Friday, September 25, 2015

Cherry Pop Inspired by Jack Schaefer's Shane

Free books make life exciting. They usually come completely out of the blue. Sometimes it’s a book that somebody you know really loves and wants to share with you, which instantly makes it very special. And sometimes they’re just abandoned books that nobody seems to want except for you. You never know whether they’re going to be really good, really bad, or just halfway decent. But you know it’s going to be interesting, because it’s a new book, a new story, and new characters.

At least that’s always how getting a free book makes me feel. My most recent freebie was Shane by Jack Schaefer. I was in Kansas for Lyme treatment and my massage therapist was appalled when she heard that I had only ever read one Western novel (True Grit by Charles Portis). She wanted to pass along some of her Louis L’Amour books, but she couldn’t find them and instead decided to give me Shane.

And man am I glad it worked out that way. 

I’ve seen the movie Shane several times and never thought much of it. Sure, it was a decent film, but any Western movie that doesn’t have John Wayne or Clint Eastwood can never quite fall into the “great” category. Plus, the little kid who plays Bob was annoyingly whiney, rivaled only by Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker (nobody cares that you were going to Tosche station to pick up power converters, Luke. Stop complaining).

That being said, the book is a totally different story. Told through the eyes of an eight-year-old, it is written with powerful simplicity. Symbolism and underlying themes can be found throughout the book, going completely above Bob’s head and sometimes making it difficult for even the reader to catch, which is a pretty cool twist.

In case the only thing you remember from this story is a little kid crying and yelling, “Don’t go, Shane! Don’t go!” (which is all that I remembered before I read the book), then here’s a description:

“Call me Shane.” That’s what he tells the Starrett family when he rides into their valley in the summer of 1889. He never says where he came from or where he is going. He never even tells them his last name. But, in only a few days, he becomes like part of their family, working on their farm and  joining them in their fight to keep their homestead. The other farmers of Wyoming, and even the big rancher who owns most of the land in the area, are afraid of Shane. They say he’s dangerous, which is true. But not to the Starrett family, who he loves with a fierceness and loyalty that cannot be shaken.
Bob grows to look up to this quiet, strong man of the West. But his father warns him: “Don’t get to liking him too much….There’s nothing wrong about Shane. There’s more right about him than most any man you’re ever likely to meet.” But, his father goes on to say, Shane's not one to stick around. Bob knows what his father means. He’s seen the way Shane looks out at their farm. He means to keep the ranchers from running the Starretts off of their homestead. He means to help them make their farm prosper. Because he’s a good man. A right man. But Bob has also seen the way that Shane looks to the mountains. And he knows that one day, Shane will be moving on. Because he is not the kind of man who stays in one place for long. Because he’s searching for something. Because, put simply, he is Shane.

For such a short book (151 pages), there’s a lot going on: Bob’s boyish love for the man called Shane. Joe Starret’s fight to keep his farm even when the ranchers are trying to run him off. Marian’s Starrett’s determination to support her husband. Shane’s quiet struggle against something just as mysterious as himself.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more inspiring or well-written character than Jack Schaefer’s Shane. From the very beginning of the novel, there is a mystery surrounding his character. We never learn about his past, or his future. But we do learn about what kind of the man he is. We learn that he is quiet, and strong, that he will always do what’s right. By the end of the novel, he takes on the character of a warrior angel, clothed in ragged black and set on earth to protect the Starrett family.

I looked up the meaning of the name Shane. It means a gift of God. I smiled when I read this because I knew that that was exactly the image that Jack Schaefer was trying to convey through Shane’s character. People aren't quite sure where he came from, or why. But they know that when he leaves, he will have changed their lives forever. Because he was strong and right. Because he was Shane.

I cannot express how great his character is, except by saying this: Shane is now my favorite adult male book character.

And that’s coming from the girl who consumes an average of 80 novels a year and reads everything with a very critical eye.

A scene that I found particularly striking was Shane’s struggle with the young ranch hand, Chris. In an attempt to pick a fight, the ranchers are ridiculing the farmers, calling them cowards and saying that the strongest beverage they drink is soda pop. Chris constantly tries to get Shane to fight him. Knowing this full well, Shane strides into a bar and orders cherry pop, seemingly for himself, though he’s really fetching some because he knows that Bob likes that particular kind of soda.

