Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spicy Pickled Radishes Inspired by Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

Most novels are well-loved because of their characters. Sure, the story-line and ideas are important, but it’s the people that play out these stories that mean the most to readers. It’s the novels that send messages of hope and bravery through the noble actions of its characters that truly mean something.  Novels with strong, courageous heroes standing upright and strong in the face of evil.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is not one of these novels.

Almost every character is either brutal, treacherous, a push-over, or downright mean. Marital affairs, cheating, and murder abound. Few characters are what could be considered good role-models and none of their actions are ones that should be copied.

And yet, it remains one of my favorite books. Despite the fact that it is full of horrible events and nasty, often immoral, characters, Gone with the Wind manages to tell a beautiful and touching story of inner strength, the dangers of obsession, and the costs of war.  

Scarlett O’Hara only wants two things out of life: to marry Ashley Wilkes and to become rich enough to be able to tell everyone else to go to hell. When Ashley marries another girl, she does not bow out gracefully as any other genteel Southern belle would have done. Scarlett has the fire of the Irish in her veins and is not willing to give up so easily. As the Civil War drives her from Tara, her family’s cotton farm, she fights to reclaim what she sees as her own: Ashley, Tara, and riches. Her knack for business and husband-catching causes scandal among her townsfolk, but Scarlett couldn’t care less about what they think. Goaded on by Rhett Butler, an unprincipled rouge and social outcast, she struggles to build her life into the one that she has always dreamed of. But the more Scarlett fights to make it through life on her own strength, the more she begins to slip. Blinded by her obsessive love for Ashley and her need to reclaim Tara, she rejects the help of those around her, risking the loss of the very thing she needs the most: the love of a man who can truly understand her.

I’m always struck by the characters in this book. There’s Scarlett and Rhett: two immoral people who will doing almost anything to get what they want. Everyone knows how low they are, but neither try to hide it because, my dear, they don’t give a damn.

Rhett is, however, arguably better than Scarlett. After all, he looks after her and Melanie even when they think the worst of him and he tries to make himself a better person for his daughter. One can’t help but cheer when he finally decides to leave Scarlett, delivering his iconic line: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Sadly, there’s actually no “frankly” in the book…only the movie. I know. My whole life has been a lie.

And then there’s Ashley, who is far, far worse than either Scarlett or Rhett. Not only is he a scoundrel, but he tries to hide if from the whole world. Plus, he cheats on Melanie, which is unacceptable on several different levels.

Melanie, the sweet woman unlucky enough to be Ashley’s wife, is a truly amazing person. Everyone sees her as a poor dear who is naïve to a fault. She doesn’t see that Ashley is having an affair with Scarlett and is too weak to stand up for herself.

At least that’s what we are led to think.

Scarlett and Melanie both have strength, but each wears hers differently. Scarlett carries hers on the outside, flouting societal rules to show her freedom, asking none for help, and seeing love as a weakness. Melanie’s is a quiet strength, so quiet that some people think it isn’t there. But it is. Her unconditional loyalty and love is what supports almost every character throughout the novel. In fact, Melanie is one of the only women who is respected by Rhett Butler, a man who sees most women as petty, weak, and senseless.

And let’s not forget about Melanie's brave actions when a soldier is stupid enough to try and loot Tara while it is inhabited by these two southern ladies. Scarlett, ever the fire ball and ready to do whatever it takes to protect her interests, shoots him point blank with her husband’s pistol. She turns to see gentle Melanie, sick from child-birth, standing behind her with her brother’s drawn saber in her hand. And then there’s the time when some women speak ill of Scarlett, truthfully reporting that she is having an affair with Ashley. Melanie fires right up, making it painfully clear that she will never hear unkind words spoken about Scarlett, who has saved her life multiple times.

Yes, she sees the corruptness around her. She knows that Scarlett is having an affair with Ashley, she is aware of Ashley’s disloyalty to both herself and their child, knows that Rhett is of disreputable character. But she chooses to love them anyway, encouraging them to turn their lives around while realizing that they probably never will.

