Potato Peel Pie

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I arrived in my rental home in January, I found a pile of books in the bookcase. All were brand new, with the covers uncracked. I scanned the titles and said, “as soon as I finish reading the two I brought with me, I’ll attack these.” The two I brought were hard to read. One deals in political science and the sins of our President Obama. The second is a delightfully funny read by a fellow blogger from India, and is a satirical look at life on the job.

As usual, I procrastinated, and didn’t read anything except blogs and news; boring. Finally, in late February the titles on the shelf began calling, but I made a rule not to read them or even look at the jackets until I completed the two I trucked across country. I finally finished both, and enjoyed my fellow bloggers book immensely. I will cover his book later.

Today, I want to talk about a book that kept calling me from the shelf, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Yep, you got it, the title tricked me into reading this story.

The first few pages intrigued me, but didn’t excite me. It took a few to get me into the spirit of the book and the characters. There are so many characters in this book it is hard to imagine the author able to keep track of them all. In fact, an entire town full of characters becomes endeared to the reader.

First time author Mary Ann Shaffer assisted by her niece Annie Barrows crafted a compelling story which teaches us some geography, history, and weaves a very human story of life taking place on the island of Guernsey.  The time period is 1946 just after World War Two. Guernsey is one of the Channel islands, a part of England. They are midway between England and France in the English Channel. During the war, the Germans occupied the isle of Guernsey from which a breed of cow came into being. The occupation placed extreme hardship on the locals while the Germans pilfered, and pillaged them for their pleasure.

Guernsey cattle in St. Saviour's, Guernsey

Guernsey cattle in St. Saviour’s, Guernsey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ms Shaffer tells the story via a series of letters between a young author and her publisher who also is a childhood friend. The Young author named Juliet lives in London and corresponds with  her publisher and his sister, Juliet’s best friend. They share witty stories and jabs between themselves only as good friends can do.

Juliet is riding a wave of popularity from a book she authored titled “Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War.” Much of their correspondence revolves around her book tours and what her next book will be. Then out of the clear blue sky, Juliet receives a letter from a gentleman named Dawsey Adams who found her name and address written on the inside cover of a book by Charles Lamb. He lives on the Island of Guernsey where books and book shops are in short supply. Dawsey asks Juliet to recommend a book store in London from which he can buy books. He wants to read more because he belongs to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She answers him with a reputable book store, but her curiosity leads her to ask about the origins of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

At first the letters between Juliet and Dawsey and others in the Society are very formal. Dawsey tells Juliet he will ask the members of the Society to write her with their favorite book. As the characters begin to write back and forth they begin to feel more and more comfortable with each other. As the story unfolds and the characters begin to show themselves, the tone of their language evolves into warm and loving messages between old friends.

The entire story is via letters. It is fascinating to read and follow. Author Shaffer has a creative bent in the way she describes her people and the scenes in which they live. Her dialogue is witty and typical of British people of that time. As a reader, I could visualize the island  landscape, the homes, and each character’s physical features. I found myself totally immersed in the story of the occupation as told through the voices of the many islanders who belonged to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Where did the name come from? It seems the villagers were having an illegal feast of roast pig. On the way home, the Germans challenged a group of them. Since the Occupied forces confiscated all the Guernsey pigs for their pleasure only, the islanders invented a ruse to explain why they were all together so late in the evening, and so a very inventive and quick thinking islander came up with the Guernsey Literary Society. The Germans bought into it and asked to join also. The real fun begins from there. The next day the islanders are scouring shops and homes to find books to have if the Germans visit. They begin to meet weekly and each member is to read a book. A single member gives a report on the book he read.

What is Potato Peel Pie?  Since a club meeting needs food to make it complete one of the farmers invented a pie filled with mashed potatoes, flavored with strained beets for sweetness, and potato peels for the crust.  This concoction became a favorite and thus became a part of their name. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

This is a book I want to read and re-read again and again. I’d like one day to tell the entire story from memory. There are so many characters in this story, it will make your head spin at first. Then, as they all reveal themselves they become part of  your life.

Recipe for Potato Peel Pie