I’VE BEEN THINKING lately about fairy tales and the stories I loved as a child. Though this isn’t the house I grew up in — far from it, in fact, since I grew up primarily in apartments, and not in the US — most of my beloved childhood and young adult books are here with my mother. From the Bobbsey Twins books that my grandmother insisted I read to the later discoveries of Robin McKinley, Ursula K. LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, and Patricia McKillip, they’re all here. I’ve the chance now to dig back into those books and characters, reliving the wonder I used to feel every time I cracked a paperback’s spine.
Perhaps this was brought on by seeing Snow White and the Huntsman last week, which one reviewer criticised (rightly, I think) for reinforcing and propagating totalising ideas of goodness and purity. In any case, I called K a few days ago and ended up on a tangent in which I was really, really distraught about how boring Snow White is as a character and how there is never going to be a good version of the tale because the story is about this incredibly underwritten and nerveless character. All the good stuff actually happens with the wicked queen, and we all know how that goes for her. It’s like the fairy tale is saying “don’t be interesting. Don’t have a good back story. Don’t be powerful, or frightened, or in control, or vengeful, or anything compelling at all. All compelling does for you is get you killed off by someone horribly uninteresting and vapid.” Certainly a tale to inspire.
So I’ve been thinking about the kinds of stories I remember loving as a child, and the kinds of stories I used to say I was going to write. I wrote my first fairy tale in 3rd grade, and it was hideous. My sense of geography was laughable (the princess, ailing from a mysterious disease, moved to England from London). My sense of drama was questionable (she’s cured by sleeping it off). My illustrations featured creatures with extremely long limbs and button heads. But I loved writing it, and as I grew up I wrote more stories and more fairy tales; and eventually I ended up doing my high school senior project on Cinderella, and my undergraduate thesis was at least partly rooted in the Grimms’ tales.
Which is all to say: I love a happy ending.
But it’s not a happy ending if it isn’t interesting. Or, at least, I want my happy endings to be tale-worthy. The best friendships are like that — there’s the story of how you met (we were neighbors in college and I startled her on the dorm stairs and she nearly heart-attacked right there, at my feet, clutching her eyedrops and wearing really ugly PJs; we met at a screening of a lamentably awful movie on Partition, and cemented our friendship by tearing it to shreds and then going out and getting slightly drunk with strangers; she was the new kid in 8th grade, and I liked that she wasn’t too cool to wear culottes), the story of how the friendship was cemented, and then the after parts which are not always smooth going but are full of artless delight.
Yesterday, I noticed the peaches were starting to look a bit testy. And the untouched bowl of cherries — purchased for my aunt, but now lingering forlornly in the refrigerator — seemed too tragic for words. Feeling a little lost myself, I peeled the peaches and pitted the cherries, staining my hands a terrific shade of red. Peeling and pitting is great centering work; while your hands work routine tasks, the mind is free to be amazed at the dexterity of thumbs or to make up new stories from bits of older ones.
I wasn’t sure about the combination of peaches and cherries, and I further tempered them with a sour cream muffin base. But they came together delightfully, as if meant to be. In the spirit of neighborliness and friendliness, I took a trayful of them up my mother’s street, knocking on doors and passing out teatime treats. Not that these are necessarily friendships I’ll be converting into fantastic tales, but there’s a certain satisfaction in feeding people who’ve been in your house and know the way your space is arranged. There’s a symmetry to it, I think, a sense of possibilities earned and returned. And that, perhaps, is the start of a story that can go in many directions — and that’s the kind of story I’m interested in living.
Cherry Peach Muffins
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 1/4 c flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 c fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
- 1 c fresh cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. While I usually don’t use paper liners for muffins, I did for these ones. So either lightly grease your muffin tin, or line the cups. This recipe will make 24 muffins, so plan accordingly!
To peel peaches, cut an X in the bottom of each one and drop them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Rinse them in cold water and peel gently. Cut them willy-nilly and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and sour cream.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the peaches and cherries to the dry ingredients and mix to coat the fruit. Slowly add the fruit mixture to the egg mixture, and mix together.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted near the center of the muffins comes out clean.
Let cool and enjoy!