Page A6 / The Joan De Arc Crusader / Sunday, April 1, 2018

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Book review: Forester Pfeffer

By J. Bueker

     Easter on Joan De Arc Avenue never generated quite the levels of fervid excitement for us kids as Halloween and certainly not Christmas, and yet we always regarded Easter as a supremely important holiday nevertheless.
     Carl Bueker’s legendary Easter basket hunts were a big reason why. These cleverly orchestrated events were enduringly memorable and genuinely poetic in nature. The activity entailed a series of cryptic verses posted by Father as clues in various improbable locations around 3219. One note led to another and then the next until the four baskets were finally recovered in some ridiculously ingenious nook in the house, wedged behind the washer and dryer or some such. We have all long lamented the sad fact than none of Carl’s handwritten Easter hunt clues was preserved for posterity.
     On one of our earliest Joan De Arc Easters, after the basket hunt had reached its conclusion, my mother surprised me with a bonus Easter gift alongside my basketful of sugary bunnies. Already an avowed bibliophile, I was delighted to receive a curious little volume entitled Forester Pfeffer, a lovely little children’s tale of a sociopathic gun-toting criminal stalking innocent wildlife in an idyllic forest setting.
      Published in 1960, Pfeffer was the brainchild of a pair of German designers and illustrators by the names of Helmut Bischoff and Klaus Winter. Their story is a simple German folk tale of good vs. evil translated into English by one H.D. Hüsch, but the book is primarily a showcase for the simple yet compellingly intricate illustrations and design implemented by Bischoff and Winter.
     The text presents a concise and surprisingly disturbing tale for a cute little kid’s book (spoiler alert). Pfeffer the intrepid forester is interrupted by the sounds of gunshot rippling through the woods as he attempts to enjoy his steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup. Accompanied by faithful canine Flippen, the hero sets out from his humble red cottage to find the culprit and bring him to justice. After soliticing the animals in the forest for assistance in his quest (and oddly enough, various plants as well), Pfeffer ultimately manages to entrap the wicked hunter and deliver him into appropriate incarceration. The brave forester then retires to his little red cottage and reheats his bowl of soup. The end.
    

Bischoff and Winter, circa 1960
Well then. I can only observe that children’s literature has changed somewhat since 1960. The disturbingly violent content of Forester Pfeffer raises the contemporary eyebrow and would be difficult to imagine in a 2018 children’s story. As the tale approaches its climax, the young reader is presented with the heart-rending image of a young deer bleeding from a gunshot wound. The fact that all this mayhem is situated in a warm and fuzzy fairy-tale forest setting lends a somewhat surreal flavor to the proceedings. I think it’s fair to say that Pfeffer is a period piece that certainly owes something to its post-WWII German vintage.
     If you peek beneath its childlike storybook veneer, the tale of Pfeffer also presents certain moral ambiguities that would probably never occur to a young reader and indeed may not have crossed the minds of Bischoff and Winter either. The “wicked” hunter may well be killing animals as a simple necessity of his own survival, although we’ll never know since his purpose is never made explicit in the narrative. Perhaps he is indeed a gun-wielding madman who must be stopped at all costs by the intrepid forester, but it’s really impossible to tell. Perhaps this is by design.
     Despite the more disturbing aspects of the tale, Forester Pfeffer remains a charming little slice of kid’s lit, thanks primarily to its remarkable illustrations. The simple drawings are flat and two-dimensional, but they blend to create a very dynamic imagery through a remarkable use of color and the depiction of a striking variety of wildlife and plant life that combine to evoke a very complex and compelling forest setting. Bischoff and Winter were not great artists, but their talent for design carries the day.
     I am happy to report that my original copy of Forester Pfeffer rests today on my library shelf alongside a second copy of the book that my brother and his wife thoughtfully gifted me some years ago, a very solid copy with its dust cover happily intact. Although I memorized the text long ago, I still page through the book on occasion and marvel at this unique example of mid-century kiddie melodrama. And fondly recall a certain Easter Sunday long ago.
     Bischoff and Winter went on to produce several more children’s books as the ‘60s unfolded, most notably ’The King and Parrot’ and Other Fables in 1969. One imagines the pair would be pleased indeed to know their work had such a profound impact on the early cultural history of Joan De Arc Avenue.

The exquisite Arroz con Pollo

By J. Bueker

     The timeless combination of chicken with rice has always appealed to me. My favorite meal at the legendary Phoenix riverboat restaurant Copper Belle, indeed the only repast I can ever remember ordering there, was their splendid Southern Chicken Skillet, a savory concoction of chicken, seasoned rice, green peas, mushrooms and country gravy. Here was comfort food par excellence.
     I was therefore already quite the devoted chicken ‘n rice aficionado when my mother introduced her amazing Arroz con Pollo recipe to 3219 in the late 1960s. This unique and distinctively flavored Caribbean dish was a starkly different culinary experience from the traditional southern-style cuisine served up at the Belle.
     Many variations of Arroz con Pollo exist of course, but this particular version from Puerto Rico has something of magic about it. Capers, olives, and Spanish peppers combine with the chicken and rice to produce an absolutely singular texture and flavor. I’ve never tasted anything remotely like it before or since. Happily for me, my wife also enjoys this classic Joan De Arc dish and prepares it for us on an ongoing basis.
     The story of Arroz con Pollo’s journey to the Avenue actually begins in the late ‘50s, when Life magazine published a “Foods of the World” cookbook that Mom purchased as a gift for her sister Virginia. My aunt apparently tried the Arroz recipe, enjoyed it immensely, and enthusiastically recommended it to Barbara, who then brought it to the Bueker dinner table.
     A year or two later, when asked to contribute a recipe to the “Culinary Capers” cookbook being assembled for her AdeA women’s club, Mother knew just the one she wanted to share. The recipe as shown here is taken directly from that 1969 AdeA cookbook. ¡Buen apetito!

________________________________________________________________________________________________________ JDA

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