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1930s Food, or the Ever-Popular Gingersnap

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

When I started writing Friendship Album, 1933, I anticipated doing a lot of research on quilts made during that period, but what’s surprised me is how much time I’ve spent learning about food. Cakes, mostly, but as our girls continue to meet every Wednesday their menus are expanding. Every time I come up with an idea for something to snack on, I have to find out if ladies who lunched in 1933 lunched on grilled cheese sandwiches or enjoyed a deviled egg or two for an appetizer.

I’ve found an invaluable resource in The Food Timeline: Popular American Decade Foods, Menus, Products & Party Planning Tips. Not only can you discover what sort of foods folks were eating during the decade of your choice, but you can learn about school lunches and nutrition, restaurants and modern kitchens.

One of the interesting things I’ve learned on the site is that the Great Depression wasn’t a time of food scarcity. You might buy chuck beef instead of sirloin to keep costs down, but both were available. Food costs in general were low, and local and private relief agencies did an excellent job of feeding the poor.

On a less serious note, you can look into what food brands were advertised in magazines any given year. For instance, if you opened up your June 1933 copy of  Ladies’ Home Journal, you’d find ads for Sanka Coffee, Minute Tapioca, Kraft Velveeta cheese, Heinz Tomato Juice, Kraft Mayonnaise, and Cream of Wheat. If you’re interested in when certain brands were introduced to the American public, well, there’s a list for that, too. Much to my surprise, Fritos first appeared on the shelves in 1932, and Tootsie Pops were available even earlier, in 1931. I’d always assumed they were born in the 1960s, just like me.

I was hoping I’d find that the first chocolate chip cookie made its appearance in 1933, so I could share my favorite recipe on this blog. But almost every source I’ve come across says it was invented in 1938 by American chefs Ruth Graves Wakefield and Sue Brides. Disappointing! I promise if Friendship Album, 1933 has sequels, and one of them takes place in 1938, I’ll give you my recipe. But until then, my gingersnap recipe will have to do.

Now, the gingersnap is not an invention of the 1930s; in fact, its roots are in medieval times. However, it was an especially popular treat in Colonial America, and the 1920s and the 1930s saw a Colonial revival, which is one of the reasons quilt-making was so popular. I’m sure 1930s housewives made gingersnaps in their bright modern kitchens and felt like new age Martha Washingtons. Maybe in an upcoming scene in our story, we’ll see Bess making gingersnaps for her daughters (or perhaps a new friend? Hmmmm … what might be in store for Bess this week?)

My gingersnap cookie recipe was given to me by a lovely older woman named Betty, who was a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Durham, NC. She must have made the cookies for coffee hour, and they were by far the best gingersnaps I’d ever eaten. A week after I told her how much I’d enjoyed them, she produced the recipe for me on two index cards stapled together, and I’ve been making those snaps ever since. P.S. I don’t sift, but this recipe card is how you know Betty was old school.

While I give Betty full credit for these wonderful cookies, I’m going to give Bess the title. That’s just how we roll here in Fictionland!

 

BESS’S BEST 1933 GINGERSNAPS

Ingredients

2 cups Flour

1 tablespoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup Crisco

1 cup sugar

1 unbeaten egg

1/4 cup molasses

Directions

In a medium bowl, mix first four ingredients with a fork, making sure to combine well. In a large bowl, cream shortening, then add sugar gradually, creaming until well-blended. Beat in egg and molasses. Mix dry ingredients into creamed mixture and blend (Note: Betty’s directions say “Mix by Hand,” but I have to admit I mix everything in my mixer using the paddle attachment and the cookies still turn out great).

Form teaspoon-size balls of dough. and roll dough balls in pan of granulated sugar to cover entire surface. Place 2″ apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until tops are slightly round, cracked and lightly browned. Remove from sheet and cool on a cooling rack.

