Oct. 19, 2003

My Mother Gives Me Her Recipe

by Marge Piercy

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Poem: "My mother gives me her recipe," by Marge Piercy.

My mother gives me her recipe

Take some flour. Oh, I don't know,
like two-three cups, and you cut
in the butter. Now some women
they make it with shortening,
but I say butter, even though
that means you had to have fish, see?

You cut up some apples. Not those
stupid sweet ones. Apples for the cake,
they have to have some bite, you know?
A little sour in the sweet, like love.
You slice them into little moons.
No, no! Like half or crescent
moons. You aren't listening.

You mix sugar and cinnamon and cloves,
some women use allspice, till it's dark
and you stir in the apples. You coat
every little moon. Did I say you add
milk? Oh, just till it feels right.
Use your hands. Milk in the cake part!

Then you pat it into a pan, I like
round ones, but who cares?
I forgot to say you add baking powder.
Did I forget a little lemon on the apples?
Then you just bake it. Well, till it's done
of course. Did I remember you place
the apples in rows? You can make
a pattern, like a weave. It's pretty
that way. I like things pretty.

It's just a simple cake.
Any fool can make it
except your aunt. I
gave her the recipe
but she never
got it right.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of the surrender that ended the American Revolutionary War, in Yorktown, Virginia (1781). At two o'clock in the afternoon, the British general Lord Cornwallis surrendered about 8000 British troops to George Washington's army, although Cornwallis himself didn't attend. England didn't have enough money to raise another army, and they appealed to America for peace. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was officially over.

On today's date in 1987, it was Black Monday on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 508.32 points, or 22.6 percent, which set the record for the largest drop ever. The previous record had just been set the preceding Friday. An employee on the trading floor said, "It's busy. People are on the edge. You don't have the friendliness that you usually have. Everybody is a mad man."

It's the birthday of Guatemalan author and diplomat Miguel Angel Asturias, born in Guatemala City (1899). When he was still in his teens he became one of the founding members of the Popular University of Guatemala, which offered classes to students who could not afford the public university. In 1924, he moved to Paris and began to write. He was part of Paris's intellectual elite and socialized with writers like James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. He also represented his country as an ambassador in France. His first popular work was The Architecture of the New Life (1928). In 1930 he published Legends of Guatemala, which records many of the legends of the indigenous people of his country. He returned to Guatemala in 1933 but struggled against censorship and repression for the rest of his life. In 1967, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Asturias said, "As true Latin Americans, the beauty of expression excites us and for this reason each of our novels is a verbal feat. Alchemy is at work. It is no easy task to understand in the executed work all the effort and determination invested in the materials used-the words."

It's the birthday of British spy writer John le Carré, born in Dorset, England (1931). He was born David John Moore Cornwell, but he needed to take a pseudonym because he held a diplomatic position. He worked for the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964, and during this time he began writing novels. He writes about international espionage, and many terms first used in his books have been adopted by the intelligence community. Honey-trap means sexual entrapment, babysitters are body-guards, and moles are deeply entrenched agents. Le Carré said, "In the old days it was convenient to bill me as a spy turned writer. I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who, when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British intelligence."

He wrote eighteen books, but his most famous was The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963). Graham Greene called it "the finest spy story ever written." Le Carré also wrote Our Game (1995) and The Tailor of Panama (1996). Le Carré said, "Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception."

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