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Writers Against Racism: Inspiration for “The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred”

How Samantha Vamos ‘Cooked Up’  The Cazuela

The idea for The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred occurred to me one wintry, weekend morning.  I was in the kitchen gathering ingredients to make pancakes and discovered that I lacked both milk and eggs. 

At the time, my husband and I lived in Chicago, Illinois and did not own a car.  That morning was bitter cold with gusty winds and the prospect of walking to the subway or waiting for a bus to the nearest grocery store was not appealing.  When I realized that my alternative was eating a bowl of cereal without milk, I considered calling a neighbor.  Suddenly, I thought how amusing it would be if I lived on a farm and I could simply call one of my animal “neighbors” for a pail of milk or a basket of fresh eggs.  Envisioning myself a farm maiden, I smiled and my story took off from there.

The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” seems apt when I think about the creation of this story.  I craved pancakes and I imagined ways to obtain the ingredients I needed.  When I reflect on my overall mindset, however, there were two additional circumstances that resulted in my brain producing the idea behind The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred

First, I had always wanted to write a story that featured a recipe.  Making things in the kitchen is fun. 

Second, I describe that time period as having had “bilingual on the brain.”  I had recently transformed a formerly all-English manuscript of mine to make it bilingual, resulting in Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (published by Viking Children’s Books in 2009).  As I incorporated Spanish words, the text flowed differently – the words sounded more intimate and tender.  The English text with Spanish words woven in resonated because the bilingual manner of speaking reminded me of the way I had heard languages (in addition to English, my father fluently speaks four languages) expressed as a child.  After writing Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, I had hoped that I’d become inspired with another idea that would allow me to write a second, bilingual story.

So, on that morning, as I held a stirring spoon and imagined myself the farm maiden, I tried out this first line:  “This is the pot that the farm maiden stirred.”  I liked the rhythm.  I was immediately reminded of the British nursery rhyme, “This Is The House That Jack Built” and decided I would try following that rhyme’s format – a cumulative tale where the action or lines repeat as the story progresses.

As I thought about my story’s construction, I realized that there would be four interlocking pieces: 

First, I wanted the story to be bilingual.

Second, the cumulative format:  I wanted to structure the story so that as the action built, specific Spanish words repeated.   That way the Spanish words would be reinforced and easy to remember.

Third, I wanted to incorporate a recipe that would be revealed at the story’s end.  I hoped that readers would try to guess what the characters were making in the pot that the farm maiden stirred.  Utilizing a recipe in this manner meant weaving the storyline around specific ingredients. 

Fourth, I needed to create characters that could provide the necessary ingredients to the pot.  The cow and hen were obvious choices as they could respectively provide milk and eggs.  When I thought about a pot, milk, and eggs, I realized that the farm maiden could make rice pudding.  Now all I needed were a few more characters to deliver the remaining ingredients:  sugar, rice, butter, cream, and a lime.  After including a goat, duck, donkey, and a farmer, I had the framework of the book, or as I see it now, the “equation” for my story:  five animal characters, their farmer, and farm maiden plus ingredients create Arroz Con Leche in a bilingual, cumulative tale!  

Inspired, I headed downstairs to my computer.  I never finished making pancakes that morning, but I did manage to write a first draft of our story!


  1. Amy – Muchas gracias. It’s an honor to be included here. All best, Samantha