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 6

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

Mrs. L.L. LeCompt stitching quilt squares together. She does all her
family sewing. Coffee County, Alabama. Photographer: Marion Post
Walcott. Created April 1939. (Library of Congress #LC-USF34-051446)

Nostalgia for simpler times is nothing new. In the 1920s, folks suddenly found themselves pining for Colonial days, which sparked enthusiasm for home decor that Martha Washington might have approved of, including quilts. Companies and cooperatives such as Rosemont Industries and the Mountain Cabin Quilters employed women to sew quilts which were then sold through catalogues and in stores across the country. Many of these companies’ were started by women, and much of the work took place in the workers’ homes. For more about these cottage industries, I recommend reading Quilt Cottage Industries: A Chronicle by Cuesta Benberry, the article that first made me gave me the idea that our Florence could be an aspiring businesswoman at heart.

I was also inspired by the story of Marie Webster, founder of the Practical Patchwork Company in Marion, Indiana, which she ran with her sister and two close friends in the 1920s and ’30s. Webster first gained fame when her patterns appeared in magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal. Her work was so popular, she began creating original and  distinctive patterns to sell through her own company’s catalog, “Quilts and Spreads,” as well as kits and completed quilts. Her quilts were also sold in major department stores.

Marie Webster ….

and a few of her quilts

 

 

For more on the business of quilting in the 20th century, check out this interesting article, “The Birth of Modern Quilt Businesses” on the International Quilt Study Center site.

In this episode, Dorothy and Bess review the Sears Quilt contest rules, which have finally arrived in the mail. There’s nothing exceptional about the rules–the quilts needed to be bed-sized (single or double), they needed to finished, and quilts that had been in previous exhibits were unacceptable. Quilters were encouraged to enter quilts of a recent vintage. What’s remarkable is the number of quilts entered that were clearly made with this contest in mind, especially given that the contest was announced in January and the deadline was mid-May.

Author’s Notes

For those of you who are new to this podcast, I thought I’d get you up to speed on what I’m doing here. Friendship Album, 1933 is a work in progress–Episode 6 consists of Chapters 13 and 14; I just finished writing Chapter 24. I’ve got my schedule mapped out so that I’m always ten chapters ahead. My plan is to finish the book long before we’re done publishing the recorded episodes. Wish me luck!

Why podcast a work-in-progress? It’s a little bit crazy, for sure, but it keeps me on my toes as a writer. Also, my hope is that if you’re enjoying listening to Friendship Album, 1933, you might want to read my other books! By the way, I hope to record both Birds in the Air and Margaret Goes Modern in the near future. I’ll keep you posted!

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Double Windmill Quilt–Free Pattern!

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Have I told you about the scrapbook I found on eBay a few years ago? It’s a collection of 1930s quilting columns by Nancy Page, Florence LaGanke, Alice Brooks and others. The columns are pasted in a book called SCHOOL LAWS OF PENNSYLVANIA 1913. When I started writing Friendship Album, 1933, I knew I wanted to make a series of 1930s-style quilts to go along with the story, so of course the first place I looked was in the pages of my scrapbook. I knew I’d found my quilt when I found this:

With the help of co-conspirator Patty Dudek of Elm Street Quilts, I put together my own Double Windmill quilt and now I want to share our pattern with you!

Double Windmill Scrap Quilt: A Milton Falls Quilting Co. Pattern

by Frances O’Roark Dowell and Patty Dudek

Materials

  • Outer pinwheel (yellow, orange, green, and blue) – ½ yard of each color
  • Center pinwheel (purple) – ¾ yard
  • Neutral (white) – 2 yards
  • Binding (purple) – ½ yard (assumes 2 ½ ‘’ cut on straight of grain)
  • Backing – 3 ¾ yards
  • Batting – 52 x 60’’ (throw or twin sized)

Block size: 8 ½’’ square

Quilt size: 48 x 56 ‘’

Preparation and cutting

Assumes pieces are cut from yardage with a 40’’ usable width of fabric (WOF). (Not all fabric cut into squares will be needed for the quilt. Put the excess aside in case a block needs to be remade or perhaps to add interest to backing.)

