Sep 242018

Today is the birthday (1896) of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, a writer whose works have come to represent the culture of the Jazz Age (1920s and 30s) in the US. While he achieved limited success in his lifetime, he is now widely regarded as one of the most significant North American writers of the 20th century. He finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Four collections of his short stories were published, as well as 164 short stories in magazines during his lifetime. To be plain spoken, I don’t like Fitzgerald’s work any more than I like that of his close contemporaries, Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Their writing does not resonate with me, undoubtedly because I am not a fan of US culture, even though I lived there for 35 years. I was happy to escape when I retired 9 years ago, and will likely never return. Normally, when I post about a writer, I include a section of quotes at the end of the post, but here I will not, because Fitzgerald wrote nothing that I find memorable. That said, I recognize that his novels are popular, and Great Gatsby has been made into well received movies twice. So, he is worth a tip of the hat.

Fitzgerald was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle-class family, and was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed on his father’s side, Francis Scott Key. He was also named after his deceased sister, Louise Scott Fitzgerald, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. He later wrote: “Well, three months before I was born, my mother lost her other two children … I think I started then to be a writer.” His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was of Irish and English ancestry, and had moved to St. Paul from Maryland after the American Civil War, and was described as “a quiet gentlemanly man with beautiful Southern manners.” His mother was Mary “Molly” McQuillan Fitzgerald, the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had made his fortune in the wholesale grocery business.

Scott Fitzgerald spent the first decade of his childhood primarily in Buffalo, New York, occasionally in West Virginia (1898–1901 and 1903–1908) where his father worked for Procter & Gamble, with a short interlude in Syracuse, New York, (between January 1901 and September 1903). Edward Fitzgerald had earlier worked as a wicker furniture salesman; he joined Procter & Gamble when the business failed. His parents, both Catholic, sent Fitzgerald to two Catholic schools on the West Side of Buffalo, first Holy Angels Convent (1903–1904) and then Nardin Academy (1905–1908). His formative years in Buffalo showed him to be an intelligent boy with a keen early interest in literature. In a rather unconventional style of parenting, Fitzgerald attended Holy Angels with the peculiar arrangement that he go for only half a day—and was allowed to choose which half.

In 1908, his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, and the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908 to 1911. When he was 13, he saw his first piece of writing appear in print—a detective story published in the school newspaper. In 1911, when Fitzgerald was 15 years old, his parents sent him to the Newman School, a prestigious Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. Fitzgerald played on the 1912 Newman football team. At Newman, he met Father Sigourney Fay, who noticed his incipient talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions.

After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to continue his artistic development at Princeton University. He tried out for the college football team, but was cut the first day of practice. He firmly dedicated himself at Princeton to honing his craft as a writer, and became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Nassau Lit, and the Princeton Tiger. He was also involved in the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which ran the Nassau Lit. His absorption in the Triangle—a kind of musical-comedy society—led to his submission of a novel to Charles Scribner’s Sons where the editor praised the writing but ultimately rejected the book. Four of the University’s eating clubs sent him bids at midyear, and he chose the University Cottage Club (where Fitzgerald’s desk and writing materials are still displayed in its library) known as “the ‘Big Four’ club that was most committed to the ideal of the fashionable gentleman.”

Fitzgerald’s writing pursuits at Princeton came at the expense of his coursework, however, causing him to be placed on academic probation, and in 1917 he dropped out of university to join the Army. During the winter of 1917, Fitzgerald was stationed at Fort Leavenworth and was a student of future United States President and General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower whom he intensely disliked. Worried that he might die in the War with his literary dreams unfulfilled, Fitzgerald hastily wrote The Romantic Egotist in the weeks before reporting for duty—and, although Scribner’s rejected it, the reviewer noted his novel’s originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future.

Ginevra King

It was while attending Princeton that Fitzgerald met Chicago socialite and debutante Ginevra King on a visit back home in St. Paul. Immediately infatuated with her, according to Mizner, Fitzgerald “remained devoted to Ginevra as long as she would allow him to,” and wrote to her “daily the incoherent, expressive letters all young lovers write.” She would become his inspiration for the character of Isabelle Borgé, Amory Blaine’s first love in This Side of Paradise, for Daisy in The Great Gatsby, and several other characters in his novels and short stories.


Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama. While at a country club, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre, a daughter of Alabama Supreme Court justice Anthony D. Sayre and the “golden girl”, in Fitzgerald’s terms, of Montgomery society. The war ended in 1918, before Fitzgerald was ever deployed. Upon his discharge he moved to New York City hoping to launch a career in advertising that would be lucrative enough to persuade Zelda to marry him. He worked for the Barron Collier advertising agency, living in a single room at 200 Claremont Avenue in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side.

Zelda accepted his marriage proposal, but after some time and despite working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince her that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement. Fitzgerald returned to his parents’ house at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill, in St. Paul, to revise The Romantic Egotist, recast as This Side of Paradise, a semi-autobiographical account of Fitzgerald’s undergraduate years at Princeton. Fitzgerald was so short of money that he took up a job repairing car roofs. His revised novel was accepted by Scribner’s in late 1919 and was published on March 26th, 1920 and became an instant success, selling 41,075 copies in the first year. It launched Fitzgerald’s career as a writer and provided a steady income suitable to Zelda’s needs. They resumed their engagement and were married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. Their daughter and only child, Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald, was born on October 26th, 1921.

Subsequently, Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, mostly Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the US expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway was quite effusive, but Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda,and in addition to describing her as “insane” in his memoir A Moveable Feast, Hemingway claimed that Zelda “encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Fitzgerald from his work on his novel,” so he could work on the short stories he sold to magazines to help support their lifestyle. Like most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Weekly, and Esquire, and sold his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. This “whoring,” as Fitzgerald and, subsequently, Hemingway called these sales, was a sore point in the two authors’ friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an ‘authentic’ manner, then rewrite them to put in the “twists that made them into salable magazine stories.”

Although Fitzgerald’s passion lay in writing novels, only his first novel sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. (The Great Gatsby, now considered to be his masterpiece, did not become popular until after Fitzgerald’s death.) Because of this lifestyle, as well as the bills from Zelda’s medical care when they came, Fitzgerald was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins. Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In February 1932, she was hospitalized at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. During this time, Fitzgerald rented the “La Paix” estate in the suburb of Towson, Maryland to work on his latest book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries Nicole Warren, one of his patients. The book went through many versions, the first of which was to be a story of matricide. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald’s problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism.

Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his “material” (i.e., their life together). When Zelda wrote and sent to Scribner’s her own fictional version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and was able to make some changes prior to the novel’s publication, and convince her doctors to keep her from writing any more about what he called his “material,” which included their relationship. His book was finally published in 1934 as Tender Is the Night. Critics who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about the novel. Most were thrown off by its three-part structure and many felt that Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. The novel did not sell well upon publication but, like the earlier Gatsby, the book’s reputation has since risen significantly. Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and financial difficulties, in addition to Zelda’s mental illness, made for difficult years in Baltimore. He was hospitalized nine times at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his friend H. L. Mencken noted in a 1934 letter that “The case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance.”

In 1926, Fitzgerald was invited by producer John W. Considine, Jr., to temporarily relocate to Hollywood in order to write a flapper comedy for United Artists. Scott and Zelda moved into a studio-owned bungalow in January of the following year and Fitzgerald soon met and began an affair with Lois Moran. The starlet became a temporary muse for the author and he rewrote Rosemary Hoyt, one of the central characters in Tender is the Night, (who had been a male in earlier drafts) to closely mirror her. The trip exacerbated the couple’s marital difficulties, and they left Hollywood after two months. In the ensuing years, Zelda became increasingly violent and emotionally distressed, and in 1936, Fitzgerald had her placed in the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheila Graham

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald continued to struggle financially and entered into a lucrative exclusive deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1937, that necessitated him moving to Hollywood, where he earned his highest annual income up to that point: around $30,000. He also began a high-profile live-in affair with movie columnist Sheilah Graham. The projects Fitzgerald worked on included two weeks’ unused dialog work on loanout to David Selznick for Gone with the Wind, and, for MGM, revisions on Madame Curie, for which he received no credits. His only screenplay credit is for Three Comrades (1938). He also spent time during this period working on his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, based on film executive Irving Thalberg. In 1939, MGM terminated the contract, and Fitzgerald became a freelance screenwriter. During his work on Winter Carnival, Fitzgerald went on an alcoholic binge and was treated by New York psychiatrist Richard H. Hoffmann.

From 1939 until his death in 1940, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as “The Pat Hobby Stories,” which garnered many positive reviews. The Pat Hobby Stories were originally published in Esquire between January 1940 and July 1941, even after Fitzgerald’s death. US Census records show his official address at this time to be the estate of Edward Everett Horton in Encino, California in the San Fernando Valley.

