Kathryn Stockett, 2009
Penguin Group USA
Summary from the Publisher
“Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t. ”
Last evening’s book club discussion was centered around the above-mentioned book “The Help”, followed by a screening of the movie. Everyone agreed that both, the book and the movie, encourages you to reflect on a time and place in history that seemed so unimaginable by today’s standards of how black people were treated. In the past fifty years, some progress has been made but as a society we still have a ways to go. Teaching our children the importance of accepting all races and colours may seem easy enough by setting examples at home and through discussion but it’s real life experiences that appear to leave the greatest impression. As portrayed in The Help, children at a very young age instinctively know about acceptance through the love they feel from their caregivers, regardless of their colour – Aibileen reinforced to Mae Mobley every day – “you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
On a lighter note, it’s always special when food plays an important role in every story. In the book/movie we are amused by Minny and her now infamous “Chocolate Pie” and the many uses for Crisco-besides it being a great fat for frying chicken (although I’m not sure our health-care specialists would agree to that today). A beautiful table is set with a spiral ham, greens, vegetables and jellied salad lovingly prepared by Ms. Celia who was taught to cook by Minny. Lastly, a warm caramel cake makes an appearance every now and then in the book. I decided to look up a recipe for Caramel Cake to bring to our book club gathering and here is what I found from http://www.epicurious.com – it was an easy,quick cake to make and every bite was scrumptious.
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
For caramel glaze
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.
Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.
Cooks’ note: Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature