No Bad Apples

no-bad-applesToday’s post falls into the category of Research Road, however, the information I discovered didn’t make it into my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, or more correctly, it was removed. The reason for this underscores my admonition to always check your facts. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy with factual details familiar to the known world, it’s important to present the particulars accurately.

In an effort to entice potential readers once my novel is published, I have familiarized them with characters and situations through the food I featured in the story. Recipes for these meals can be found in Edible Fiction. Last week, I wrote a post for an apple pie eaten in a scene relaying Dr. Welles’s first trip into the town where he decided to spend his later years. For this particular pie, I chose to use Paula Red apples. They are among my favorite pie apples because they have an old fashioned flavor and become sauce-like when baked. I thought a little history on the heirloom apple would make for an interesting blog post, and that’s when I learned my mistake.

According to several websites devoted to antique apples, Paula Reds were discovered as a seedling in Sparta, Michigan in 1960 by Lewis Arrends. The apple, named for Arrends’s wife Pauline, was a happy accident that appears to have descended from the humble McIntosh. Why is this important you ask? Because the scene in which a Paula Red apple pie is eaten by Dr. Welles took place in 1958, two years before their discovery and ten years before they hit the market. Perhaps my favorite apple wasn’t as vintage as I first believed.

There are those, my mother among them, who will argue that this is a minor detail, one that wouldn’t be discovered by the casual reader. But as I’ve stated before, I’m not a casual reader or writer, and these details are important. How can I expect my readers to have faith in what I say if I don’t conduct thorough research? (Who is in Your Details?)

I know readers are expected to suspend some belief at times and trust their favorite writers, yet I can’t allow that one person who could nail me on the facts to be disappointed any more than I could tell blatant lies. Obsessed with the facts? I think so! In closing, I hope that another writer will benefit from the information presented about Paula Red apples. At the very least, I hope I’ve prompted writers to check their facts.

By the way, if you want a great recipe for an apple pie, check out the post All-American Goodbye.

Dream Cooking

Dream CookingThe weather in Northeast Ohio has been bitterly cold lately. We’re paying for the month of December when we ran around in shirtsleeves and windbreakers. Personally, I’d rather spread out the bad weather instead of having it dumped on us all at once.

The cold puts everyone in the mood for soup, stew, or chili. Recently, my husband’s family all met at his parent’s house where everyone enjoyed a delicious ground sirloin and root vegetable stew. I took two loaves of bread which we cut into huge chunks for sopping up broth. The evening was a perfect blend of good food, great conversation, laughter, and reminiscing.

Today I’m making a pot of chili to combat the falling temperatures. Every family has their own recipe, or rather non-recipe, of ingredients combined without measuring until the chili tastes the way it’s supposed to. As I chop the onion and green pepper, press the garlic, I think about my Swedish photographer friend who I met on Twitter.

I came late to social media because it served no purpose in my life. If social media couldn’t allow me to hear my friends’ laughter, dry their tears, feel the warmth of their hugs, share a glass of wine or cup of tea, or lend a shoulder, then it held no value. Why would I even consider it when I’m the person who complained that e-mail doesn’t allow for the tone of voice to come through and it leads to too many misconstrued statements and hurt feelings? I’m still extremely cautious about what I type in posts, e-mails, tweets, etc.

Then one day I had to take the plunge into Facebook, Twitter, and a blog for the sake of my author platform. I’ll cut to the chase and admit that’s it’s proven to be successful and quite fun. Also quite addictive, so remember why you signed up in the first place. Don’t ignore the work, writing in my case.

But the most important part of my social media experience has been the connections I’ve made with people I’ve never met, only seen in the little photos they use as their profile icons, and never heard speak. They’ve become real friends, and it’s them I’m thinking about today as I cook.

I wrote a post about apple pie not too long ago, and the friend I mentioned above commented that it’s a favorite in Sweden as well. She tweeted a picture of her beautiful kitchen, and I instantly fell in love with it. I replied that someday, we would cook together in her kitchen. She agreed…someday.

Ever since that tweeted conversation, I have dreamt about the two of us baking together. We would probably start with apple pie, while laughing and chatting at her kitchen table, hands warming around mugs of tea. We’ll take turns peeking in the oven, mouths watering, as we anticipate the rich dessert.

My imagination doesn’t end there for I’ve made other wonderful friends online. My handsome photographer friend from India breezes in without knocking because all are welcome here. He arrives from whatever exotic location he was photographing. A touch of mystery swirls in on the chill breezes, and we laugh and scold him to shut the door. After much foot stomping to knock snow off his boots, he sits at the table with his own mug of tea. No apple pie yet; it’s cooling on the counter.

Right behind him, my American poet friend knocks politely before poking his head in and calling hello. His online presence is so kind, so thoughtful, that I imagine him as soft spoken, warm, and gentle: a perfect blend of Robert Frost and a favorite uncle. His photography includes familiar pictures from daily life. That, too, is comforting. He joins us at the table, eyeing up the cooling pie.

Three more photographer friends arriving from India, America, and Finland join us as if they lived right around the corner. There’s enough room around the table that’s magically big enough to accommodate all of us. Many hands participate in the preparation of a pot of something savory now simmering on the stove. Fresh bread is baking. The men demand dessert; the ladies smile and say not until after dinner.