Fitzgerald became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking which undermined his health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda’s biographer, Nancy Milford, Fitzgerald claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis, but Milford dismisses it as a pretext to cover his drinking problems. However, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli contends that Fitzgerald did in fact have recurring tuberculosis, and according to Milford, Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener said that Fitzgerald suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and in 1929 he had “what proved to be a tubercular hemorrhage.” Some have said that the writer’s hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices.

Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in the late 1930s. After the first, in Schwab’s Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion. He moved in with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Avenue, one block east of Fitzgerald’s apartment on North Laurel Avenue.  Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to climb to his apartment; Graham’s was on the ground floor. On the night of December 20th, 1940, Fitzgerald and Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. As the two were leaving the Pantages Theater, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving the theater; upset, he said to Graham, “They think I am drunk, don’t they?”

The following day, as Fitzgerald ate a chocolate bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, gasp, and fall to the floor. She ran to the manager of the building, Harry Culver, founder of Culver City. Upon entering the apartment to assist Fitzgerald, he stated, “I’m afraid he’s dead.” Fitzgerald had died of a heart attack at age 44. Dr. Clarence H. Nelson, Fitzgerald’s physician, signed the death certificate. Fitzgerald’s body was moved to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary.

Among the attendees at a visitation held at a funeral home was Dorothy Parker, who reportedly cried and murmured “the poor son-of-a-bitch,” a line from Jay Gatsby’s funeral in The Great Gatsby. His body was transported to Maryland, where his funeral was attended by twenty or thirty people in Bethesda; among the attendees were his only child, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith (then age 19), and his editor, Maxwell Perkins.

One might celebrate Fitzgerald with a Jazz Age cocktail, I suppose. This was the era of Prohibition when speakeasies serving elaborate alcoholic concoctions were all the rage. Fitzgerald’s drink of choice was gin, and there are plenty of recipes for cocktails with gin if that’s your pleasure. Maybe a gin Rickey: gin, fresh lime juice, and a splash of club soda. I don’t drink alcohol, so I will recommend a dish that is healthier than a cocktail, and probably not to Fitzgerald’s tastes, although it was born in his era: Cobb salad. Salad dressings, for me the bane of US “cuisine”, including, French, Russian, Thousand Island, etc. reached their pinnacle of popularity in the Jazz Age, and have never quite relinquished center stage in North America for reasons I cannot fathom. I will always prefer a good quality olive oil on my salads, and nothing else. The salad ingredients should speak for themselves and not be drowned in goop. Enter the Cobb salad. The Cobb salad is named for Robert Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby in Hollywood. The salad was reputedly invented by Cobb himself in 1937 when he was in the restaurant kitchen around midnight, and, being hungry, put together some avocado, cooked bacon, and leftovers from the evening meals to make the salad. But, other sources suggest that the salad was the idea of Robert Kreis or Paul Posti, both executive chefs at one time or another at the Brown Derby. Either way, the salad became a signature dish of the restaurant. Properly made, a Cobb salad consists of chopped salad greens (iceberg lettuce, watercress, endive and romaine lettuce), tomato, crisp bacon, cooked chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, chives, Roquefort cheese, and red-wine vinaigrette. I’ll give you a couple of photos so that you have the right idea. You don’t need more than that for a recipe.

Oct 032017

Today is the birthday (1900) of Thomas Clayton Wolfe renowned US novelist of the early 20th century. His contemporary, William Faulkner, said that Wolfe may have been the greatest talent of their generation for aiming higher than any other writer. Wolfe has a wide legacy, with influence on the likes of Jack Kerouac, He is certainly North Carolina’s most famous writer. Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, whose succinct writing style and manly voice were in many ways the opposite of Wolfe’s lumbering and ruminating style, dismissed Wolfe as “the over bloated Li’l Abner of American letters.”

The above quote epitomizes why I don’t care for Wolfe nor the plaudits of “those who know.” Sure, the prose is entertaining, but the sentiment is not anywhere near as universal as Wolfe or others would have it. “All things on earth”? Seriously??? Late October in North Carolina is certainly homecoming time for churches, schools, and families. Homecoming at the local Baptist church in the town in the Tidewater where I lived for a year doing field research was a huge event with a massive Brunswick stew that took 3 days to make and was the talk of the region. But that’s North Carolina, not the whole world.  Wolfe’s works are all autobiographical fiction and have a few generalizable themes and rich prose. But, as with Faulkner, you’re going to miss a lot if you don’t know the Old South. I’m not a huge fan of the Old South (which for some reason won’t die), so I don’t relate to Wolfe’s insufferably endless books. He is, of course, revered at UNC Chapel Hill where he was an undergraduate, and a major part of the library is a repository for his papers. I’m pretty sure he would have been both proud and derisive of the reverence.

