The first two books of the O’Shaughnessy series are told from the point of view of patriarch Will. Removed in the editing process was a second point of view, that of Will’s daughter, Catherine. Those unpublished outtakes, seen through Catherine’s eyes, are offered here on the website. Enjoy!
A Cornish Easter
After I almost died when caught outside in a spring snow storm, the doctor said I’d have to stay in the house for a week. And that week seemed like an exile to purgatory. I went stir crazy after a couple days, but Mom tried to cheer me up by doing something she’d never allowed before.
“I just have to get out,” I said. “I’ve been cooped up in this house forever. I’ll die if I have to stay inside another day. Can’t I go out, just for a little while?”
“Not yet, my dear Catherine,” Mother said. “The doctor says you must stay out of the cold air until after Easter. Because of your weakened condition, he’s afraid of pneumonia.”
“But, Mother, I feel fine.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “There was a baby lamb they delivered today. I’ll let Dad bring him inside for you to see.”
“Into the house?”
“Into the entryway.”
And once I had that lamb in my arms, I forgot about my confinement until I heard the truck coming up the driveway. When I heard the clanging of a ramp, I knew the last cows had arrived, so I dropped the lamb and raced from window to window, trying to catch a glimpse of Dad and Ruby herding those cows into the barn.
“Catherine, calm down,” Mother said. “You’re like a caged animal.”
“Oh, Mother, can’t I go out to the barnyard?”
“Not until Monday. The doctor said after Easter.”
“But it’s only two more days.” I craned my neck to watch the large Holstein cow that Ruby shooed through the barn door.
“How would I ever face Dr. Snyder if you got pneumonia? No, not until Monday.”
“That’s not fair. I’m missing all the excitement.”
“Those cows will still be there on Monday.”
Mother worked at the sink, scrapping breakfast’s burnt potatoes off the bottom of the frying pan. I wasn’t out of bed yet, but Dad must have fried the potatoes this morning.
“Why don’t you help me prepare tomorrow’s dinner. I had your dad bring that big ham out of the root cellar. You can mix a light vinegar solution and scrub it down, then help bake it.”
“I don’t want to bake. I want to pitch hay to the cows.”
Having been only a month since we first moved to the farm, I hadn’t lived there long enough to feel the weight of the work, but I loved the animals, especially the horses. We’d always had a horse, but now, we had five.
“How will you ever get a man if you can’t bake, my dear? Cakes don’t come in a box, you know.”
“I don’t want a man. I’d rather have a horse.”
“That’ll change. You’ll have to learn kitchen duties one of these days.”
“I’ll marry a chef.” I smirked and haughtily thrust my chin upward. “He can do the cooking.” I pressed my nose to the window, watching Ruby shoo another cow into the barn.
Mother stopped scrubbing the frying pan and turned toward me. “You know what they say about the shoemaker’s children, don’t you?”
I remembered Dad telling me the shoemaker and the elves story when I was little, but I didn’t remember him having children.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“His children go barefoot.”
Mother must have a different story in mind. “I don’t want children. I’ll have horses.”
Dad talked to the man who delivered the cows while Ruby hooked the barnyard gate. I sure wanted to be out there.
“Well, your chef probably won’t do his work at home either, and I doubt he’ll pitch hay to your horses. So you’d better learn to bake.”
“Only Cornish food.”
“That’s even more work.”
“Can’t we have pasties tomorrow? I love pasties. And figgyhobbin, too?”
“Pasties and figgyhobbin for Easter? I’ve never heard of such a thing. You do have Cornish blood in you, after all. And here I was thinkin’ you’re your father’s girl. But he likes his sweets, too.”
“If we can have them tomorrow, I’ll help. I’ll learn to make pasties. I worry that when you and Grandma are gone, I’ll never eat pasties again. I don’t suppose anyone in Willow knows how to make a pasty. I’ll starve without pasties.”
“I doubt that very much, my dear.” Mary grabbed a dishrag from the sink and wiped the kitchen table. “And that’s the only reason you’ll miss us?”
“Oh, no, there are hundreds of reasons, but I’d sure miss the pasties.”
“There are plenty of Cornish ladies back in Hinton and Ashley Springs who’ll make your pasties.”
“Can’t we have them tomorrow? Why, we haven’t had pasties, not once, since we left Ashley Springs. Pasties and figgyhobbin. I’ve almost forgotten how they taste.”
“So,” Mother said, smiling and raising an eyebrow, “if we’ll have a Cornish Easter, you’ll help?”
* * *
Mother asked Dad and my sisters what they thought about a Cornish Easter, and Dad and Sharon were for it. When Mother said we’d have figgyhobbin, I knew they’d agree. Dad and Sharon loved everything sweet. And figgyhobbin covered with caramelized sugar was about as sweet as you could get. But Ruby didn’t agree.
Ruby raced down the stairs behind me. “But I want ham. We always have ham at Easter.”
“Mother said we could have a Cornish Easter this year. So there.”
The table was set for breakfast and Mother had put a bowl of friend potatoes and a platter full of bacon in front of Dad who, without waiting for us to be seated, had already filled his plate. He must be in a hurry this morning.
“Yes,” Mary said, “it’ll be a Cornish Easter this year. Catherine’s been cooped up in this house for a week and she wants a Cornish Easter, and Sharon and Dad agree, so that’s what it’ll be.”
“But, Mother,” Ruby said. “My taste buds are salivating just thinking about that ham we’ve saved all winter. I want ham.”
“We’ll have the ham, but not tomorrow.”
“That’s not fair. Why does Catherine always get her way?”
“After what you put her through with those chicks, I’d think you’d be happy to let her have her way. I’m ashamed of you, Ruby.”
