Massachusetts is enjoying what everyone agrees is an incredible bumper crop of apples this year, and since I write about an apple orchard, I'm thrilled. What's more, when groups such as book clubs gather, there is always food. There's something very basic about feeding your guests, and it's also a wonderful opportunity to introduce and sample new dishes.
When I started writing the Orchard Mystery series, I knew what most people know about apples—I could recognize an apple tree (if it had apples on it) and I knew the names of what I saw in grocery stores, not that those names meant a lot to me. So when I created my heroine, Meg, I made it clear that she didn't know much about apples either. She's been learning a lot in the past couple of years (going on two years in the books). That goes hand in hand with learning about the people in her new town, Granford, Massachusetts.
Of course, learning to manage an orchard doesn't leave Meg a lot of time or energy for cooking, but everybody has to eat. And apples lend themselves well to so many dishes, both sweet and savory.
But book club members have to earn those tasty dishes (work before play, right?), so I have some questions for you to think about.
Golden Malicious, coming out next week, is the seventh in the Orchard Mystery series. Meg's life has definitely changed since she arrived in Granford. But since not all readers will have read all the books, I've combine some specific questions about Meg and her new community with more general questions about reading cozy series.
- Do you find that using a single theme in a series, like a craft shop or a food producer or seller, is too confining? Do you find it believable that a woman like Meg would go from a bank job crunching numbers to managing an orchard?
- Do you enjoy learning about something new in books, or are you impatient and wish the author would just get on with the story? Meg keeps getting distracted by murders in Granford, even while she's trying to expand her orchard and harvest her crop. Do you ever wonder how she manages to juggle it all?
- Do you prefer to read about crafts or trades that you might actually practice in your life, or do you just enjoy imagining them? Do you harbor a secret desire to return to a simpler life on a farm? (Warning: it's hard work!)
- Most cozies are set in small towns, and Granford is a typical New England town. Does it bother you that bodies keep turning up there? Or that the local police seem unable to solve murders without help from an amateur?
- Do you like reading about new places you've never been, or do you prefer places you recognize or even know? How much description of the place can the author include before you're distracted from the story?
- Do you as a reader find yourself as identifying with the protagonist when she decides to get involved in solving a crime? At the beginning of the series, Meg is a newcomer in town, so why is she qualified to investigate crimes there? Because she's smart, or because she has something to lose if the crime isn't solved or if the wrong person is accused?
- Many cozies include romantic elements, and sometimes there may be two men vying for the attention of the protagonist as she tries to solve crimes. Do you think that romance has a place in cozy mysteries? How much attention should it be given?
In Golden Malicious, Meg and Seth have known each other for well
over a year. Is their relationship moving too slowly, too fast, or just
fine (given all the other things they face, like multiple murders)?
In honor of the Massachusetts apple crop, I'm including my favorite apple cake recipe, but I've modified it for serving a group (individual slices work but they can be messy). This recipe is tasty, dependable, and easy to make (it appeared in the first Orchard Mystery, One Bad Apple, and also in a guest post here in 2010).
FRESH APPLE CAKE
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 eggs (mix one of them up and add half)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups shredded apples (do not peel -- the skin adds texture to the cake; the shredding disk of a food processor works very well, or you can use a hand-grater). How many apples you will need will depend on their size.
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl brown sugar
2 Tbl granulated sugar
2 Tbl heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour small cake tins (the flour is important to keep these from sticking!) This recipe makes a total of four cups of batter. The pans I used held 1/4 cup for each mini-cake, so should make 16. The recipe can easily be doubled.
|From my ever-growing vintage cookware collection|
Combine the oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend very well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Sift these into the oil-egg mixture and combine thoroughly. Add the vanilla. Then fold in the raw apples, mixing well with a large spoon or spatula. Pour or spoon the batter into the little cake pans. Note: when filling, stop 1/4-1/2 inch from the top, because the batter does rise a bit.
|Ready to bake|
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let them cool while you prepare the glaze.
Glaze: Melt the butter, sugars, and heavy cream mixed with vanilla in a heavy pan. Boil for 1 minute without stirring, then remove from heat.
A word of warning about the glaze: it’s addictive. At my house we usually double the recipe, and fight over who gets to lick the pan. My daughter pours it over ice cream, and she adds chopped nuts and coconut. And sometimes we just skip the cake and eat it right out of the pan. Yum!
Remove the cakes from the pans and drizzle the glaze over them while they are still warm.
GOLDEN MALICIOUS (Orchard Mystery #7)
Coming October 1st!