Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Next Big Thing... a railroad cookbook?

Welcome to The Next Best Thing blog hop! If you haven’t heard of this shin-dig happening over the blogosphere until now, consider yourself officially looped in and connected with the party!

I would like to thank Penny Ehrenkranz for letting me play a part. Every day Penny features new posts about writing and writers on her blog, so you may want to take a peek to see what is being offered up there.

Today is my blog’s day to be an active stop on the hop, which means I get to respond to a handful of questions. Next week, four other fantabulous authors will do the same, and I’ll point you in their direction at the end of this post. So, don’t go until you find yourself being introduced to new friends (because friends are a wonderful thing)! Take my word on that.

For now, I hope you’ll settle back, prop your feet, and take a little walk around the blog-hop with me.

What is the working title of your book?

Right now I’m leaning toward: The Roundhouse Cookbook, Recipes of a Railroad Housewife.

But I am definitely open to suggestions, so if you begin to feel shivers up and down your spine over an alternative idea, please feel free to send it my way!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My grandmother, Elizabeth Shade Kennedy, was the wife of a railroad engineer who managed the engine shops in Avis, Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Her husband’s shop was responsible for maintaining and fixing all the engines operating on the NYC line. Most workers at that time rode the rails into these outlying, rural areas from their homes in the cities. Given the travel time and length of the trip, these workers often counted on boarding houses to supply them with a roof over their head and meals during the week while they earned a living. My grandmother offered them this type of home away from home, and kept a cookery journal of her recipes while doing so. When Charles William Kennedy died tragically in 1920, Elizabeth became a single mother and sole provider for her family. Her boarding house became a means for survival for herself and her five young sons. Luckily, her house was large enough to do so. The boys were moved to the 3rd floor, while two other rooms on the second were rented out. This did not mean she only had 2 boarders. Apparently, boarders shared rooms and many found a meal at Elizabeth’s table. It is reported that she served daily meals / dinner for at least 15 people three times a day.

What genre does your book fall under?

The wonderful world of cookbooks!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Yes, it has happened before—movies made from cookbooks. Although such a scenario is highly unlikely, I suspect veteran movie-goers wouldn’t mind watching Helen Mirren be a mother-hen for the railroad workers who depend on her kitchen and sage advice as the world unfolds along the steel lines expanding out into new territories around them. Of course, if this would be filmed as a family saga, I believe Sandra Bullock or Drew Barrymore would be great in representing a strong woman who raised a family of five boys and survived hardships despite losing a husband and two young daughters. I love the depth of talent of these actors.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A taste of history, from a period when the heart of America pushed through and rose above some of the toughest challenges of our time.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Given that this is a niche cookbook, and a labor of love, my mother and I are self-publishing this book together. She has done an incredible job doing research into the historical background of many of the recipes, while I have done the layout and design.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Too long. I’ve had a working copy of the recipes ready for years, but it was continually side-lined by other projects. It wasn’t until I brought my mother on board that this project was given wings. Not only is she an amazing and talented cook, she has been able to help dig into the background of the recipes, evolution of American kitchens, and snippets of  American history that have really helped shape this cookery journal. When we are finished we will publish a nugget that offers a glimpse of rural American life that shaped our country through the Great Depression and the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My grandmother, Martha Grugan Kennedy. After the publication of my first cookbook, The Book Lover’s Cookbook, Recipes from Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them, which was co-authored with Janet Kay Jenson and published by Ballantine (2003), she said, “Did you know your talent and love for cooking runs in your blood?” She showed me my great-grandmother’s cookery journal, which I had never seen before. That journal contained gems of recipes—recipes like Railroad Cake, Mountain Cake, Homemade English Muffins, and Elderberry Wine (and to think she lived through Prohibition!)

I became so excited by the contents of her journal, I knew I wanted to share these recipes with others who have a passion for history, railroading, and the steadfast resolve of people who persevere through difficult times.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Many of Elizabeth’s recipes for salsas and sauces call for “mangos.”  These are not the fruit mangos that can be found in supermarkets.  According to our research, use of the word “mango” was ascribed to green bell peppers. This use originated with the coal miners in Pennsylvania.  When I first saw these recipes, I asked my grandmother what a mango was because I doubted the mango fruit would have been available in Avis in the 1920s, nor would it have been used in a spicy tomato sauce back then. My grandmother responded to me as if I were dumb and nuts. “Don’t you know what a mango is?” Apparently, the original reference was lost on me. But in the 1887 edition of The Original White House Cook Book, there is a recipe for Green Pepper Mangos which describes the green bell pepper perfectly wherein the seeds of the pepper are removed and the vegetable is filled with a mixture for baking.
I can’t wait until our cookbook is published! It will probably be ready before the 2012 holiday season.

Next week, stay tuned for more posts in The Next Big Thing blog hop.  Watch for posts on Oct 31st from these authors!


  1. Shaunda, I love the concept of our cookbook! I def want to know when it's out. My mother-in-law would really enjoy it!

    Maybe you should write a companion short story in a blog when the book comes out to spark the imagination. Would love to see the railroad house come to life with a pot on the stove from the cookbook. Best of luck with your new book!

  2. great idea, KJ! I shall try that. Thanks!

  3. I cannot wait for this book! A movie made from a cookbook is Julia and Julia (did I get both names right?) which has been very successful. This is not just a cookbook - it's a biography and a history as well.

  4. thanks, Janet! food for thought.... food for thought ;)