Monday, April 3, 2017
Guest Blogger - Alice Duncan
Kind of creepy and crawly, if you know what I mean.
For one thing, I made a quick trip to California, primarily to visit one of my dearest friends who is mortally ill. I figured I’d rather see her in person one last time than go to her funeral. The month didn’t get much better from there, as it was fraught with my own health issues, veterinarian bills and plumbing problems. Grumble.
Therefore, since I’m sick of it all, this month’s blog isn’t going to be about any of that bad stuff. It’s going to be about the kinds of research a person who writes historical novels has to do. Because I write books set in the 1920s, I need to know a lot of stuff about the area in which the books are set. In the case of my Daisy Gumm Majesty books, that means I get to learn about Pasadena and Altadena history. Sometimes this information isn’t as easy to come by as figuring out what people did and ate in ancient Rome. The ‘twenties are historical, but they’re recent enough that some things aren’t well documented.
For instance, I had to find out what law-enforcement agency took care of crime in Altadena, California, in 1924. Altadena is a smallish (well, it used to be smallish anyway) community just north of Pasadena. Unincorporated, it’s part of Los Angeles County, but it’s not officially part of Pasadena. So, I looked on-line and couldn’t find out. Then I decided what the heck and called the Altadena Historical Society. Darned if my question wasn’t answered by a woman with whom I went all through school! I mean, we met years ago. Plus, we evidently looked so much alike when we were kids, our parents often tried to pick up me when they wanted her and vice-versa. However, Kathy found out for me that the Altadena area was served by the Los Angeles County Marshal’s Office, and that their headquarters were pretty much on Lake Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. Mind you, Foothill Boulevard, where Mrs. Bissel in my Daisy books lives (in the house my aunt used to own), was renamed Altadena Drive in the 1950s or 1960s, but it’s still there. The marshal’s office was just down the road and across the street a bit from Mrs. Bissel’s house.
Then there’s food. Daisy’s Aunt Vi is one of the better cooks in the universe. In fact, if she were a man at the time the books are set, she’d have been called a chef and made boocoo bucks. Boocoo, by the way, is an expression from the 1920s. Anyhow, from time to time, I also have to find out what people ate back then. It’s fun research to do, because I love food. But cooking was a heck of a lot harder back then than it is now. No blenders. No food processors. No Instant Pots (although folks used pressure cookers). No automatic dish washers. No electric mixers. No plastic or aluminum wrap, although they did have waxed paper. No store-bought bread, for Pete’s sake! Fortunately for Daisy and her family, Vi makes the best bread in town.
And today I had to look up meatloaf. Meatloaf? Yes, by golly, meatloaf. Good thing for me one of my dear Facebook friends, Andie Paysinger, is a genius at cooking history. She and my niece Sara Krafft (also a research maven) both showed me to a great web site for researching food history (http://www.foodtimeline.org). Meatloaf for most of us is a pretty easy meal to prepare, and I personally love it.
However, life was different in the 1920s. For one thing, in order to make a meatloaf, Aunt Vi had to grind her own beef, pork, veal, chicken, and/or whatever other kinds of meat she wanted in her loaf. Not a problem, because Vi had one of these handy-dandy tools:
Oddly enough, my mother had one (and I still have it) that looks precisely like that. It probably dates from the same era, too.
Then, of course, we return to the problem of bread. It wasn’t pre-sliced or store-bought in those days. You had to knead your flour, yeast, water, milk, butter and/or whatever, form it into loaves, and then bake it in your own oven. Fortunately for Aunt Vi, both her employer (Mrs. Pinkerton) and her family have self-regulating gas stoves. However, after you bake your bread, you then have to cut it. Both Daisy and I suffer a deficit in the bread-cutting area. We can’t cut a straight piece of bread from a loaf to save ourselves. Fortunately, Daisy has other people in her life who can cut bread for her. I’m stuck all by myself with odd-looking slices of bread. What the heck. There are worse problems to have. Here’s a picture of a lovely stove Aunt Vi might have cooked on at the family’s residence. Needless to say, Mrs. Pinkerton, who is rich as Croesus, has an even bigger and fancier one in her mansion.
Oh, and no chopped nuts! You had to crack your own nuts and chop them if you wanted to use nuts in something. Wow. Life must have been hard indeed. But you could still use your self-regulating gas range once you prepared your nut loaf.
One thing Pasadena had in the 1920s is still alive and functioning: Mijares Mexican Restaurant. While I was in Pasadena to visit my friend, I also saw my younger daughter, Robin, and my younger grandson, Riki, quite often. Riki and I had lunch at Mijares, by gum! Great place. Always was. Still is.
But enough of that. I’ll be in touch with the winners of March’s giveaway book, FALLEN ANGELS, individually. I might even get the books mailed out in April, too! At the end of April, I’ll be giving away a few copies of UNSETTLED SPIRITS, Daisy’s tenth (actually, it’s her eleventh) adventure. If you’d like to enter the contest, just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and give me your name and home address. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, you may do so on my web site (http://aliceduncan.net/) or email me (you won’t be smothered in newsletters, because I only write one blog a month). If you’d like to be friends on Facebook, visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925.
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