From the center pinwheel fabric (purple), cut the following:

  • Cut seven (7) strips, 3’’ x WOF and sub-cut each strip to thirteen (13) 3’’ squares for a total of eight-four (84) 3’’ squares.

From each of the four colors (yellow, orange, green, and blue) for the outer windmill, cut the following:

  • Cut two (2) strips, 3’’ x WOF and sub-cut each strip into thirteen (13) 3’’ square for a total of twenty-one (21) 3’’ squares
  • Cut three (3) strips, 2 ½ x WOF and sub-cut each strip into sixteen (16) 2 ½ ‘’ squares for a total of (42) 2 ½’’ squares

From the neutral (white) fabric, cut the following:

  • Cut thirteen (13) strips, 3’’ x WOF and sub-cut into thirteen (13) 3’’ square for a total of one hundred sixty-eight (168) 3’’ squares
  • Cut eleven strips, 2 ½ x WOF and sub-cut each into sixteen (16) 2 ½ ‘’ squares for a total of one hundred sixty-eight (168) 2 ½ ‘’ squares

From the binding fabric (purple), cut six (6) strips of 2 ½ ‘’ x WOF.

Piecing

The Half-square triangle (HST) blocks are created two at a time following this tutorial.

1. Pair a 3″ neutral (white) square with a center pinwheel (purple) square.  Using the two-at-a-time method (tutorial), create two (2) HST blocks. Trim each HST to 2 ½‘’ square.  Repeat to make a total of one hundred sixty-eight (168) neutral (white) / center pinwheel (purple) units

2. Pair a 3” neutral (white) square with each of the 3” squares from each of the four colors from the outer windmill (yellow, orange, green, and blue).  Using the two-at-a-time method, create two (2) HST blocks from each pair.  Trim each HST to 2 ½ ‘’ square.  Make a total of forty-two (42) HST from each of the outer windmill (yellow, orange, green, and blue) fabric.

3. Each block unit will use (1) 2 ½ ‘’ square and (1) HST from each of the outer pinwheel fabrics (yellow, orange, green and blue) plus (4) HST from inner pinwheel (purple) plus (4) neutral (white) 2 ½ ‘’ squares. Following diagram, assemble block unit. Block will measure 8 ½ ‘’ square (unfinished).

 

 

4. Assemble a total of (42) blocks. Press.

Quilt top assembly

1. Lay quilt blocks on design wall (or floor) following quilt layout. You can orient your blocks anyway you want, just make sure they are consistent. There will be seven (7) rows each comprised of six (6) blocks.   Sew blocks together into rows and then sew together rows.

2. Final quilt top will measure 48 ½ ‘’ x 56 ½ ‘’ unfinished.

Piece together backing fabric to form a piece 56 x 64 ‘’. Baste. Quilt as desired. Join binding strips and press in half. Attach to quilt using your favorite method.

 

Finished Quilt:

 

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 5

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

For the Bee’s second meeting, we venture to Florence’s Tudor home on Walnut Street. One of the most enjoyable things about writing fiction is that I get to put my characters into houses and decorate for them. I love old Tudors and Victorians. I hope that one day Florence will be able to get rid some of her mother’s old Edwardian furniture and modernize her home to her heart’s content.

In this episode, Eula wears a dress she thought was more than nice enough — until she walks into Florence’s fancy digs. It’s a dress she made herself, and of course I had to go looking for a pattern that looked like a dress Eula — and Dorothy, who turns out has made the same dress — would make. To be honest, this dress seems a touch on the fancy side, but it’s hard to find patterns for dresses sensible farm women might wear!

