Tuesday, February 28, 2023

One Writer's Way by Elizabeth Yates plus a dessert

 I've been interested in Elizabeth Yates ever since I added one of her children's books to my vintage Christmas book collection many years ago. If you collect vintage Christmas books, her Once in the Year: A Christmas Story, published in 1947,  would be a charming book to add. Here's an old blog picture of mine showing it, with apologies for the blurriness.


I was happy to find one of Yates' autobiographies, One Writer's Way, published in 1984, an autographed copy, about her life between 1931 and 1951. It begins with the time she and her husband, both Americans, lived in England where she tries to find her writing path.

They settle in London, in the Kensington area in an old Huguenot house. This interested me because RH's mother's people on her father's side were French Huguenots who came to the United States and eventually settled in Texas long ago.

Yates explains that French Huguenots settled in London in the 1800s and built houses with timber sash windows and decorative brickwork, living on the second floor, their weaving business products sold on the ground floor, and looms on the third story with floor to ceiling windows.

Do you know the doorknobs shaped like a hand? This was the symbol of a Huguenot weaver. I was entranced with this idea and searched for one for a possible gift for RH. How about this one that's only $700 on Etsy? Not going to happen but isn't it stunning?

By the way, I learned that the correct French pronuciation of Huguenot does not pronounce the ending "t" but rather "not" is pronounced "noh."

Elizabeth Yates and her husband William McGreal, also an author and published photographer illustrating books, loved England where they felt that the "national difference" between the United States and England was that "in America one must be doing, in England being seemed more important."

In 1936 when King George died, McGreal took a photograph of two mourners, one man who looked as if he were a duke and beside him a "shabby little man." McGreal won first prize for the photograph in a large newspaper's competition.

The couple went to Scotland for a photographic project on the island of Skye where they were enchanted with the scenery and the people. One local man assured them one morning on starting out that it was "a pet of a day." Don't you just love that? And naturally this reminded me of the British detective series Vera where she calls everyone, friends and suspects, Pet. Do you watch Vera? She's a favorite of ours. 

As war looms in Europe Elizabeth and Bill return to the United States with other ex-pats and they make their way to Peterborough, New Hampshire to search for months for an old farmhouse and as much land as they can afford. They finally buy a 1789 house and 67 acres of fields and woods. No plumbing, no electricity. 

In 1980, Elizabeth Yates gave the house, outbuildings, and land to a trust for the Shieling State Forest, with money for its care.

During the years in Peterborough, Yates wrote many books, consistently writing 2,500 words before noon each day, in addition to  being a plane spotter in WW II. One book that won the Newberry Award was her Amos Fortune, Free Man about a resident in Jaffrey, New Hampshire who had once been enslaved.

I loved the stories in this book about her writing years and also about her husband who lost his sight during those years in New Hampshire but gave so much of his life to teaching the blind. To give you an idea of the woman, Elizabeth Yates, here is a touching tribute written by her husband:

Elizabeth is tall and slender. She has a stout heart and a strong body. Her hair is as brown as her eyes. She likes tweeds, salads, mountain climbing, reading aloud, spaghetti, lively discussion, animals, house guests. She dislikes frills, waste, taking taxis, gossip. She has no feeling for arithmetic and her interest in domestic mechanics is nil. She has plenty of courage, a strong faith and a native expectancy of good. Living with her is a high adventure.

Now that is a fine tribute from a husband.

Here is a recipe I made after reading the autobiography, French Huguenot Torte, not from Elizabeth Yates who was not interested in domestic mechanics but from one of my Eugene Walters cookbooks, American Cooking: Southern Style, a large beautiful book full of the history of Southern cookery and recipes.

 Walters writes of the French Huguenots influence that remains in Charleston, South Carolina, port of entry for many of the emigrants. In the Battery you see architecture reminiscent of the Huguenot influence, "overhanging balconies, stuccoed walls, hipped roofs, convex roofing tiles, all common features of the Huguenot centers in France."

Walters admits that the French Huguenot Torte is a recipe that many first called Ozark Pudding. All I know is that it is very good. Rather than type out Walters' recipe, I found a link to one very similar except for some slight change in amounts of ingredients. 

See Sara Moulton's recipe here. 

Here's a picture of my Huguenot Torte, chock full of Granny Smith apples...

Have you ever made this or eaten it somewhere? I am a lover of apple desserts. Are you?

I hope you have a pet of a day!