Thinking outside the can

- by Charlotte Hubbard

I never thought I’d buy another can of Spam, ever. Not that Spam is any worse for you than other processed products on the shelves these days…and since I’m a Boomer, I can recall when Spam was a pretty nifty (ooh, that word verifies my era, not?) convenience food that generated slews of recipes we loved because, well—it was the new thing. If you didn’t like Spam you were pretty square. Doomed to pot roast or meat loaf, or to baking a real ham.

The reason I bought this can of Spam? The can itself! I found an Amish cookie recipe in The Budget, the Plain community’s weekly national newspaper, that I had to try simply because after you made the dough and chilled it, the directions said to roll it out and cut it with a Spam can (recipe follows). I got an immediate image in my mind of how that cookie would look, and because it was totally different from anything I could make with my hundred or so cookie cutters, I bought a small can of Spam. And then, because Boomer girls were raised never to waste food, I sliced the Spam as part of a sandwich-makings tray I prepped for lunch when my best friend and her husband came for a visit to our new home. We didn’t eat any of it, but it generated some great conversation!

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? The fact that I found this reference to using a Spam can in an Amish recipe was the sort of out-of-the-can research discovery that shakes up your expectations. It makes you see your world—or the world you write about—in a different light…or shape, in this case. Most of us wouldn’t think an Amish cook would buy Spam, or other “convenience” foods because we have this idea that Plain folks cook everything from scratch, and that all of their recipe ingredients are basic foods they probably raised in their garden or butchered themselves.

My editor and I had this discussion when I turned in the recipe section for SUMMER OF SECRETS (Kensington, 2/12) because when she saw ingredients like Cheez Whiz, Cool Whip, and a box of cake mix (gasp!) she questioned whether Plain cooks would use such foods. Well, the little locally-written cookbook I bought in the Jamesport Old Order community is written proof that these ladies like to save time in the kitchen just like the rest of us do. So are the recipes I find in The Budget’s cooking column.

And if you check those Plain dresses hanging on Amish or Mennonite clotheslines, you’ll discover a lot of polyester blend fabrics because they don’t require ironing after they come out of a wringer washer. When you’re raising eight kids, who has time to iron all those dresses and shirts? An ad in a recent edition of The Budget was a keeper for me—more research—because it was nearly a half page of the various fabrics on sale at this Amish supplier, and because the heroine of my new NAL Amish series is a seamstress. I might have ditched my double knit outfits long ago, but the folks I write about have not!

So I’ve had my horizons widened and some assumptions proven wrong as I write these new books—and sometimes I’ve been taken back to my past and found that “all things old are made new again” when it comes to writing. And cooking.

Here’s the recipe for Sally Ann Cookies. You can be the judge, but I’m betting they just won’t taste the same if you cut them out with anything other than a Spam can!

Sally Ann Cookies

½ C. shortening,

½ C. hot coffee

1 C. molasses

2 tsp soda  –Mix these in a large bowl and then add

3 C. flour

½ tsp. nutmeg, ¼ tsp. ground cloves

Mix well and chill several hours. Roll out and cut with a Spam can. Bake at 350º for 6-8 minutes.

Sally Ann Frosting:

1 envelope plain gelatin

¾ C. sugar

Scant ½ C. water—Mix these, then stir in ¾ C. powdered sugar, adding more if needed. Beat until foamy and add 1 tsp. vanilla, beat again. Frost the flat sides of the cookies.

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