Bess hasn’t received the contest rules yet, but she’s already started planning her quilt, which she wants to reflect the theme “A Century of Progress.” While the quilt Bess is designing is one I concocted in my imagination, I took my inspiration from some quilts that were actually entered into the Sears Quilt Competition.

Bess makes a reference to Carrie Hall, one of our first quilt historians, perhaps best known today as the co-author (along with Rose Kretsinger) of The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America. Hall is famous as well for having identified and made over 850 quilt block patterns in an effort to preserve a historical record. She also gave lectures on quilt history, sometimes wearing a colonial dress when she presented. For a brief, but fascinating and pretty cool biography, go here: WOMEN’S WORK: Carrie Hall: Entrepreneur

Author Notes

Last week a listener named Meg (who just happens to be a copy editor) caught an anachronism. In chapter 10, I have Emmeline reach into her desk drawer to grab a pen. But as Meg notes in her comment:

In 1933, she would most likely “grab” a pencil. The ubiquitous ball point pen didn’t get a patent until 1938 and was not commercially produced in the US until after WWII. Fountain pens were expensive and and relatively fragile and probably kept safely in a writing desk drawer to be used for letters and document signatures. Pencils, though, were very common. I know I’m being picky, but, hey, I’m a copy editor. : )

Thanks to Meg for pointing that out! I’ll be sure to make that change in the revision. If you catch anything that doesn’t seem quite right or an inconsistency in the plot, please let me know!

See you next week, when we’ll finally learn who knocked at Florence’s door at the end of episode 3!

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We Gather Together

July marks my book club’s sixteenth anniversary. Every month we gather in one of our homes, ostensibly to discuss a book, but also to chat, catch up, drink a glass of wine and indulge in tasty snacks. I’ve never been much for groups, but I’ve loved being part of this gathering of women. The toddlers who wandered in and out of our meetings in our early days are in college or college-bound. Several of us were pregnant that first year, and now those babies are getting their driver’s licenses. Liz’s hair is still naturally red, but in recent years the rest of us have had to make the choice: Go gray or go to an excellent colorist?

We meet every month and we talk and we eat and drink. Every year we have a Christmas party, and every year Suzanne brings sugared pecans and something marvelous from the local bakery. Mary Beth makes meatballs and brings several bottles of good wine; my specialties are pimento cheese crackers and deviled eggs. We were sad when Danielle moved to Charlotte four years ago, and if we’re being honest about it, the loss of her Christmas party baked brie ranked high on the list of reasons why.

There’s an epidemic of loneliness in the U.S., which seems especially ironic in this age of hyper-connectivity. The only way to beat it? Gather together and take care of each other. Pass around the plate, feed one another and be fed. If you’re a quilter, join a guild or start a bee. I’ve always said quilting is the only sorority I’ve ever joined. There’s nothing like getting together with a bunch of people who love what you love and understand why you love it.

Below is my recipe for deviled eggs. Today I was working on a new Florence chapter for Friendship Album, 1933; in it, she tells a gentleman friend (and who might that be?) that she’d never had a deviled egg until she went on a picnic with Emmeline. Emmeline’s cook, Cora, made deviled eggs for the occasion, and Florence couldn’t get enough of them. That inspired me to post my deviled eggs recipe, so I’m giving the credit to Cora. Enjoy!


Cora's Deviled Eggs

Cora’s Fourth of July Deviled Eggs
(Recipe Makes Twelve (if everything goes well))

Ingredients

  • 6 extra large eggs, a little on the old side*
  • 2-3 Tbs Mayonnaise (Duke’s Mayo for people who really care about mayo; light is okay, full fat is best. It is against the law to make deviled eggs with fat free mayonnaise)
  • 2 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Mustard
  • ½ tsp Paprika (optional)

Directions

Hardboil the eggs. To do this, place six eggs in a pan and cover with water (eggs should be covered by at least an inch of water). Bring water to a full boil. Once boil is achieved, take the pan off heat and let sit for 13 minutes. Pour out the hot water and fill the pan with cold water, filling and refilling until the water stays cool. Peel the eggs and halve.

