Recipes from the Books

I have often heard from readers that they enjoy trying out the foods they read about in my books. Teachers have been very creative and their lucky students have enjoyed some of the foods as part of their classroom studies on the books. One after-school reading group told me about an entire "feast" they made based on the food eaten by Ann Maria Weems and her family in Stealing Freedom.

Below you'll find some recipes to get you started, and I hope to add to this page as more ideas come my way.

click on image to go to the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station website
The fig bush at Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, Outer Banks, North Carolina


On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, each of the United States Lifesaving stations had a fig bush, and fig jam was a favorite among the surfmen. Many thanks to Nellie Midgett Farrow, age 93, and her daughter, Jackie Farrow, for this recipe. Nellie Midgett Farrow is the daughter of Zion Midgett, Surfman No. 1 at Chicamcomico Station, who was one of 6 surfmen involved in the very famous Mirlo rescue on August 16, 1918. (Click on the photo above to go to the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station website and read more about the station and the Mirlo rescue.)


Wash figs and trim stems.
Layer figs and sugar in pot.
"Lay figs over" in refrigerator and cook next day.
Cook over medium heat in loosely covered pot.
Add lemon slices or lemon juice for more tangy flavor.
Cook to desired consistency; if not enough syrup, add sugar and cook more.
Sterilize jars and lids.
Fill jars to bottom rim, leaving juice on top.
Tighten lids.

Fried corn mean mush with maple syrup


When I learned that American slaves subsisted on corn meal mush, I realized it was the same thing my grandparents survived on, polenta, during their hungry growing up years in Italy. Corn is cheap and it fills you up. But when I was a child, I thought of polenta as a treat. My grandfather would stir it in a big pot, and we would eat it for dinner topped with chicken
cacchiatore in rich tomato sauce. The biggest treat was the leftovers, though, which my grandmother poured into a bread pan to cool. The next morning she would slice it with a piece of wet string, fry it in butter until it was golden-crisp, and we'd pour maple syrup over it. Mmmmmmm!

Below you'll find the recipe for basic corn meal mush, or polenta. Ann Maria Weems and her family ate it with greens and/or fat back. Be creative with your toppings!

Corn Meal Mush

2 cups coarsely ground corn meal
2 cups cold water
6 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt

Stir the cornmeal into the 2 cups cold water. Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil, add the salt, then add the corn meal/water mixture, stirring constantly. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes over low-medium heat, stirring frequently.

For fried corn meal mush, pour the cooked mush into a bread pan and cool in refridgerator overnight. Cut into 3/4 inch thick slices. Fry in well buttered skillet until golden brown. Serve hot, either plain or with maple syrup.


I got this idea from the stories my mother told me about growing up as the oldest of nine children during the depression in New York City. They almost never had meat, so they survived on this burnt-flour gravy because it *looks* like you have made it with meat stock. Many thanks to my mom and my aunt for their help with these recipes!

Eva's Burnt-flour Gravy and Biscuits

Burnt-flour Gravy
Melt 2 tablespoons of lard over a low flame. Add 2 tablespoons of flour, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until it  turns brown. Slowly add water,  still stirring, until the gravy is the desired thickness. Add salt to taste.

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons lard
1/2 cup water

Mix flour and salt. Cut in lard using 2 knives. Add the water and mix to a
stiff dough. Kneed well. Roll to 1/2 inch thick and cut into small (1-1/2
inch) biscuits. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.


When Sarah first visits Christina, Christina's mother makes home-made guacamole and fried tortillas for them. Sarah has only seen guacamole from the grocery store and tortillas from a plastic bag, so she is very impressed with the home-made snack. Many thanks to Lisa Hernandez Collins for these recipes.

1 ripe avocado
1 T of lemon juice
pinch of salt

Slice the avocado, peel it, and discard the pit.  Mash the avocado in a bowl, using a fork or potato masher. Add the lemon juice and salt, stir.


corn tortillas
cooking oil

In a skillet, heat 1 T cooking oil over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the pan and fry on each side until just beginning to brown. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel.


One afternoon Sarah comes home and finds her brother Jerod sitting at the kitchen table snacking on peanut butter and bananas. He offers her a banana and a knife for the peanut butter. This is a replay of a scene from my childhood, when my brother, Daniel, discovered how delicious peanut butter and banana are together. It's a great after school snack. Below is a recipe for making this snack to share with a friend.

1 banana
1 1/2 T peanut butter

Peel and slice the banana. Lay the slices on a plate. Scoop a small blob of peanut butter onto each slice. Serve with toothpicks, or as finger food with napkins nearby.


Becky's Wild Snacks

Becky says that late-night snacks are one of the best things she and her Dad do together. I have been asked if I eat those crazy things she mentions: tuna fish and banana sandwiches or ham with mustard and peanut butter? Well . . . yes. Here is how these two combinations entered my diet:

Tunafish salad and bananas
When I was seventeen I was on a long road trip with some friends. I was in the back seat eating a banana, and someone in the front seat wanted a tuna sandwich. I got out the tuna, mixed in the mayonnaise, and started snacking on the tuna salad while I made the sandwich, in between bites of banana. It was a terrific combination, and I've been eating it ever since. If you want to try it, make the tuna salad simply--just mayonnaise and nothing else.

Ham, mustard and peanut butter sandwich
One day when I was about eighteen I was at my friend Ray's house, and he brought out bread, mustard, ham, cheese, lettuce and peanut butter. Teasing him, I said, "Ray, are you going to make a sandwich with ham, cheese, mustard, and peanut butter?" He rolled his eyes and said, "Of course not!" He took out two pieces of bread. "I'm going to make a sandwich with the ham, mustard and peanut butter, and eat the cheese separate." I laughed, thought he was kidding, and was stunned when he did just that. He had me taste the sandwich and . . . it was great. You spread a thin layer of peanut butter on one piece of bread, a thin layer of mustard on the other piece of bread, and put the ham in between. I dare you to try it.