Writer: Wini Moranville
These days, when it comes to food, I’m less interested in the cutting edge. While I still seek well-crafted dishes made with well-chosen ingredients, on most days, I’d rather have a thoughtfully prepared trout amandine than an exquisitely detailed plate from a Michelin-starred restaurant. A good-quality gin on the rocks with lime and a splash of excellent tonic—served in the appropriate rocks glass—makes me infinitely happier than a rarified craft cocktail.
Indeed, I’m most gratified when I’m at a table where, as renowned Boston chef Gordon Hamersly once put it, “the food is not being worshiped or fawned over, but rather has just simply taken its natural place in the moment.”
And so, when my editor from Harvard Common Press asked me if I’d write a cookbook based on foods in Louisa May Alcott’s masterpiece, “Little Women,” the timing could not have been better. The project aligned perfectly with where I’m at in my culinary life right now.
Published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, “Little Women” begins with the March sisters taking Christmas breakfast to a destitute German immigrant family; it ends with a picnic in the orchard on apple-picking day, when the sisters and their mother reflect on the great harvest of the fruit and of their lives.
Food lovingly cooked and happily shared weaves in and out of the 450-plus pages of the novel, but it’s never the sole focus. No one ever fawns; rather, food takes its natural place in an ongoing narrative of lessons learned, affection given, love made visible. Food’s true role is perhaps most movingly apparent when Jo seeks to earn money from her writing so that she can give her gravely ill sister Beth everything she desires, “from strawberries in winter, to an organ in her bedroom.”
My recipe for Amy’s “Pickled Lime” sugar cookies riffs on one of the more prominent foods in the book: pickled limes, a trendy treat among the schoolgirls in 12-year-old Amy’s set.
What, pray tell, were pickled limes? According to a cookbook published in 1845, pickled limes were made by curing the limes with salt, then pickling them in a mixture of garlic, onions, clove, ginger, vinegar and mustard seeds. Though hard to believe, pickled limes were a food fad during the mid- to late 19th century.
Alas, this delicacy did not stand the test of time. While I developed the recipes in my book to match a genuine spirit of the era, I only included recipes that we’d truly yearn to cook and eat today. That’s why I came up with this sweeter and more delightful way to tip our hats to charming Amy and the beloved limes she’s so eager to share with her friends. –Wini Moranville
Amy’s “Pickled Lime” Sugar Cookies
1 package sugar cookie mix (see note*)
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, allowed to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to soften
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
4½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons grated lime zest
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Green food coloring (optional)
8 jellied lime candy slices, cut into small wedges
1. Prepare the sugar cookies according to the package directions. Allow to cool completely.
2. For the lime frosting, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for a few seconds to soften. Add the sugar, lime juice, lime zest and vanilla. Beat until smooth. If needed, add milk,
1 teaspoon at a time, to make a spreadable frosting. Tint as desired with food coloring. (A little goes a long way, so start with the smallest dot possible.)
3. Frost the cooled cookies with the lime frosting and top each with a wedge of jellied lime candy. To store, layer the cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
* Note: Use a good-quality mix that calls on butter, such as Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix.
Little Women: On the Table and On the Screen
“The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes From the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family,” by Wini Moranville, will be published by Harvard Common Press on Oct. 1. It includes simple but life-enhancing recipes inspired by the foods that the March family enjoyed throughout the book, plus insights into the way Americans cooked and dined during the years after the Civil War. Also look for a new film version of “Little Women,” starring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep, set to be released on Christmas Day.