Over the last few weeks we lost two American icons, Nora Ephron and Andy Griffith. Two very different people coming to their fame at very different times, yet both influential on me just the same. Nora gave me laughter and a snarky, realistic and ultimately hopeful look on adult life. Andy brought his brand of good-hearted folksy wisdom to my childhood. And when I heard they both passed I felt as though I had lost two friends.
As a kid growing up in the 1960s, Sheriff Andy Taylor was a weekly visitor in my house. Or rather, we were a weekly visitor in his. Sure we were "city slickers," but every Monday night we became residents of Mayberry, N.C. I think I even learned to whistle because of Andy, and just thinking of him now conjures up his theme song and Andy and Opie walking down a lane, fishing pole in hand. Barney’s bullet in his pocket and quest to “nip it in the bud”, Otis’ evening jail cell nap, Gomer, Goober, Floyd the barber, Aunt Bee and the rest all became neighbors in my childhood world. Corny and sentimental? Sure. A seemingly less complicated time? Definitely, at least the in black and white one on the screen in front of me. Yet even with the technological trappings of today, people are still people with the same troubles and joys in life. And sometimes even a jaded city gal longs for some folksy sentimental insight.
After I heard Nora Ephron had died, a friend and I rented the movie My Blue Heaven as a sort of tribute. I think my love affair with her began with this movie. Sure, Silkwood was terrific and Harry meeting Sally, Seattle insomnia, and the early days of AOL and cyber-dating in New York City are all great too, but My Blue Heaven did it for me. Silly fluff? Sure, but seeing Steve Martin bring Nora’s quirky, sarcastic, and hilarious words to light is so worth the time in your DVD player. And if you are in a mood where you need a good laugh, this is the movie for you. A genius at the romantic comedy, Ephron's stories are part of the evolution of modern dating life. Quirky women meeting quirky men, bumping into their stuff, and somehow working it out in the end. There’s no better formula, and Nora knew how to do it better than anyone else. Then she brought us Julia. I’m not sure anyone else could have drawn a better cinematic picture of Julia and Paul Child than Nora Ephron (and luckily on DVD, I can fast forward through the “Julie” parts). A true food lover painting a true lover of food, a genuine love story to rival all of her fictional ones, and all portrayed through the brilliant casting of Merryl and Stanley. It just doesn’t get better than that.
But Nora Ephron was so much more than her movies, and as someone who plays around with words, I have tremendous respect for her. While she may have gone for laughs, there was always real wisdom and bravery behind them. She was courageous enough to write what it was like to be a real woman, one who didn’t have the perfect body, one who actually aged, one with flaws and insecurities and all the rest of the matched set of emotional baggage. She didn't care if editors and advertisers didn't want to paint those pictures. Nora Ephron wrote what she wanted to write about, and had the courage and tenacity to make sure it got to us. In a world where woman were more often told what they should think, Nora wrote about what we really did. She was honest and smart and funny, and a feminist, all at the same time. And I’m going to really miss the next thing she would have had to say.
So fare thee well, Nora and Andy. Thank you for the smiles and laughs. And for making that little girl and this grown woman a little bit wiser.
O.K., so how could I possibly come up with a recipe in tribute to these two icons? Well, I’m not sure exactly how it fits, but I think something homey and simple that could have come from Aunt Bee's oven, or could be served with coffee while kvetching to your girlfriends about men, relationships, romance and life. So here you go — my mom’s "Generic" Fruit Buckle! A stretch as far as relevancy perhaps, but it’s also a very tasty cake.
‘Generic’ Fruit Buckle
This cake works equally well on the breakfast table or served with a little whipped cream or ice cream on the side for dessert any time. The fruit is up to you — hence mom's GENERIC buckle. I use whatever is ripe and available, and have had it with blueberries or peaches in the summer, apples or pears in the fall, and even frozen berries in the winter. This time around I decided I’d give fresh sweet cherries a try, and added in some chopped pecans to the crumb.
For the cake:
4 TBSP butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour, sifted
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp almond extract
For the crumb:
4 TBSP cold butter, cut into ¼ inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
A pinch salt
1/3 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 10” spring form with center tube, (or a spring form with an empty can in the middle to make the “tube”.) You could also use a 9”x9”x2” square pan, or 9” round pan.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and almond extract and beat well. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl. Add the zest to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Add the dry ingredients and milk to batter, alternating dry and wet, beginning and ending with dry. Fold in the fruit, transfer batter to prepared pan and spread evenly.
In a separate bowl, mix all the crumb ingredients together except the butter. With a fork or your fingers (fingers work better), mix in the butter to make smallish crumbs. Spread the crumbs evenly across the batter to cover.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Best served the day it's made, this cake freezes very well too, so if there actually are any leftovers, wrap them well in cling film and freeze in a freezer bag for up to a month. Calories: about 320-400 per slice.