The one thing I do admire unequivocally about Wolfe is his passion for and devotion to writing. He was a thinker, talker, and writer all rolled into one.  That’s because the three go together (often – not always). I don’t have the disease to the same extent as Wolfe but I know the feeling. I shape my thoughts (about everything) by talking and writing.

Wolfe was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the youngest of eight children of William Oliver Wolfe (1851–1922) and Julia Elizabeth Westall (1860–1945). The Wolfes lived at 92 Woodfin Street, where Tom was born. His father, a successful stone carver, ran a gravestone business. His mother took in boarders and was active in acquiring real estate. In 1904, she opened a boarding house in St. Louis, for the World’s Fair. In 1906 Julia Wolfe bought a boarding house named “Old Kentucky Home” at nearby 48 Spruce Street in Asheville, taking up residence there with her youngest son while the rest of the family remained at the Woodfin Street residence. Wolfe lived in the boarding house on Spruce Street until he went to college in 1916. It is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Wolfe was closest to his brother Ben, whose early death at age 26 is chronicled in Look Homeward, Angel. Julia Wolfe bought and sold many properties, eventually becoming a successful real estate speculator.

Wolfe began study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) when he was 15 years old. He predicted that his portrait would one day hang in New West near that of celebrated North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance, which it does today. In 1919 Wolfe enrolled in a playwriting course. His one-act play, The Return of Buck Gavin, was performed by the newly formed Carolina Playmakers, then composed of classmates in Frederick Koch’s playwriting class, with Wolfe acting the title role. He edited UNC’s student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel  (still going strong as a daily), and won the Worth Prize for Philosophy for an essay titled “The Crisis in Industry.” Another of his plays, The Third Night, was performed by the Playmakers in December 1919. Wolfe graduated from UNC with a B.A. in June 1920. In September of that year, he entered the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, where he studied playwriting under George Pierce Baker. Two versions of his play The Mountains were performed by Baker’s 47 Workshop in 1921.

In 1922, Wolfe received his master’s degree from Harvard. His father died in Asheville in June of that year, an event that would strongly influence his writing. Wolfe continued to study for another year with Baker in the 47 Workshop, which produced his ten-scene play Welcome to Our City in May 1923.

Wolfe visited New York City again in November 1923 and solicited funds for UNC, while trying to sell his plays to Broadway. In February 1924, he began teaching English as an instructor at New York University (NYU), a position he occupied periodically for almost seven years. Wolfe was unable to sell any of his plays after three years because of their great length. The Theatre Guild came close to producing Welcome to Our City before ultimately rejecting it, and Wolfe found his writing style more suited to fiction than the stage. He sailed to Europe in October 1924 to continue writing. From England he traveled to France, Italy and Switzerland.

On his return voyage in 1925, he met Aline Bernstein (1882–1955), a scene designer for the Theatre Guild. She was 18 years his senior and married to a successful stockbroker with whom she had two children. Their affair was turbulent and sometimes combative, but she exerted a powerful influence, encouraging and funding his writing. Wolfe returned to Europe in the summer of 1926 and began writing the first version of an autobiographical novel titled O Lost. The narrative, which evolved into Look Homeward, Angel, fictionalized his early experiences in Asheville, and chronicled family, friends, and the boarders at his mother’s establishment on Spruce Street. In the book, he renamed the town Altamont and called the boarding house “Dixieland.” His family’s surname became Gant, and Wolfe called himself Eugene, his father Oliver, and his mother Eliza. The original manuscript of O Lost was over 1100 pages (333,000 words) long, and considerably more experimental in style than the final version of Look Homeward, Angel. After numerous rejections it was accepted by Scribner’s, where the editing was done by Maxwell Perkins, the most prominent book editor of the time, who also worked with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

He cut the book to focus more on the character of Eugene, a stand-in for Wolfe. Wolfe initially expressed gratitude to Perkins for his disciplined editing, but he had misgivings later. It has been said that Wolfe found a father figure in Perkins, and that Perkins, who had five daughters, found in Wolfe a sort of foster son. The movie, Genius, is a fair stab at analyzing the relationship, but I find the film as unwatchable as I find Wolfe’s books unreadable. That is, I watched the first 30 minutes, but couldn’t go on.  Same with Gone With The Wind. What is it about Southern writers and me? I’m reminded of my wife’s dismissive parody line from Faulkner – “Ma could never forgive what Pa done to Sis the night the hogs ate Willie.” My wife was from Kentucky.