This sets Chris into a renewed round of ridicule directed at Shane, but Shane doesn’t want to fight this young man and isn’t riled by stupid accusations. Later, things begin to get out of hand and the ranchers threaten the Starrett family. Shane’s family. Wrong move.

The next time Shane walks into the bar, he orders some soda pop and offers it to Chris. Chris, being young and stupid, accepts this challenge. Shane then proceeds to whip the living tar out of him. Not because he wants to, but because he won’t have anybody threatening the Starrett’s.

As weird as it sounds, soda pop is a recurring theme in this book, so I thought it would be appropriate (and yummy) to make some cherry cola inspired by Shane:
Ingredients –
  • 1 cup of cane sugar. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that coconut sugar is my sugar of choice. So why didn’t I use it? Well, I did the first time around and it made my soda taste like brown sugar. Not good. Turns out, white cane sugar works much better when it comes to making simple syrups. Who knew?
  • 1 and ½ cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with 1 teaspoon of water
  • 16 ounces of thawed dark sweet cherries
  • ¼ cup of apple juice
Directions –

1. In a medium saucepan, mix together the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer. Once the sugar is dissolved, stir in cornstarch mixture. Allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. While your simple syrup is simmering, blend together cherries and apple juice. When I tried this recipe the first time, cooking the cherries with the simple syrup made them taste a little bit odd, so blending them works much better.
3. Pour your cherry juice through a strainer to remove the bulk of the seeds and pulp. As you can see, I have a tiny, crummy, rusty strainer. Very classy:
4. Once your simple syrup has simmered for 15 to 20 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Add your strained cherry juice to the syrup and mix. Viola! You now have cherry flavoring for your soda.
5. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of this syrup to a cup of sparkling water (plain is great, but lime sparkling water tastes good, too).
This cherry pop is not nearly as sweet as the kind you would buy from the store. It’s actually very refreshing. Also, this cherry flavoring will taste very, very different from the kind of cherry that we’re used to eating. Turns out, the cherries used in cherry soda are maraschino cherries.

Anyone here know how to make maraschino cherries? I didn’t, so I looked it up. The process starts by soaking perfectly good cherries in a solution of calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide until they turn yellow. They are then marinated in high fructose corn syrup and masses of red dye. They come out bright red and tasting nothing like regular cherries. Ew.

Anyway, all that to say that the taste that we recognize as cherry is not actually cherry at all. Weird, right? So this cherry pop will not taste exactly how you’re used to cherry soda tasting, but it still tastes very good. Especially if you’re not looking for something intensely sugary or artificial.

In fact, it’s a little bit like the book Shane. You go in expecting one thing and come out with something entirely different. It’s a bit of a shock at first, but, once you have time to think about it, you realize it’s actually very good.

Shane is not a typical western story with gunfights and whiskey. It’s not sugar-coated, not cliché, but real and good and strong. It’s a level of awesomeness that can only be described in one word: Shane.

I try not to tell people what books they should or shouldn’t read. However, I can’t restrain myself when it comes to Shane by Jack Schaefer. It’s a short, beautiful story told with a simplicity that belies its complexity and power. If you’ve never read it, get out there and order yourself a copy. Then come back here so that we can talk about it. And if you’re lucky enough to have stumbled across this book before, leave a comment below! I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

Related articles:
Corn Dodgers and Peach Sauce Inspired by True Grit
Gluten and Dairy Free Seed-cake, Apple-tart, and Nut Round Recipes Inspired by The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Mrs. Weasley's Chocolate Fudge Inspired by Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

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  1. Sounds like an awesome read! I'll definitely have to look into it. And now you know what you're gonna name your first son! LOL

    1. Lol! Poor child would have a lot to live up to. =)

  2. Well, I haven't read Shane - or seen the movie *hides face in shame* You have me curious now, Hannah :)

    1. No shame. =) The movie isn't anything amazing and the book isn't very well known. =) I'd be interested to hear what you think of it if you ever decide to check it out!

  3. Quite frankly, its pretty awesome that you include recipes inspired by the novel in the review. I wish all book reviews did that, it really adds charm and appeal to the story. Yum!

    1. Thanks, Kerry! I have lots of fun doing it. It makes me feel like I get to be a little part of the book. =)


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