Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Research Can Be Tasty

Gretchen Craig means for her historical novels to be authentic right down to the kind of shoe laces the ladies used and what they cooked for supper. Her latest novel, CRIMSON SKY, is set in New Mexico among the pueblos where their supper was likely a stew of rabbit, corn, and beans. But in her novels set in New Orleans, her research includes desserts!

We live a day’s drive from New Orleans and one of the attractions that draws us back again and again is the FOOD. ALWAYS AND FOREVER and EVER MY LOVE, historicals with romance elements, are set in New Orleans in the 1830s. Like other historical novelists, I did book research, internet research, library research, and most fun of all, on-site research in the French Quarter.

One historical fact I learned was that in 1837, the country suffered a major financial downturn – we all know what that’s like. I used that event to move my character Josie out of her comfortable life on the plantation and into her journey to become an independent, realistic, and competent young woman.

In danger of losing her plantation, Josie takes herself downriver to New Orleans and opens a lunch counter on the waterfront. She makes apple and peach tarts, pork pies . . . anything her hard-working customers could walk away with and eat from their hands. Her specialty – Pralines. (I always called them pray-leens, but the natives say prah-leens. Just so you know.)

If you’re a candy-maker, you’ll have the right kind of thermometer for making pralines. If not, you can try it by gauging the look of the mixture as you go, just as Josie had to do. (I did it like Josie, but I wished I had a thermometer.) I found them to be a lot of work the first time I made them, but it gets easier. And they are indescribably delicious. Hope you love them too.

2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups pecan pieces

Stir the sugars, cream, and milk together in a pan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture reaches 238 degrees or until its thickened and shiny. Remove from heat and beat until mixture loses its sheen and becomes creamy in texture and grainy looking. This could take 15 mins. by hand or about 5 mins. with an electric beater. Stir in vanilla and nuts and drop tablespoons of the mixture onto parchment paper, allowing it to spread. Let cool and set at room temperature.

Visit Gretchen’s website at www.gretchencraig.com. Her latest release, CRIMSON SKY, is available as a Kindle e-book and also in ePub format (Nook and most other readers).She invites you to read the first chapters of her novels on her site, and to visit her blog at http://glcraig.wordpress.com

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