I'd never heard of the Questers before Nancy Clark invited me to speak at their local chapter gathering in southwestern New Hampshire. Nancy and I first met over books when she attended a talk I gave last year on the interior world of Emily Dickinson. I took an immediate liking to her and was already a fan of her first book, a New England-based novel about an eccentric old family and their home, The Hills at Home. Its sequel is A Way from Home, and her third book in the trilogy, July and August, is coming out in June. She writes adeptly about a family, their relationships--and with their old house--and the ties that bind them all together. Her attention to detail and subtlety in setting and conversation--both modern and historic--is worthy of Jane Austen, or more recently the twentieth century novelist, Barbara Pym.
So it is only fitting that Nancy would be a Quester as this is a group that gathers to look at old places or to study them, to talk about antiques, and to share good food and conversation. After my talk tonight on pantries and The Pantry book, which turned into a good conversation around the fire, Nancy cut her delightful Devil's Food cake with its light and scrumptious marshmallow icing (homemade, no Fluff here).
With a touch of pride, but in her quiet way, she told us that she had won a blue ribbon for the cake at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts years ago. The cake had just the right crumb--not too moist, not too dry. Light enough that you could have easily had more, but yet didn't dare for fear of making a complete pig of yourself in polite company.
Our hosts put out a tea spread, including food other members had brought, and the most sublime liver paté! I even had a nip of sherry. Their Georgian farmhouse is surrounded by preserved forest and reminded me so much of the farmhouse where I grew up. Dodi shared her own pantry memory with the group, in fact it was a dream, the earliest she remembers from childhood. She was five and was being chased by some strange-eyed men in a green convertible. The car came in the house and she scrambled up to the top of the Hoosier cupboard in the kitchen, amidst the cookbooks, and the car followed. And then she woke up. Perhaps the Hoosier represented a safe place or refuge.
Everyone seemed to have a pantry memory to share. The group was enthusiastic and we've invited them to visit our house next summer and see our pantries in person. In the meantime, I can't wait for Nancy's next book and plan on a refresher of The Hills at Home. As I blogged a few months ago [see Books on Hearth and Home in the Cupcake Chronicles], this winter I will be focusing my reading on home and place: novels, essays, domestic guides, even poetry. And I plan to cook a lot, too, and to try new recipes. I think these activities will help to root me a bit more in Kentucky or perhaps to take my mind off the many transitions in our lives.
In the meantime, Nancy's cake will receive a special Cupcake Seal of Approval in the Cupcake Chronicles. If you haven't checked out my "secret" alter ego blog, Cupcake Chronicles, that I write with two friends in our book group, please do. There is room for discussion, fun, recipes and cake! So far our reading has been largely food-related but we are not limited to that. [And things have been particularly lively of late with the addition of a new member named Queenie and some rather gnomish activities.]