“Yes, Mother. But can’t we have scald cream on plum preserves? That’s better than figgyhobbin. Caramelized sugar’s too sweet. And I know Catherine’ll want caramelized sugar on her figgyhobbin.”
Mother turned toward me. “And Catherine, what do you want?”
“Oh, figgyhobbin. That’s my most favorite dessert.” I glared at Ruby. “With lots of caramelized sugar.”
Ruby scowled and stuck out her tongue.
“Let’s get this meal going,” Mother said. “I want to get the pasties in the oven before we go to late Easter service. Sharon, you peel the potatoes and rutabagas while Catherine cuts the beef and pork into small pieces. Cube them, don’t chop them.”
Ruby headed for the door. “Let’s get the chores done, Dad.”
Mother had pulled a platter of beef and pork chunks from the ice box and set them on the kitchen table. I’d had experience with the big slicing knife, so I knew enough to be careful as I sliced the meat into half-inch cubes. My classmate’s brother, Billy Hartford, had a short index finger because he wasn’t careful. My knife was sharp and the meat was tender, so the job was easy enough, but I worked slowly. I wasn’t about to take chances with my fingers.
Mother returned from the back porch with a pan of pastry balls, covered with cloth, which she’d cooled over night. “I rubbed lard and salt into the flour mix last night.” She flattened each pastry ball until it was one-eighth of an inch thick. “Catherine, as soon as you’re finished with that meat, come over here. I’ll show you how to fold and seal the crust.” She turned to her oldest daughter who stood with their biggest slicing knife in hand. “Sharon, slice the potatoes and rutabaga about a half inch thick, then dice the onions. Chop them small.”
Sharon sliced and diced so fast that I worried that the beef and pork might not be the only meat in our Easter pasties. “Sharon,” I said, “go slow. Be careful.”
“I cut meats and vegetables every day. I can do it in my sleep. If I went slow like you, the taters would turn brown before I dropped them in the crust.”
“Ugh. I hate the sight of blood.”
“That meat’ll spoil by the time you get it chopped,” Sharon said.
“Come out to the barn and show me how you pitch hay down the manger,” I said. “I’d hide in the loft if you swung a pitchfork like you swing that knife.”
“You don’t complain that your meals are ready when you come to supper.”
“Girls,” Mother said, “enough bickering. Catherine, come over here.” She beckoned me forward. “Bring the meat cubes.”
I carefully pushed the meat off the cutting board into a small mixing bowl.
“Now,” Mother said, “place this salad plate on top of the pastry and cut around its edge.”
I placed the plate in the middle of the rectangular piece of pastry.
“No, place it at the edge. If you’re careful, I think we can get two rounds from that piece. It’s not just the carpenter who measures carefully to save time and materials.”
She handed me a paring knife.
I moved the plate to the outer edge and cut. After wielding the big slicing knife through the meat, the little knife felt like a toothpick in my fingers as it cut through the thin, moist dough.
“Now, rub a little milk along the edge of each piece, then lift one side with your rolling pin. That’s right, all around the rim. Now, lift gently. Lift that half off the table, but be careful. Don’t tear it.”
Mother beckoned to Sharon. “Bring the vegetables and drop a thin layer onto the pastry round.”
Sharon covered the pastry with a thin coating of potatoes and rutabagas that she deftly slid from her cutting board.
“Now a layer of pork and beef cubes,” Mother said. “Then another layer of each.” Mother pushed the meat bowl away when I tumbled a batch of cubes onto the mix. “Not too much. Spoon a few off. We can’t have the crust explode because it’s carrying an overload. Sprinkle a little flour over it, for the gravy. And add some butter.”
Mother lifted the half that didn’t have the meat and vegetables. “Now this is the tricky part. Watch closely.” She flipped the top half of the crust over the bottom one —where the meat and vegetables were—so that the edges aligned perfectly. Then, while supporting the inside with the heel of her left hand, she used the first finger and thumb of her right hand to pinch and twist, pinch and twist, pinch and twist her way around the perimeter until the pastry formed a tight pocket that enveloped the meat and vegetables.
“These crimps must be just right. You need a tight seal.” She took the paring knife from my hand and made a small slit in the center of the top crust. “Those potatoes carried a lot of moisture. I think three slits should be about right. You can’t make too many slits or you’ll lose the steam that you need to soften the vegetables. But if you don’t cut enough vents, the steam can’t escape, and the crust will get soggy.” She made her third cut. “The twists and the slits must be perfect. Now, one last thing.” She handed a small bowl to me. “Rub a little of this egg wash over the crust to help brown it. There’s a trick to making pasties. It takes practice to make them perfect. You try the next one, Catherine.”
I made two of the five pasties that baked in the oven.
“You did good for your first time, my dear. But if pasty’s the only meal you’ll learn, you’d better marry a Cornishman.”
“Can I help with the figgyhobbin?” I said.
“You can caramelize the sugar while I make the pastry,” Mother said. “But scrape the sugar off the sides and keep stirring until it turns amber. And don’t overcook it.”
Late that afternoon, silence reined as our family savored their meal in a golden brown envelope.
After dinner Dad proclaimed, “I don’t know why this feast in a crust didn’t mosey across the sea to Ireland.” He inhaled the rich odors that floated across the table when he cut his pasty open. “Sure as the Emerald Isle’s a passel of green colors, this pocket holds a heap of good eatin’.”
Only Mother, Sharon, and I knew who made each pasty. And I wasn’t about to tell my testy sister that it was she who got the first one that I twisted and slit. Everyone but Ruby oohed and awed over the rich pastry dessert that was rolled in caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon, hickory nuts, and raisins, and then topped with that morning’s fresh cream whipped to a yellow-white froth.
Pasty, cabbage slaw, saffron bread, tea biscuits, and figgyhobbin— a real Cornish dinner, I thought. But best of all, tomorrow I’d go back to the barn.