By Wendy Henrichs, correspondent
With Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the bend, families will soon come together to celebrate traditions through love and food. Two Des Moines authors illustrate the beauty of family with their serendipitous releases published within one week of each other. Sharelle Byars Moranville and Wini Moranville, aunt and niece by marriage, celebrate two very different books, yet the threads of family bonds and strong young women interweave throughout each. During this unseasonably cold November, cozying up with Sharelle’s novel while warming the kitchen to sample a few of Wini’s recipes helped greatly to counterbalance winter’s oncoming dread for this reviewer.
“The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and their Friends and Family” by Wini Moranville with inspiring quotations from Louisa May Alcott (2019, Harvard Common Press/Quarto, all ages, $19.99) arrives on the heels of the 150th anniversary of the Alcott classic and weeks before the Christmas day release of the new “Little Women” movie directed by Greta Gerwig (“Ladybird”) and starring Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. “The Little Women Cookbook” is charming, cozy, and inviting, and is much more than a cookbook. It’s a living tribute to the endeared American classic loved for generations, with more generations to follow.
A food writer and editor, and one who has always held a tenderness for the 1868 novel, Wini couldn’t believe her good fortune to be asked to write a cookbook commemorating it. In loving scrapbook style, she intertwines recipes, photographs, historical food notes, beautifully illustrated quotes from the novel, and even reader activities to mirror the March sister outings, all of which serve as a tasty companion to the novel. The 50 recipes included are modern updates of what the March sisters loved to eat, yet sometimes failed to cook successfully within the pages of “Little Women.” Parisian Cream Puffs, Garden Pot Pie, Meg’s Macaroni and Cheese, Apple Turnovers, Maple Cornmeal Drop Biscuits, and Hannah’s Cottage Pie are just a few of the wonderful recipes. Many are beginner level for the youngest of chefs and most can be shared as a family activity in the kitchen. Wini’s version of Fruit and Nut Trifle with Hot Milk Sponge Cake is prominently featured in the December 2019 issue of Country Living magazine (and this reviewer can vouch for the cake as sweet and easy-to-make). A proud Cedar Rapids native until the age of 6, Wini pays homage to Quaker Oats and the iconic childhood smell she remembers fondly lilting about her hometown in this oatmeal recipe.
Oatmeal Porridge with Apples, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup
4 cups (946 ml) water
2 cups (312 grams) old-fashioned oats
2 medium apples, cored and chopped inot 1/2-inch (1.25 centimeter) pieces (about 2 cups [300 grams]
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pure maple syrup, brown sugar, and warm 2 percent or whole milk, for serving
In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the oats, apples, cinnamon, and salt.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook at an active simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft and most of the water has been absorbed into the oatmeal, about 5 minutes. Serve hot with maple syrup, brown sugar, and warm milk.
Similar to “Little Women,” Sharelle’s latest middle grade novel, “Surprise Lily” (2019, Holiday House, ages 8-12, $16.99) is also laden with young female characters within one family, although at differing historical points. Sharelle masterfully paints generations of 10-year-old girls within this family, drawing us in with the intricacies of their relationships with their mothers and grandmothers – some sweet, some pained – and stitches the invisible yet ever-present swirl of historical bonds that shape, but do not define them. Rose Lovell, the current-day, 10-year-old protagonist is raised by Ama (her grandmother, Tulip) and adores her and the perfect life they live together on Ama’s generational farm with Myrtle, the border collie and Peanutbutter, Rose’s 4-H calf she has raised because Peanutbutter’s mother wouldn’t claim her. Never wanting this perfect life to cease, an upending comes when Rose’s birth mother, Iris (Ama’s daughter), enters like a hurricane. In the chaos, Rose overhears crushing words that sends her on the run. Not intending to, she ends up with Iris and discovers the first of many surprises and secrets that have plagued the women in her family.
The Moranvilles were recently interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe.” There, Sharelle stated her hopes that “Surprise Lily” will give girls strength and courage for their own lives. She also wants them to know that, “…love is what pulls and pushes the world along, especially in the family.” Although Rose’s journey begins with a broken heart, she soon learns the value and responsibilities of family she didn’t even know she had. It is her conviction, love, and strength which unites their broken family, helping to begin to heal long-suffering wounds of abandonment. Sharelle’s character of Rose would undoubtedly agree with one of Jo March’s quotes from “Little Women” featured in Wini’s cookbook: “I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!”
Both authors will be at a reading and signing at 3 p.m. today at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.
• What: Wini Moranville and Sharelle Byars Moranville will talk about their newly published books, “The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family,” and “Surprise Lily,” respectively
• When: 3 p.m. today
• Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
• Cost: Free