What I love about being an organic writer is the surprise of it. I love to get into that zone where the characters are dictating and I’m typing as fast as I can, trying to keep pace.
In the initial stages of writing The Oleander Sisters, I was in control of Sweet Mama and Beulah. They loved gardening. No surprise. So did my mama. So do I. They loved cooking. Why not? Everybody in my sprawling Southern family loves to cook. They loved sharing secrets. Of course! That’s that best friends do. But then they added cherries to my mama’s cobbler recipe. Wait a minute! They added cinnamon and all spice and magic. Marvelous! I love the mystical.
Then they added an ingredient that took my breath away. And I knew I had not only brought them fully to life but had also raised the stakes in the book so high I would have to so some fancy plotting to make the story work.
So many of you have emailed, called, tweeted and sent FB messages to let me know how much you love this book. THANK YOU! I took some big risks with The Oleander Sisters. It’s great to know they paid off.
Now about that cobbler… One day after I’d finished writing a scene between Sweet Mama and Beulah, I went into the kitchen and tried to recreate their Amen cobbler, with a few notable exceptions, of course. I found out you can add cherries to my family’s original recipe and still have a wonderful, buttery, sugary treat. You can, too, but for goodness sake, don’t go whole hog with Sweet Mama and Beulah’s recipe!
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Thanks for stopping by. I’ll see you next Monday, give or take a few days. Like Sweet Mama and Beulah, life has a way of spinning out of control.