Place the yolks into a small bowl and put the egg halves on a plate or a platter. Mix the yolks, mayo, vinegar and mustard and beat until creamy. Add another tablespoon of mayo if need be. Fill the egg halves with the yolk mixture and sprinkle on some paprika to make the eggs pretty.

*I often buy a carton of eggs a week in advance—slightly older eggs are easier to peel. Another way to make it easy to get the shell off your hard-boiled egg is to put in two teaspoons of vinegar and half a teaspoon of salt into the water with the eggs before you put the heat on. Another tip: I usually I boil seven eggs and abandon the whites of one—this way I have plenty of filling.

Cora’s Fourth of July Deviled Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 4

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

Over the last year, Dorothy has spent her fair share of time worrying about Bess and her family (too much time, her husband would say), but in Episode 4 her own family troubles take center stage. Meanwhile, Emmeline does research for her role as Emma Brown, wondering how she’ll ever come up with a wardrobe of last year’s fashions.

While leafing through the latest Sears Catalog, Emmeline comes across the announcement for the Sears Quilt Contest. The official title of the contest was Sears Century of Progress Quilt Contest, and the grand prize was $1,000, a huge amount of money in 1933—nearly $20,000 in today’s dollars. The deadline for the first round of judging was May 15, 1933, and quilters were encouraged to enter newer quilts. “It is not our intention,” the contest copy read, “to make this an exhibit of antiques and heirlooms.”

Now here was an outfit she rather liked—a two-piece angora knit in blue with gray, brown with gray, or a two-tone green. The skirt had a kicky little pleat in the front and the top was belted, perfect for showing off Emmeline’s slim waist.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the definitive history of the Sears Contest was written by Merikay Waldvogel and Barbara Brackman, in Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World’s Fair (Rutledge Hill Press: 1993). This is a highly readable account of the biggest quilt competition in U.S. history. Merikay, a noted quilt historian and all-around wonderful woman, has been an invaluable source to me, both through this book and via the phone, where she’s answered my questions about kits and patterns and given me a great idea or two for some upcoming chapters.

Author’s Notes

  • In this episode we meet Dorothy’s daughter, Hannah, a part-time librarian and a graduate of Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta. Since recording this chapter, I’ve learned that Oberlin College in Ohio started accepting African American students in 1835. It’s possible that when I revise I’ll switch Hannah’s alma mater, just because it seems more realistic to me that the Johnsons would send their only daughter to a school closer to home.
  • Something I’ve thought a lot about: In real life, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that Dorothy would be part of this quilting bee, and it’s perhaps unrealistic that most of the characters are so accepting. Even Emmeline isn’t resistant to Dorothy’s presence; she’s just baffled by it. The fact is, Emmeline has never considered the possibility that African-American women make quilts and has to ask her housekeeper, Cora, about it. Her ignorance and lack of curiosity is a milder form of racism than one might expect in this era, but it’s racism nonetheless. Is it realistic she’ll get past it? This is something that’s on my mind as I write…
  • Have you visited the Quiltfiction Pinterest page yet? I’ve got a Friendship Album, 1933 board, with a section for each of the characters. It’s a work-in-progress, and I’m having a great time looking for images of Florence’s house, Emmeline’s wardrobe and vintage photos of the sort of African American community I imagine that Dorothy and Wallace live in.

Contest Rules for the Sears Century of Progress Quilt Contest

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Eula Baker’s Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake

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What was it like to live in the 1930s? To keep a home, make quilts, raise children, work, and worry?

Friendship Album, 1933, the book I’m currently writing and reading aloud on the Quiltfiction Podcast, takes place during the heart of the Great Depression. All of the story’s main characters, Eula, Bess, Florence, Dorothy, and Emmeline, have been affected by the economic downturn, but to different degrees. Eula and her husband have had to sell their farm, and their sons have scattered across the country to find work. Emmeline and Florence’s lives, on the other hand, haven’t changed much at all. Their wealth comes from the insurance industry, which stayed strong even when markets collapsed.

