The Hungry Reader: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

published Mar 6, 2008
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a favorite book long before we moved to this fine city. Thanks to author Betty Smith’s vividly descriptive prose, this coming-of-age story is the kind of book you curl up with and dive in, head first.

Young Francie Nolan is growing up in early 20th century Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her family’s struggles with poverty mean they make do with less, and go without. With a little ingenuity, scarcity can paired with plenty.

An excerpt below.

From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread and what amazing things Katie could make from it! She’d take a loaf of stale bread, pour boiling water over it, work it up into a paste, flavor it with salt, pepper, thyme, minced onion and an egg (if eggs were cheap), and bake it in the oven. When it was good and brown, she made a sauce from half a cup of ketchup, two cups of boiling water, seasoning, a dash of strong coffee, thickened it with flour and poured it over the baked stuff. It was good, hot, tasty, and staying. What was left over, was sliced thin the next day and fried in hot bacon fat.

There’s some good advice on stretching your food dollar, but mostly we love these vignettes for reminding us that simple pleasures can be as fine as luxurious ones.

Here’s one more:

It was still early in the evening and the street lights had not yet come on. But already, the horse-radish lady was sitting in front of Hassler’s grinding away at her pungent roots. Francie held out the cup that she had brought from home. The old mother filled it halfway up for two cents. Happy that the meat business was over, Francie bought two cents worth of soup greens from the green grocer’s. She got an emasculated carrot, a droopy leaf of celery, a soft tomato and a fresh sprig of parsley. These would be boiled with the bone to make a rich soup with shreds of meat floating in it. Fat, homemade noodles would be added. This, with the seasoned marrow spread on bread, would make a good Sunday dinner.

Things to do with stale bread:

• Strata with Cipollini Onions and Arugula

• Apple Walnut Bread Pudding

Simple Soup Recipes:
Easy Green Minestrone

Image from