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

How Samantha Vamos ‘Cooked Up’  The Cazuela

CAZUELA Cover 300x300 Writers Against Racism: Inspiration for The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden StirredThe 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