Dorothy is African-American, and her husband, Wallace, drives a delivery truck for a small dairy company. Like many African-American families of that time, only two generations out of slavery, they had little accumulated wealth when the stock market crashed in 1929. The times have always been hard for people like the Johnsons, but they own their home, have strong family bonds, and both Dorothy and Wallace have managed to keep their jobs when many others lost theirs.

As for Bess, in spite of her husband’s death, she’s managed to keep her house and keep enough money in the bank to stay on this side of financial disaster. It helps that her parents have been able to support her in small ways.

Eula Baker's Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake

One of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is researching what was it like to keep a home, make quits, raise children, and work in the 1930s. Now you, too, can give “Eula Baker’s Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake” a try, straight from the pages of Friendship Album, 1933.

Whatever their problems, the characters I’ve created here have still managed to avoid the harshest realities of that era. I hope you’ll forgive me if I pad reality just a little bit as I explore their lives. I want Friendship Album, 1933 to be realistic, but also warm and, yes, comforting.

Sort of like a quilt.

What’s very real to me in this story is that a group of five very different women are able to form a friendship because they share a love of quilt-making. Given how many friendships I’ve made through quilting, this seems as realistic to me as anything I can think of.

Here’s the thing: So many people I know feel stressed and disconnected right now. Whenever I check out Facebook or Twitter, it’s hard to process all the rage. People talk past each other, dismiss one another, can’t tolerate the least difference of opinion. A friend of mine recently did a TedX talk on the social media call-out culture, and was lacerated for it by the social media call-out culture. It was horrifying.

Turning to this story, writing the lives of these women as they make their quilts and sort through their problems, comes as a relief after all the discord I experience in the real world. When the pleasure of a good cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate cake is enough to brighten Bess’s day, when Eula and Dorothy bond over a poorly-written quilt pattern, when the normally self-centered Emmeline helps Florence emerge from her darkest time, it reminds me that we have so much to offer each other, most of all friendship.

And, of course, there’s cake … which brings me (finally!) to the purpose of this post.

I want to use this space to not only for podcast show notes, but also to share quilt patterns, interesting 1930s history (especially quilt history!), and recipes for chocolate cake. Okay, recipes for other dishes as well, but let’s start with cake, shall we? Check in on Tuesdays for my latest offerings. For now I bring you …

Ella Baker’s Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake

(This recipe is adapted from … And Garnish with Memories: The life, Times, and recipes of a Great Cook and Raconteur by Patty Smithdeal Fulton, Overmountain Press.)

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3 ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened), chopped
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 ¾ cup sifted flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (which you can make by mixing the milk with 1.5 tsp of lemon juice and refrigerating for 5 minutes)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs

For the frosting

  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 7 Tbs milk
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs shortening
  • 1 Tbs corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla

(In the original recipe, it’s suggested that one might double this recipe–I leave it up to you.)

To make the cake:

Put chocolate in a mixing bowl, pour in boiling water, and stir until chocolate is melted. (Option: combine chocolate and water and microwave for thirty seconds, stir, repeat until chocolate has melted). Add shortening and beat until melted. Let concoction cool.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate, milk, vanilla and eggs, and beat until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Bake in two 8” pans for about thirty minutes.

When cake has cooled, spread with frosting.

To make frosting:

Place all of the ingredients except the vanilla into a sauce pan. Slowly bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Let boil for one minute. Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm. Add vanilla and beat until frosting thickens.

This frosting isn’t as thick as the stuff you get from a can, just so you know. Be sure the cake is cool before you frost and the frosting is lukewarm–if either is warm, the frosting will run right down the sides. It’s still delicious if you pick it off the edge of the cake plate, don’t get me wrong, but it’s better if you can make it stick to the cake.

