Local librarians and co-authors Jenne Bergstrom and Miko Osada first read Little Women in different languages as young girls growing up in completely different cities. Decades later, they were approached by publisher Casie Vogel, who found them through their food blog and asked if they would consider authoring an entire cookbook based on the novel.
On Oct. 29, they released The Little Women Cookbook: Novel Takes on Classic Recipes from Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Friends.
Drawing on their shared experience writing together on their food blog, 36 Eggs, the librarians divvied up the work to crank out a first draft by April, 2019.
“Miko really likes to do research and I like to cook. She wrote every single food mentioned in the book then started researching period recipes, and put together a timeline. For example, they would have had raspberries instead of strawberries this time of year,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom took the period recipes unearthed by Osada and reworked them with modern equivalences, keeping history in mind as a factor in the ingredients. She mentions the type of flour used, the leavening involved in baking recipes, the varying size of eggs gathered from Civil-war era chickens compared with those purchased in a standardized package from a modern grocery store as just a few things she had to keep in mind when experimenting with the recipes.
It was Bergstrom who tested the recipes in the kitchen as well. Although she says there was some tedium in the endless work of preparing the ingredients, she enjoyed when recipes turned out well and proved accurate in practice.
While Bergstrom did most of the footwork in the kitchen, she credits Osada with developing the structure of the cookbook.
“We kind of split up the different sections then Miko made a whole outline. She came up with the idea of doing it by character,” Bergstrom said.
Osada is also the one who created the personality quiz found at the front of the book so readers who are not completely familiar with the March sisters can identify which character they most resemble. She admits in a deadpan voice that she most identifies with unpopular Amy.
“I actually struggled with writing essays in high school… I also don’t love to cook but I really like researching and my favorite part of the experience was eating the food,” Osada said.
The authors claim that they are very different in their approach to cooking and writing, yet agree they share commonalities that aren’t immediately noticeable. The librarians both grew up in small towns and by chance, both attended Oberlin College where they volunteered at the same library, years apart.
For Bergstrom, much of the appeal of the experience was in taking such a beloved novel and creating the recipes based on familiar characters. She says her biggest challenge in constructing the cookbook was writing the narrative sections, but she enjoyed putting together the sidebars of historical information. She gives the example of the many mentions of lobster throughout the novel— it was not considered an elegant food at the time and would have been a staple at weekly meals in the Northeast during that era.
Osada says writing the cookbook was the first time she thought of the characters as modern day people. Her first introduction to the story of Little Women was through a film dubbed in Japanese; she initially read a Japanese translation of the novel when she was about nine years old. Around that time, she decided she wanted to work in a library after meeting a local children’s librarian dressed up as Amelia Bedelia.
Bergstrom also read the book around the same age but had no inclination to become a librarian or an author as a child. She was standing in the college bookstore purchasing textbooks when she had a change of heart and decided to take a second look at what she had planned for herself. She says that the food blog and the book that grew from that blog were never in her plans but she loves the element of randomness involved with her work.
“It was never ‘someday I’ll have a book with my name on it’, we started writing this blog for the fun of it. We’ve never tried to make it popular or promote it,” Bergstrom said
For now, the authors are satisfied with the cookbook, which they say is available online and describe as the purple one, given that a rival cookbook was released slightly ahead of their own. They have not ruled out duplicating the experience with another book but say it would have to fit into their lives or be another novel they feel strongly about.