Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train tells the story of two orphan women in two very different times - the depression and the present day. The present day girl, Molly, is a troubled girl in foster care in Maine who is not technically an orphan but whose mother is a drug addict. Molly is a year away from her eighteenth birthday and biding her time in an unhappy home with a couple who have clearly taken her in for the money. She gets caught stealing Jane Eyre from the local library and as public service has to assist a rich old lady, Vivian, organize her attic. Vivian is unlike anyone Molly has met before and through the process of going through Vivian's boxes and boxes of stuff, realizes Vivian was also left to fend for herself as a child. The book alternates between Vivian's childhood story and the present, where Molly and Vivian form a deep bond. It's Vivian story that really captures the reader. Vivian was born Niamh in Ireland and her family emigrated to New York City in the late 1920s when she was a young girl. Her family was killed in a tenement fire and Niamh was placed on an "orphan train" to the Midwest. These things really existed during the depression - poor, mostly immigrant orphans thrown on a train and sent to the midwest in search of permanent homes. As a slightly older, red-headed Irish girl, Niamh had difficulty being placed and tragedy and misfortune followed her to Minnesota. As you can imagine, she suffered hardship upon hardship in her quest to just grow up normally. She eventually finds some stability, her name now changed to Vivian, but her heartache continues. This is one of those books where you can't believe that so many bad things can happen to one person. Molly, after hearing Vivian's story, becomes the link between her present and past and the book, as "book club" books tend to do, wraps up in a neat little bow. Sometimes you need that, and that is why I found this book so enjoyable - trajedy, adversity, redemption and love - it is the stuff great stories are made of.
Strawberry and Rhubarb Tart, (adapted from here )
In the book, there is very little joy in young Niamh's life. As she deals with the isolation and coldness of her life as an orphan, she remembers how nice it was to have family around her in Ireland - specifically her grandparents. In particular she remembers sitting with her Nan and her warm home, eating current bread or a rhubarb tart. I tossed in a few local strawberries because they were so cute and irresistible. The recipe below is from an Irish website - I am not sure who this Donald Skehan is, but he looks like the adorable missing member of One Direction - so it the measurements are metric. If you have a kitchen scale (which I suggest you use when baking) it is easy to follow these measurements. If you don't, I suggest this nifty thing called google, which will figure out all the conversions for you. This was a really easy dough to work with, and is sturdy enough for a free form tart with summer fruit, so mix it up as you see fit!
Ingredients (this made 5 small tarts)
250g all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
170g very cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
80ml ice water
4-6 stalks rhubarb, chopped into medium sized chunks.
1 cup small strawberries, cut in half or quartered
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.
- Using a pastry blender or your hands (my choice), cut the butter into flour until the crumbs are the size of peas. Transfer this to a large bowl and make a well in the center of the crumb.
- In another small bowl, beat together the egg, vinegar and water. Add the well in the flour mixture.
- Use two forks, toss the flour mixture into the egg mixture until it forms a dough. I finished this up with my hands. Don't overwork the dough, you want it to just come together.
- Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Cool for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator.
- When you are ready to roll out the dough, toss together the fruit, sugar and flour. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove dough and portion into how many tarts you want - 5/6 small tarts, 2 medium tarts or 1 large tart.
- Roll out tart on a floured board with a floured rolling pin. The dough should get 1/8 inch thick. Roll it into a circle shaped.
- Mound the fruit in the center of each circle and fold over the fruit, about 1-2 inches of the fruit should be covered by dough.
- Place the tarts on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25 - 35 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned and the fruit bubbles.