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Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister, Nora Archibald Smith, have been our companions all summer long. While reading Kate's autobiography, My Garden of Memory and Nora's biography Kate Douglas Wiggin As Her Sister Knew Her, our home has been filled with dinner-table stories of Kate's early sallies into the Kindergarten movement, community theater at Quillcote's Barn, or her chance meeting with Charles Dickens on a New England train. We've quoted their quips and read long sections aloud to any passerby—quite as besotted with Kate and Nora as they were with Dickens. And we're about to engage in the same behaviors once more as we close out summer (though going back to school, whether home or abroad, however, couldn't be better than going in the company of Kate's characters—from the Carey children to Rebecca Randall and Emma Jane Perkins to Marm Lisa.) Here, however, we settle for a few "back to school" observations from Kate and Nora.
When speaking of Kate's childhood diary—so like Rebecca's in New Chronicles of Rebecca—Nora described it as flowing, adding young Kate "knew where to begin and left off when she had nothing more to say;" (an ability many high school English teachers wished their students possessed) "she had a sense of form and structure and she had, she really had, a style, if style, in the literary sense, means individual expression, a manner of saying and writing things which is one's own and gives a touch of personality to the printed page," and then this, though Nora herself was a lifelong educator: "You say that this would be impossible for a child not yet in her teens, but there you are mistaken. It is the years that smooth out our individuality as we are turned in the mangle of the schools; it is grown-people who are like one another, never babies."
A possibly painful "ouch" for anyone headed back to nine more months in "the mangle," though perhaps very salutary to the home-schooler!
Kate also observed concerning childhood "Those are the years that count the most. We learn much afterwards, and much of our originality is lost in the process…but the first ten years… do more for us than all the rest."
Kate and Nora, however, were constant learners whether in or out of a classroom and at any age. Kate cited one of her teachers at the Gorham Female Seminary (suspiciously like Wareham Female Seminary in the Rebecca books), Miss Mary Smith, (suspiciously like Miss Emily Maxwell also in the Rebecca books) as one of the four "great friendships that counted" in her life. Kate wrote in her autobiography that "under Miss Smith's tutelage my eyes saw new beauty on every side; she developed my natural love of books and taught me discrimination, gave me a fresh sense of harmony in words and opened my ear to poetry. I can tell very surely when I am being ‘lifted up' and shown a new and lasting vision, because I always feel a distinct sense of expansion. I believe that I grew under the influence of this dear friendship, although it lasted less than a year." So any mother sending her children back into a traditional school setting need not despair; especially as Kate also reminds us that "God must be grateful" to the Miss Maxwells in education "for their mothering of the hundreds."
Still, the true enrichment of education happens at home, whether after school or all day long. And a big part of that enrichment at our house—as equally delicious as a quotable quote—is the acquisition of some edible refinement. The very easy following recipe certainly moves to head of the luxuriant bit of that class, and, hopefully, isn't too sophisticated for a kindergartner, though a college student might appreciate it most.
Photograph by Elspeth Young; c2012
The recipe grows from my childhood-acquired adoration of prune yogurt (a story in itself). There's no sugar, unless in the form of a little drizzle or dollop of yogurt (continental yogurt for drizzle, Greek yogurt for dollop) which is totally dependent on personal taste—as is the amount of cinnamon, vanilla, and above all the choice of oil. I'm currently most in favor of chocolate-infused olive oil from Lucero, though their lemon oil is almost as nice. La Tourangelle's roasted walnut or hazelnut oils are also happy ingredients. Of course, the water can be increased to ½ cup and the oil can be skipped—but there's got to be more after-homework compensation than that, or why learn anything?
1 cup pitted prunes
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 to 5 teaspoons flavored oil
A pinch to ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Place prunes and water in a microwaveable bowl, and cook at high for 1½ to 2 minutes until quite soft, but not scorched. (Time will vary based on the power of the microwave oven and firmness of the prunes.) Toss the prunes and water into a blender or food processor along with the cinnamon and add 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of oil, adding more oil if necessary to create a smooth spread.
Serve with really good bread or really good crackers. Top with a little vanilla or honey-enhanced yogurt, if desired.
Meanwhile, we'll head on to Autumn in Milwaukee with the newlywed Willards, Kerrs, and Hutchinsons, and the unwavering Rays to be part of Betsy's Wedding.