The novel, which had been dedicated to Bernstein, was published 11 days before the stock market crash of 1929. Soon afterward, Wolfe returned to Europe and ended his affair with her. The novel caused a stir in Asheville, with its over 200 thinly disguised local characters. Wolfe chose to stay away from Asheville for eight years due to the uproar; he traveled to Europe for a year on a Guggenheim fellowship. Look Homeward, Angel was a bestseller in the United Kingdom and Germany. After four more years writing in Brooklyn, the second novel Wolfe submitted to Scribner’s was The October Fair, a multi-volume epic roughly the length of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. After considering the commercial possibilities of publishing the book in full, Perkins opted to cut it significantly and create a single volume titled Of Time and the River. It was more commercially successful than Look Homeward, Angel. In an ironic twist, the citizens of Asheville were more upset this time because they hadn’t been included.

Wolfe was persuaded by his agent to leave Scribner’s and sign with Harper & Brothers. By some accounts, Perkins’ severe editing of Wolfe’s work is what prompted him to leave. Others describe his growing resentment that some people attributed his success to Perkins’ work as editor. In 1936, Bernard DeVoto, reviewing The Story of a Novel for Saturday Review, wrote that Look Homeward, Angel was “hacked and shaped and compressed into something resembling a novel by Mr. Perkins and the assembly-line at Scribners.”

In 1938, after submitting over one million words of manuscript to his new editor, Edward Aswell, Wolfe left New York for a tour of the West. On the way, he stopped at Purdue University and gave a lecture, “Writing and Living,” and then spent two weeks traveling through 11 national parks in the West, the only part of the country he had never visited. Wolfe wrote to Aswell that while he had focused on his family in his previous writing, he would now take a more global perspective. In July, Wolfe became ill with pneumonia while visiting Seattle, spending three weeks in the hospital there. His sister Mabel closed her boarding house in Washington, D.C. and went to Seattle to care for him. Complications arose, and Wolfe was eventually diagnosed with miliary tuberculosis. On September 6, he was sent to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment by the most famous neurosurgeon in the country, Dr. Walter Dandy, but an operation revealed that the disease had overrun the entire right side of his brain. Without regaining consciousness, he died 18 days before his 38th birthday. His last writings, a journal of his two-week trip through the national parks, was found among his belongings hours after his death. A great deal of his work was published posthumously, including, in recent years, reconstructions of the originals of his much-edited novels.

I’ve given a fair raft of down home Southern cooking in these pages, so you can take your pick. North Carolina boarding houses were and are rightly famous for their cooking, and I am sure Wolfe’s mother and sister were strong practitioners. My taste for (some) Southern dishes comes from my year living in a boarding house in the Tidewater. Here’s an old favorite, strawberry sonker, which is reminiscent of cobbler.  You can make it with just about any fruit you like, but strawberry is the classic.  My landlady made this in the spring, rolling out the pastry and breaking it into irregular shapes for the top.  You can make a lattice crust of the pastry, spread it evenly, or do as my landlady did. Like Wolfe’s writing, this dessert is too much for me to take in anything but the smallest quantities.

North Carolina Strawberry Sonker



3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 large egg
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar


1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup water
½ cup butter, melted
8 cup fresh strawberries, halved


½ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract


For the pastry: Mix together the flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Work in the shortening with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Turn out on to a wooden surface.

Whisk together the egg and vinegar in a small bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the egg mixture, and stir with a fork, pulling in the dry ingredients from the sides, to form a soft dough making sure that all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Divide into 2 uneven balls of ⅓ and ⅔ of the dough.

Flatten the balls to disks about 1 inch thick, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9×13” baking pan.

For the filling: Whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk in the water and butter until smooth. Gently stir in the strawberries.

To assemble: Using lightly floured fingertips, press the larger disk of dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake until the pastry is dry to the touch, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Pour in the strawberry mixture.

Roll out the remaining dough and prepare the top in the way you wish: lattice top, regular pie crust, or irregular scraps scattered over the top. Brush the pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the pastry is deep golden brown and the filling bubbles, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, make the dip.

For the dip: Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spatula, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

To serve, scoop warm sonker into serving bowls. Ladle a little warm dip over the top and serve at once.