If you love a story about how the generations before us shape us, you will love this one. If you like the recipes for the foods included to add an extra dimension to the tales, you will love it even more.
Burnt Toast Make You Sing Good
A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family
by Kathleen Flinn
Kathleen Flinn was a child of the 70’s… The era when things seemed simpler, children were sent out into the neighborhood darkness to play or to trick-or-treat alone for hours, and many mothers were mixing up Tang and heating foil-covered tv dinners in their ovens. In Flinn’s household, this was not the case, because her parents were raising four children on a very tight budget. For example, one story in the memoir shares how, along with raising children, they were raising hundreds of chickens. The Flinn family did not have money to spend on prepared meals and processed food. They got farm-fresh eggs and chickens from their coop. Eating real food seemed like a hardship to the Flinn children at the time, but Kathleen explains how it contributed to her love of cooking with real, fresh ingredients.
Flinn’s grandfather found his calling when he was drafted in 1918 and was trained as the Army base cook. He was a “born cook,” and excelled at training and managing kitchen staff. Following his Army days, he always kept a garden and raised chickens on his small Michigan farm. He was famous for his chili, which he learned to cook in Texas, and was interesting and spicy. He fed many neighborhood children the exotic-for-the-times chili…especially any that seemed particularly hungry. The recipe for Mich-Mex Chili is included in the book.
Flinn’s spitfire grandmother, Inez, resisted purchasing a toaster because she had a “perfectly good oven.” She would line up slices of her delicious homemade bread on the racks of her oven, get distracted, and burn at least half of it. Her quote was always the same as the book’s title. “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good.” She added, “Everyone knows that!”
Flinn’s parents were honest risk takers, who spent no money unless they owed no one money, and taught their children to work hard and be happy with little. Thrift shop shopping was the norm, and the children were all used to secondhand. Food was grown or raised at home, and a lot of it was canned for future use. The family still found ways to enjoy time together with affordable hobbies like fishing and camping…even simple board games. And there was always food involved! They learned that generosity is important, because “there is always someone worse off than you.”
From a grandmother who arrived from Sweden with one suitcase, to a generous ex-Army cook, to parents who were not afraid to risk a start-up restaurant in California, or keep (and regularly butcher!) a flock of chickens in the Michigan countryside, Flinn learned to be “tough, passionate, and endlessly optimistic.” And she learned to love to cook. These gifts from the special generations before her lead her, at the end of the book, to take a big leap of faith of her own. But you’ll have to read it to find out what that was! You’ll also have to read the book if you want to experience some of the Flinn family’s simple but tasty recipes…homemade noodles, jam, buttermilk coffee cake, and even Midwest “Goulash.”
Flinn has several great books available, including another of this writer’s favorites, Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Check her out!