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“Our Friday night book club became a refuge to us, a private freedom to feel the world growing darker all around you but need only a candle to see new worlds unfold.” –The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
There are times when you read a book that just makes you smile and that’s completely the case with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Also, what better way to start off a book club than to choose a story about a writer bonding with the residents of Guernsey as she learns about the book club they formed during the WWII German occupation. It’s a lovely story about how books can serve as a bond and can bring comfort even in the darkest of times.
“None of us had any experience of literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns to speak about the books we’d read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves. Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight. We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.” -The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which was first published in 2008 has two authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The primary author Mary Ann Shaffer, an American and former librarian, had originally planned to write a biography about Kathleen Scott, the wife of the English polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. In 1976, her research for the book took her to Cambridge, England, where she became discouraged finding the Scott’s personal papers were nearly unusable. Putting aside her frustration, she decided to spend some time in England visiting Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Unfortunately, as soon as she arrived at the airport it was shut down due to heavy fog. While waiting for the fog to lift Shaffer visited the airport’s bookshop and began reading a collection of histories of the German occupation of the islands during World War II. One book that she came across in particular, Jersey Under the Jack-Boot, grabbed her attention and Shaffer’s fascination with the Channel Islands began.
Image Credit: Random House
Shaffer many years later, naturally thought of Guernsey when encouraged by her own book club to write a book, then the idea of writing an epistolary novel, which is a novel written as a series of documents, came to her. The manuscript was greeted by her family, her writing group, publishers around the world with eager enthusiasm, recognizing the book as a true gem.
But why is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society credited to two authors? Shortly after the manuscript was sold, Shaffer’s health declined and her niece, Annie Burrows, a successful author, took on the task of editing the book. Sadly, Shaffer passed away in early 2008 without seeing her book in print.
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“Why did a roast-pig dinner have to be kept a secret? How could a pig cause you to begin a literary society? And, most pressing of all, what is a potato peel pie – and why is it included in your name?” -Juliet Ashton
Set in Britain’s post-war reconstruction in 1946, the story opens with successful writer, Juliet Ashton suffering from a combination of writer’s block and post-traumatic stress from living through the Blitz years in London. Then a letter from a stranger, who was a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, sets in motion an extraordinary tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as remarkable as its name.
A blossoming correspondence with Dawsey Adams begins after he explains that he acquired a book Juliet once owned and enquires whether she knows of a bookshop in England where he can buy another title by the same author. Over time Juliet feels drawn to the island, to Dawsey, the other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society people and their stories of the war years. Juliet accepts an invitation to attend one of their literary meetings. However, the stories shared in letters during the correspondence did not tell the whole story of the island’s struggle under German occupation and how, or why, the Society was formed and how it acquired its name.
The Society at first, was a cover for the killing, cooking and consumption of a contraband pig. Over time, however, the Society had become a focal point of resistance to the anxiety of occupation, where members could feel free to speak their minds about literature, even as their meager rations led to the eating of potato peel pie at their evening gatherings. More secrets are shared and revealed to Juliet by the Society and as she learns the truth behind the disappearance of one of the Society members she begins to question her own feelings for the fiancé she left behind in London. Juliet feels a true kindship with the people of Guernsey who have captured her heart, especially Dawsey.
“Miss Isola Pribby, another neighbor, provided the gin, which makes herself, along with other herbal remedies and home cures.”
This is a story that inspires a longing for books, food and Gin! Why Gin? During the war alcohol was scarce but in the book, member Isola has a stock of home-brewed liquor to help keep the Society’s spirits up. Guernsey was finally liberated on 9th May 1945, five years after the occupation began and that was a lot of time for Isola to distill and infuse a plethora of gin with flavors gleaned from the island.
“..and lives in a glorious little cottage, ceiling strung with drying herbs; her very own apothecary.”The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“I’ve seen enough. I need a drink.” -The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
To pay tribute to Isola and her homemade Gin, I am sharing some of my favorite cocktail recipes made with JAZ Spirit Craft Gins. On my last blog post, Embracing Nature with JAZ Spirits I shared more about this Oregon Distillery and the Owner/Distiller Faith Dionne.
“..her tote is filled with homemade gin-filled bottles.”The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
This is not a new cocktail recipe, but the addition of Cold Tree Gin with it’s smoked spice flavor simply elevates this classic to a whole new level of fabulousness. Add a slice of blood orange and this is a cocktail that would liven up any book discussion.
Cold Tree Gin Aperol Spritz
In a large cocktail or wine glass pour in the Cold Tree Gin, Aperol and Well Chilled Prosecco. Stir gently, then garnish with a slice of blood orange.
The combination of Rosemary, blackberry and lime perfectly compliment the robust botanical aromas and flavors of this JAZ Spirits Riverain Dry Gin. A delicious fruity cocktail that will certainly ‘Jaz’ up your next book club get together.
Many years ago my good friend and roommate Ann and I would choose a book and read it at the same time, our own small book club, then we planned a meal to share that highlighted food from that title to enjoy as we discussed the book. I remember a special Mexican meal that we made for the book “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel and how we invited other friends to join us. It didn’t matter that they had not read the book, we just wanted to share our homemade creations and the spend night chatting with them while we ate and sipped Margaritas. With Drink In Life Book Club, I will be sharing recipes each month, inspired by the book to give you some ideas of a special dinner you can make when you have finished the book or to create and share with your own in person book club. I hope you enjoy these Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society inspired recipes.
The residents of Guernsey Island faced confiscation of property and food, as well as restrictions on certain goods during the five-year German Occupation. Fresh meat and other pantry staples were difficult to come by yet the resilient people of Guernsey did what they could to feed themselves, including hiding food from the Germans. In Dawsey’s first letter to Juliet he writes;
“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being because of a roast pig we had to keep secret from the German soldiers.”
In the movie version there are scenes where the character of Eben Ramsey says, “Sweetest pork I’ve ever tasted, Dawsey!” and you see Dawsey pulling that roasted pig out of the oven in a flashback. I hope that these pork chops would bring out the same reaction. I paired these pork chops with some oven roasted carrots.
Fun Fact: In the book, the offering of the Potato Peel Pie was not shall we say, edible. In the movie version of the book there is a great scene where Juilet is literally gagging on this pie. The recipe for the original pie, is available on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book website. This very sad pie contains just a potato, a beet, and a drop of milk, it is authentic to the World War II occupation and how difficult it was to find food to eat on the island during this time.
“A party without cake is just a meeting.”Julia Child
If you are looking for a cocktail to pair with the Gin Thyme Apple Cake try a Raspberry Gin Spritzer.
Fill up a rocks glass with ice. Add the gin, raspberry liqueur and lime juice. Top with soda water. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy!
I hope that I have inspired you to make some of these cocktails and recipes to enjoy while you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Stay tuned for a few new recipes!
I would love to hear your thoughts on these recipes and the book. Cheers everyone and I hope to see you soon at the first Drink In Life Book Club discussion.
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