Then my writing friends drop in. I’ve invited them to meet the photographers. The first is a lion-hearted writer with a terrific smile. Then my comic-loving writer friend and my successfully self-published writing friend from England join the United Nation of Artists gathered at the table. Just as the table is being set for dinner, my part-scientist/part-writer friends hustles in. He laughs and says the weather is either cold with too much snow to shovel or hot with too much grass in need of cutting.

Chairs are added to the table, writers squeeze in between photographers, dinner is served. Conversation is replaced with murmurs of satisfaction. The stew is delicious. Suddenly, the door bangs open announcing one more writing friend to add to the mix. She apologizes as she wriggles out of her coat, tosses her snow-crusted gloves on the warm stove, brushes her long brown hair over her shoulders, and finds an empty spot at the table meant just for her. The t-shirt she wears catches every eye; it’s printed with the naked torso of a man staring just below the chin and ending just below his navel. Grins of appreciation for the intriguing shirt leave no doubt in which genre she prefers to write.

After dinner, as friends turned family push back from the table claiming they have no more room for another bite, dessert is served. Coffee and tea are refreshed. A pie that normally would have served eight at the most transforms into miraculous bounty. There is enough for everyone to have seconds. It is around midnight, and everyone’s spirits are still high. All heads turn at the sound of the door opening one more time.

The last friend to join our impromptu party has been out walking, planning paintings, sussing life’s situations, and enjoying his retirement. His wandering has brought him home, so to speak. Everyone presses him into a chair, places stew, bread, and pie in front of him, and asks after his wellbeing.

I sit back and listen contentedly as writers, photographers, and painters blend perfectly. Art talk abounds. Mugs of warm beverages have given way to glasses of wine. We’ve already started planning our next meal together.

Slowly, each friend fades from view, disappearing in the steam rising from the pot of chili I am stirring. But I can still sense them with me. I say still even though I haven’t met them yet. Someday. Someday it will all start with an apple pie baked in a beautiful kitchen in Sweden.


Thank you to my wonderful friend, Rosita Larsson, for the picture of her beautiful kitchen which inspired this post.

All-American Goodbye

Granny Smith ApplesWithout a doubt, apple pie ranks among the top choices of best comfort food. Like the other recipes I’ve shared here (biscuits, cornbread), every family has their own version, compliments of mom or grandma, and their own opinion of exactly how authentic apple pie should taste. This humble, all-American classic, often the cornerstone of Sunday dinners, picnics, and church-hosted bake sales, is also the dessert of choice that Collie Mercer sends with her youngest child, John, as he leaves the family farm to go live with his Aunt Prudence in Baltimore.

Collie’s decision to send the pie with John is probably based on the fact that apples are a readily available fruit, and her hands could make the pie from memory. Or perhaps her choice is slightly more self-serving as she silently prays the taste of the pie that John grew up with will prompt a change of heart and return her youngest child to her.

Whatever Collie’s motivation, the following recipe is the one I had in mind for her to bake during that melancholy June in 1920. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does and as much as John did on the day he began a new chapter in his life.

Collie Mercer’s Apple Pie

5–6 Granny Smith apples

2 c flour plus 2 T for thickening

1 t salt

1 c cold, unsalted butter, cut into dices

¼ – ½ c ice water

½ c sugar, I use raw

1 t vanilla

1 ½ t cinnamon


4 T butter for dotting

Cinnamon or sugar for dusting

Preheat your over to 425 degrees.

Mix the two cups of flour with the salt. Toss in the cold butter and cut it into the flour/salt mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly work enough ice water into the dry ingredients until you can form a ball of dough, making sure it’s not too wet or too dry. Work quickly by hand to ensure that all the dry ingredients are mixed in thoroughly. Be careful not to overwork the dough or the butter will become warm and the dough will be tough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and place in the refrigerator for twenty minutes.

Peel and slice the Granny Smith apples to approximately ¼ inch slices. (They are an extremely firm apple and any thicker will require sautéing prior to being placed in the crust or they may not cook well during the baking process.) Toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon, a couple of hearty dashes of allspice, vanilla, and the two tablespoons of flour. Stir to coat the apples thoroughly and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into two pieces. One piece should be slightly bigger than the other to serve as a top crust. Working on a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough enough to cover the bottom and up the sides of an eight-inch pie plate. The bottom crust can hang over the edge of the pie plate just a little. Fill the bottom crust with the seasoned apple mixture and place four tablespoon slices of butter on top of the apples. Roll the top crust larger than the diameter of the pie plate and place over the apples. Tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the edges of the bottom crust and crimp to seal. I prefer pressing with the floured tines of a fork to create an old-fashioned look.

Cut several vents in the top crust with a small, sharp paring knife to allow steam to escape. Brush the top crust with your choice of wash. I prefer a milk wash, but egg white thinned with water is also a good choice. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon or sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. Check on the brownness of the crust and bake in five minute increments until a golden color has been achieved but no more than 45 minutes total.

Remove the pie from the oven and let stand for fifteen minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

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