My family loved this cake. Between you and me, I usually make cakes from box mixes. This recipe takes a little longer to make, it’s true, but it’s really not that hard and the results are delicious.

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 3

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

Welcome back to the Quiltfiction Podcast! In this week’s episode, we present Chapters 7 and 8 of Friendship Album, 1933. If you enjoy this episode and the ones that came before it, please leave your rating and review over at iTunes. It really makes a difference! And don’t forget to subscribe!

We start out this episode with Bess enjoying a cup of Eula’s coffee, so I thought I’d share this fun coffee fact with you: In the 1930’s, 98 percent of American families were coffee drinkers, including 15 percent of children between 6 and 16 years of age and 4 percent of children under 6. I can’t imagine giving a five-year-old coffee, can you? Hard to think of anyone who needs caffeine less…

This is the episode when we finally have all five quilters in the same room and get to see whether or not they play well together. We also get to see the inside of Florence’s house and learn why, at age 27 this lively young woman is still single. Is she really destined to become another Miss Havisham, Dickens’ wealthy spinster from Great Expectations? Stay tuned to find out…

Florence’s parlor is filled with stacks of the latest needlework magazines. Popular titles from the era include House Arts, Needlecraft Magazine, and Modern Priscilla. In the name of research, I’ve collected my own piles of 1930s magazines, which not only have a lot to say about stitching, but also how to live a useful and well-decorated life. Reading these magazines, I have to remind myself that life really wasn’t simpler back in the day, it just seems that way.

Florence makes a reference to the Ladies’ Aid Society, which has come up at least once before in the story. These organizations were dedicated to caring for sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Their members were sock knitters and bandage wrappers—and some eventually became nurses and hospital volunteers. They also collected money to help keep hospitals supplied. During the Great Depression, some of these groups continued their community work by fundraising for those in need. There are still Ladies Aid Societies in existence today, often attached to local churches.

I’ve gotten so many nice comments about the podcast, and many of you have said you feel inspired to make a 1930s quilt. I hope you’ll send me pictures if you do! I’m currently working on a Double Windmill quilt and hope to have the top done by the end of this week. My source for the pattern is below.

See you next week!

Frances

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 2

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If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

In Episode 2 of Friendship Album, 1933, we round out our group of quilters with the introduction of Dorothy Johnson and Emmeline Grangerfield, and the group begins to gather together for the first time Eula’s house.

Dorothy Johnson is a mother, grandmother, master quiltmaker. She made a brief appearance in Chapter Two, where we learn that she’s Bess Wilcox’s housekeeper, but Chapter Four serves as Dorothy’s real introduction. When we meet Dorothy, she’s being dragged by Bess to the first meeting of Eula Baker’s bee. Dorothy’s not convinced she’ll be warmly received—not only is she Bess’s housekeeper, but she’s African-American. In 1930s Ohio, black and whites lived in separate communities and rarely, if ever, socialized.

For my children’s novel, Trouble the Water, I did quite a bit of research about Depression-era African-American communities in northern Kentucky, which is essentially Cincinnati, Ohio (sorry, Kentucky, but you know it’s true). This research helped me to create Dorothy’s community in Milton Falls during the same time period. In effort to learn more about African-American quiltmaking during this time, I depended upon Cuesta Benberry’s book, Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts, which I highly recommend. Another book that goes deep into the African-American quiltmaking traditions is Roland Freeman’s A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories, which also proved helpful in my research.

Emmeline Grangerfield, Florence’s sister-in-law, also makes her grand entrance in Episode 2. While I always take my characters seriously and do my best to make them as real as possible, I have to say that so far Emmeline is this story’s most comical figure (though my goal is to make her sympathetic as well). Wealthy and self-centered, Emmeline is quilting doyenne of Milton Falls, the author of “Quilt Along with Emmeline,” a weekly quilting column in the Milton Falls Gazette. Have you read any quilting columns from the ‘30s? Two of the most popular—Nancy Page and Nancy Cabot—were fictional. Like Emmeline’s column, “Nancy Page’s Quilting Club” introduced a group of imaginary quilters who became quite real in readers’ minds.

