I really loved Bloodroot by Amy Greene. It was totally engrossing and transported me to the world of Bloodroot mountain in Appalachia. The book is eerie, disturbing and beautifully written. The book takes place on Bloodroot mountain, which was named after the rare flower that grows there. According to wikipedia, it is a perennial flowering plant, which has a white flower and dark roots that when you cut open, ooze a dark red colored sap. We learn about bloodroot early in the book and the dark underside of the bloodroot serves to set the dark tone of the book. I had a hard time deciding what to make, red velvet cake seemed to upbeat, beet ravioli seemed so removed from the Tennessee setting of the book. So in the end I decided on making some corn muffins with a hidden pocket of dark fruit of the forest preserves. These were a super quick and easy recipe that would be especially good in the summer when you can use fresh corn.
Amy Greene's Bloodroot is a mystical, dark tale of one family's hard living and back luck on Bloodroot Mountain. The story is told from several different perspectives, but the focus of the book is Myra Odom, a girl/woman with "haint" blue eyes and the power to draw people to her. Greene divides the novel into several sections, each defined by the narrators. We first hear from Myra's grandmother Byrdie, whose narrative was soulful and charming. Byrdie sets the somewhat foreboding tone of the book, hinting from the start that something bad happens in Myra's life, but not quite fully fleshing out the narrative. That is the method that Greene uses throughout the book - telling the story from multiple perspectives, none of them telling the whole story, but each telling what they went through. I really liked this effect. The first part of the book is also narrated by Doug, another boy who lives on Bloodroot mountain is in love with Myra and is bitter as she drifts away as a result of her relationship with the handsome but bad John Odom. We never hear the story from John Odom, Myra's teenage lover and eventual husband and tormentor, but his role in the book is somewhat like J.R. from Dallas - you know that season which was dominated by "Who shot J.R.?" to some extent the theme that drives this book forward is - what happened to John Odom? The second part of the book is narrated by Myra's twins - son Johnny Odom and daughter Laura. Through the twins we learn of Myra's descent into mental illness after their father disappears and the effect of this on the twins. The third section of the book is narrated by Myra herself. At this point, we have heard about Myra from the people that love her most in the world. I really loved the Myra section of the book because it was truly poetic. She has such a mystical, mixed up voice. Finally, in the epilogue we hear from John Odom and to some extent the mysteries of the book are cleared up. As I said before, this book has a really foreboding and dark tone, which really stayed with me after I finished it. It was one of those books I was really sad when it was over.
Berry Secret Corn Muffins (makes 12)
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Corniest Corn Muffins Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons corn oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned) (I used canned, next time I would use fresh or frozen).
About 1/2 cup dark berry preserves (I used a kind called "fruit of the forest" which evoked the spirit of the book)
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 and put rack in center of oven. Butter or spray a standard 12 muffin tin. In a large bowl, which together the dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.
In a glass measuring dish or bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted and cooled butter, egg and egg yolk together until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk or mix until just combined, it will be lumpy.
Add the corn and mix in.
Add a little less than a 1/3 of a cup of batter to each muffin cup. Then add about a teaspoon of preserves in the middle of each muffin. Top each muffin with more batter so that the preserves are no longer visible.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until lightly browned on top and a thin knive inserted into the side of the muffin (the non jelly part) comes out clean. As you can see, my muffins did not have that nice puffed up crown, I am not sure if this is because of the jam or some other deficiency. While these were not a visual wow they were really delicious. The muffins themselves are not too sweet, so the addition of the jam really takes them to another place. Let cool on the rack in the pan for 5 minutes than remove from the pan and let cool completely.