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!