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Children’s Author Tasha Tudor: Recipes Inspired by Her Pioneer-Like Life

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Tasha Tudor's house

Tasha Tudor's house

Who Was Tasha Tudor?

Tasha Tudor was born Starling Burgess in Boston, Massachusetts, the only child of a naval architect and a bohemian artist. When her parents divorced, nine-year-old Starling was sent away to live with family friends in rural Connecticut.

She took with her one gift from her father—his admiration for the novel War and Peace. This spurred him to give her the affectionate nickname Natasha. In time Natasha became Tasha.

Life in Connecticut

Tasha’s new family was large, loving, and decidedly unconventional—quite a shock to this proper little girl from Boston. She who was accustomed to strict Scottish nannies and hobnobbing with Boston society (Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain, and the Alcott's were family friends) was thrust into an unorthodox household where games of charades, marionette shows, and “running wild in the woods” were the norm.

She soon developed a love of times past and things rural, going to auctions to buy antique clothing before she was 10. At the age of 15, she used the money she had made teaching nursery school to buy her first cow.

Her education revolved around books. She and the other children were read to until 10 or 11 o’clock every evening—Scott, Dickens, Conan Doyle, and of course the books by Beatrix Potter. “I loved The Wind in the Willows.

However, one book, in particular, changed her life. One day she discovered Hugh Thompson’s illustrations for The Vicar of Wakefield, and she told herself “That’s what I’m going to do.” And so she did.

Her First Published Book

At the age of 23 Tasha married. The proceeds from her first book allowed her and her husband to purchase their first home, a spacious but quaint old farmhouse on 450 acres. Here they raised four children and both Thomas and Tasha wrote and published children’s books. But after 23 years of marriage, they went their separate ways. Tasha sold the family home and moved onto a tract of land in Vermont to be near her son Seth.

A Perfect Home in Vermont

Seth built his mother's home using only hand tools—much as a master craftsman would have done centuries ago. The design was drawn by Tasha, an exact replica of a 1740 house of a dear friend in Webster, New Hampshire.

Although constructed in the 1970s, the siding has weathered and the furnishings are true to those used in the 1830s. No one visiting would suspect that the house is not over 100 years old.

In this idyllic place, Tasha adored sharing food, crafts, and wisdom with family and friends. And there was always the annual Solstice garden party which featured platters of homegrown foods—deviled eggs, potato salad, brownies, and (of course) cake. Here are her famous recipes for Stillwater Punch and Hummingbird Cake, and my recipes inspired by Tasha.

Tasha's Stillwater Punch

Inspired by the Shakers of New England, Tasha and several friends invented a "religion" called Stillwater (which wasn't so much a religion as an excuse to get together, hold tea parties, and dress up in fancy, antique clothes).

"Stillwater connotes something very peaceful, you see, life without stress . . . Life is to be enjoyed, not saddled with. Joy is there for the taking. That's the first commandment of the Stillwater religion." (Tasha Tudor, The Private World of Tasha Tudor).

Every Midsummer's Eve, Tasha and her family had what they called a "Stillwater Party" that usually included a marionette show, a square dance, and a large bowl of cold, refreshing Stillwater Punch.

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Tasha's Hummingbird Cake

Tasha's Hummingbird Cake

Tasha's Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird cake is sweet (like the nectar for a hummingbird feeder?) and moist with crushed pineapple and bananas.

Deviled eggs

Deviled eggs

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

  • 6 hard-cooked large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Instructions

  1. Slice eggs in half lengthwise (from pole to pole).
  2. Carefully scoop out the yolks and place them in a small mixing bowl. Set the whites aside.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mash, mash, mash until the mixture is smooth and creamy. There should be no lumps.
  4. Equally divide the yolk filling and mound into the whites. You can use a spoon, or (make it fancy by) using a pastry bag and piping tip.

This is my recipe for a basic deviled egg dish. But, there's something perhaps just as important as seasoning those eggs. The eggs themselves must be flawless inside and out—perfectly peeled (don't let any of that white cling to the shell) and a solid yolk that isn't surrounded by the grey ring of horror.

The secret (of course) is all in how you cook the eggs. Use a map tack to pierce the rounded (not pointed) end of each egg before cooking. Don't worry, the egg won't break and the uncooked egg will not leak out of the hole. It's just a pinprick, but it's enough to allow the water to seep into the air sac and separate the membrane from the white.

Potato salad

Potato salad

Potato Salad

This recipe is adapted from the Classic Potato Salad by Betty Crocker. I have added sour cream, dill pickles, and minced radishes (my mom always included them in her potato salad).

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced red radish
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

Instructions

  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender (pierce with a sharp knife to test). Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Dice into 1-inch chunks. (You may remove the skin if you wish, but Yukons have very tender skin and so peeling is not necessary.)
  2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add potatoes, celery, onion, pickles, and radish. Toss to combine and coat evenly with the mayonnaise mixture. Stir in eggs and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours for the flavors to blend.
Dark chocolate salted brownies

Dark chocolate salted brownies

Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies

My recipe for chocolate brownies—dark, dense, and incredibly fudgy. I'm sure Tasha would approve.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 cubes)
  • 2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil—the ends of the foil should extend over two sides of the pan to use as "handles" to help remove the brownies from the pan once they are baked and cooled. Lightly butter the foil, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and sugar, and then whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly blended. Stir in the vanilla and flour.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the edges are set. The center will still be soft. While the brownies are still not, sprinkle the salt on the top and press gently so that it adheres to the top of the brownies. Let cool to room temperature, remove from the pan, and cut into squares.

The Legacy of Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor was an author, illustrator, weaver, quilter, dress designer, and seamstress. She spun her own wool, churned butter, made cheese, dipped candles, made jams and preserves, canned and pickled, and baked her own bread. She managed a menagerie of goats, hens, Corgi dogs, an almost countless number of small caged birds, and two beautiful grey parrots. She created dolls houses, miniatures, and marionettes. And if that were not enough, she wrote and or illustrated almost 100 children’s books. She frequently said that she was the reincarnation of a sea captain’s wife who lived from 1800 to 1840 or 1842 and that it was this earlier life she was replicating by living so ardently in the past. She died in her home on June 18, 2008, at the age of 92.

Hers was a life well-lived.

Sources

© 2022 Linda Lum

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