A little something different on the menu this month — a book for adults instead of young readers. Frederic Hunter stopped by to talk about his new novel “Abe and Molly: The Lincoln Courtship” and to share his favorite recipe for — what else? — pie!
Fred and I are both “alumni” of The Christian Science Monitor, where I was a staff reporter and children’s book review editor and he was a glamorous foreign correspondent (he covered sub-Saharan Africa). He also served as a foreign service officer in Brussels, Belgium, and at Coquilhatville and Bukavu in the ex-Belgian Congo. Later, he wrote screenplays for film and television, including “Lincoln and the War Within“ for PBS, which triggered his interest in the Lincoln courtship. His writings include “The Hemingway Play” and “Africa, Africa!,” a collection of fifteen stories. Fred and his wife Donanne have a website spanning fifty years of experiences in Africa.
What have you been cooking up for readers, Fred? Tell us about your new book, and how it came about.
Some years ago, I wrote a show for PBS about the first three months of the Lincoln Administration, aired as Lincoln and the War Within. While doing research for that project, I stumbled on the story of Lincoln’s courtship. Abe and Molly: The Lincoln Courtship is quite a romantic tale: rich girl of aristocratic background and good education falls in love with a self-educated attorney from a dirt-poor background, with few social graces and even less money. Once they become engaged, her family forces Lincoln to break the engagement. As they say, complications ensue. My publisher calls it Pride and Prejudice on the American frontier. Lincoln takes the Elizabeth Bennet role and Mary (Molly) Todd is Mr. Darcy, except that she’s caged in 19th-century strictures on what women should and should not do (like be interested in politics).
You had me at “Pride and Prejudice” on the American frontier. I can’t wait to read it!
How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer? Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?
In high school my late twin brother and I wrote a one-act musical. It was performed the night of the annual one-act play contest, but out of competition because a faculty member had helped us write down the music. The audience liked it so much that it was immediately re-performed. That very evening. Can that possibly be right? At this distance from high school that seems improbable, but that’s my recollection of it. Later, in college, my brother and I wrote a musical revue. At one point I went out to introduce the next act and the audience’s applause flooded up at me. Applause is a narcotic. It’s damaged a lot of lives – maybe even mine.
Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie? (I did, big-time, when I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk…)
Worst moment? The evening the first TV show I ever wrote (an adaptation of Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon” for PBS) was first broadcast. My wife and I had filled the living room with friends. I had not seen the show. It seemed disastrous! It was about a guy who couldn’t stop talking, and the director had long moments of silence, showing faces and locales. Eeeek! I writhed in horror on the floor before our assembled guests. They thought the show was OK — it was on PBS, wasn’t it? (It wasn’t as bad as I thought; nor as good as it should have been.) I learned never to invite friends to see my work until AFTER I’d already taken a look at it.
Now let’s REALLY talk pie. What’s your favorite kind? Do you have a favorite pie memory? How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?
The recipe for the pie I’m sharing is probably my favorite. I married into this recipe. It’s been in my wife’s family for years and was originally called “Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie.” Velma Hile of Virginia, who was a dear friend of my wife’s grandmother, is the source, and now four generations of our family and dinner guests have enjoyed it.
Most pecan pies at restaurants have too few pecans, too much syrup (or molasses?), and are never made with butter. This is “caviar for the general.” Rich whipped cream on top never hurts, either.
“ABE AND MOLLY’S” SOUTHERN PECAN PIE
1-1/2 cups corn syrup
1-1/2 cups pecans
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Unbaked pie shell
Boil sugar, syrup, and salt together for three minutes in a large pot. Beat eggs; not too stiff. Slowly pour hot syrup into eggs while stirring. Add butter, vanilla, and pecans. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, bake for an additional 35-45 minutes. When tested, knife inserted should come out clean. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.
OK, I don’t care if it’s the middle of July and 90 degrees, I’m heading right to the kitchen to make this. Thanks so much, Fred!
As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out this fall (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” – learn more here), I started a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues. To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jennifer Jacobson, Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, and Susan Blackaby. Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.
Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course. Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog. Enjoy!