After Emmeline’s introduction, we finally get the group beginning to gather at Eula’s modest home on Hale Avenue, where a very nervous Eula serves her blue-ribbon-winning chocolate pound cake and learns she’s not the only woman to use her quilts to cover up spots on the furniture (you can add my name to that list).

Thanks for all of your kind comments and iTunes ratings and reviews! If you haven’t left a review on iTunes, but are enjoying the podcast, please consider doing so. I really appreciate everyone who has taken the time.

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Welcome to the Quiltfiction Podcast!

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

If you like quilting stories, then I’ve got some good news: The Quiltfiction Podcast is up and running! We’re going to begin with Friendship Album, 1933, a work of historical fiction by me, Frances O’Roark Dowell. Friendship Album, 1933 is not available in bookstores, in case you’re wondering, although it might be one day. Right now the only way to experience the story is via this podcast–and I really hope you’ll tune in!

Let me give a you a brief introduction. The idea for Friendship Album, 1933 came to me after reading Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World Fair: The Sears National Quilt Contest and Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition by quilt historians Merikay Waldvogel and Barbara Brackman. I’ll write more about the Sears National Quilt Contest in a later post, but suffice to say that with its $1,000 grand prize (nearly $20,000 in today’s dollars), a lot of women were inspired to enter the competition.

Five such women make up Friendship Album’s circle of quilters:

Eula, whose family has been forced by hard times to leave the farm and move into town, where she doesn’t know a soul and is pretty sure she’ll never fit in…

Bess, a widow of one year, who shows up at the first meeting as a way of avoiding duty on her church’s altar guild and her neighbors’ constant condolences…

Dorothy, a woman trying hard to keep peace in her home and her sewing scissors away from the lively young grandchildren who’ve just moved in…

Then there’s the bee’s youngest member, Florence, living the life of a bored socialite after being jilted by her fiancé. Can starting her own quilt business turn her life around?

And, finally, Florence’s sister-in-law, Emmeline, who’s fresh out of material for her weekly quilting column and hopes to find inspiration in this odd collection of quilters.

When the group members hear about the Sears Quilt Competition, they all make plans to enter, although for different reasons, not all of them to do with the prize-money. In Friendship Album, 1933, we follow the characters in their own lives as well as when they gather together to sew.

Here’s a fun fact: I’m still working on the novel as the first episode drops on iTunes! This is a bit scary for me, since I’m essentially reading from a first draft and have to stay way ahead so that we don’t run out of episodes (so far so good–I’ve written close to 200 pages). But it also provides some opportunities. Maybe I’ll ask listeners for help with a street name or ideas for patterns. If a listener has feedback, she can leave it in the comments and I might end up incorporating her suggestions into a later draft.

I’m going to use this space not only to introduce new episodes and collect comments, but also to give you background on the story, share patterns and recipes, and talk a little bit about the writing process. I’d also be happy to answer questions, so feel free to ask!

Doing research has been one of the most enjoyable parts of writing Friendship Album, 1933. Not only is the 1930s a fascinating time in quilting, it’s also a wonderful period to kick around in if you’re interested in old cookbooks, graphic design, fashion, home decor, and the domestic arts. I’ve created a Friendship Album, 1933 Pinterest board, which I hope you’ll come visit (and send suggestions for!). You’ll find it on the Quiltfiction Pinterest page:

If you enjoy the first episode of Friendship Album, 1933, I hope you’ll not only subscribe via iTunes, but tell your friends about it and share the link on your social media platforms. I’ll be back next week with a new episode, so stay tuned!

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