This is very different from how Scarlett deals with the problems in her life: with indomitable strength, but absolutely no morals or love. After fighting her way back to a ruined Tara, half-starved and dying, she finds a small radish in the soil. She greedily swallows it, but, having not eaten for a while, quickly vomits it up. Afterwards, she takes a vow: “If I have to steal or kill – as God is my witness, I’m never going hungry again.”

And she doesn’t. She cheats, seduces, and claws her way into a life of riches. But it doesn’t matter, because, unlike Melanie, her hardships turn her into a bitter, wretched person.

The “radish scene” is the one that cleared up a lot of points for me concerning Scarlett and the messages in Gone with the Wind.

In the movie it was actually a carrot instead of a radish, because, my dear, Hollywood doesn’t give a –

Anyway, because I see that scene as a rather pivotal part in the book, I came up with this:
Spicy Pickled Radishes
  • 1 bunch of radishes (usually about 9 or 10 radishes)
  • ¾ cup of water
  • ¾ cup of apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar, or a mix of both
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • ¼ to 1/8 teaspoon of chili flakes, depending on how spicy you like your food
  • ¼ teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
  • 1 clove of garlic, slivered into quarters

1. Sterilize jars for pickling. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a near boil. Place the jar, lid, and tongs in the water for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove with sterilized tons when ready to use.
2. Wash radishes and then slice into thin ¼ inch slices (or thinner). I use a mandolin for this, but you can use a knife if you want. It will just take longer. You should end up with about 1 and ½ to 2 cups of radish slices. 
3. Put water, vinegar, honey, and salt in a saucepan and bring to boil.
4. Pack radishes into your jar, topping with garlic, coriander seeds, and chili flakes. Pour brine mixture over the top until completely covered.
5. Let cool. They will be ready to eat within a few hours. You can refrigerate for over a week, but you’ll probably finish them off by then.
After pickling, the radishes and brine take on a beautiful pink color. They have a very crisp, spicy flavor that I think is awesome.

My Dad says he hates them. But, since he doesn't like radishes, he decided he hated them before he even tasted them, so, my dear, I don’t give a –

In case you haven’t noticed by now, one of the main reasons I decided to write a post about Gone with the Wind was because it gives me an excuse to use that line. Horrible, I know. But, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Have you ever read Gone with the Wind? Did you enjoy it? Or did you simply not give a…er…did you just not like it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Corn Dodgers and Peach Sauce Inspired by True Grit
Hot Cocoa Drinks Inspired by Agatha Christie's Mysterious Affair at Styles

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  1. Yep, read it when I was younger and loved it. There's enough moral ambiguity and wretchedness to keep even the most sophisticated reader fully engrossed in existential questions long after finishing the book. The radishes look lovely and I'll bet they taste so too! Alas, no one but I likes radishes in my house :( But I'm still saving this recipe. Maybe I'll make them for my own sweet self! Hug <3

    1. Exactly. I had to read it twice to understand it, and I'm sure there are still points I'm missing. Hope you get to make yourself some radishes. I'm also the only one who likes radishes at my house, so I get them all to myself. =)

  2. Did you read the same book I did? Scarlett and Ashley do NOT have an affair. Scarlett pouts and whines and Ashley fantasizes, but they don't do anything. Scarlett was a young girl who was taught to be pretty but not much else by the time the war came and turned the whole world upside down. So, what did she do.... survive by any means she could. And, she took care of a whole lot of other people while doing so. No she's not always nice and certainly not what one would have called genteel, but without her a lot of the others would not have made it. Yes, Melanie was able to have her quiet strength, but that's because of Scarlett keeping a roof over her head during the worst parts. Rhett is just a man who refuses to bow to "social conventions" -- no he's not "godly" but he really doesn't do anything that hurts anyone. And besides he did fight for the South finally. Go back and read it again.

    1. Thank you! You wrote exactly what I was about to. She didn't read the same book I read. Excellent retort.


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