Saturday, June 10, 2006

Check Out Tea Time Blog

I've created a new blog, Tea Time News & Notes at, with information solely about this interesting and enjoyable tradition. Of all my "Country Kitchen" newspaper columns over the years, those about tea, tea time, tea traditions, and tea implements seem to be most popular.

So I'll be devoting this Tea Time blog to this topic. If you have traditions of your own you'd like to share, e-mail me: .

Friday, February 24, 2006

Food Ideas from Novels

Numerous mystery novels focusing on foods, catering, and restaurants often include recipes. Sometimes these authors even go on to collect them into a recipe book.

However, even when a novel’s primary character isn’t involved in the food industry, you may find the author has woven the foods of an area or era into the story. These contribute to the description and events to create realism. They help to move the story forward or give better expression of the characters.

Whatever the purpose, the food references provide delectable reading for anyone with an interest in culinary topics or who writes a column as I do.

Food Typical of Charleston

I discovered in Patricia Sprinkle’s mystery, Murder in the Charleston Manner, the weaving in of food and its preparation as background gave more of the Southern aura to the story. If the author had wanted, she could have included recipes for these typically Charleston, SC foods in an appendix

Perhaps others don’t pick up on the food and recipe aspect when reading a novel as much as I do. Because I’ve been writing “Country Kitchen” and other food articles for nearly 45 years, my mind seems attuned to these topics in books I read.

In Chapter One, the characters are arriving for dinner. You get the idea this is a ritual. In the next chapter, Sheila, the main character, enjoys tea and chocolate chip cookies with her aunt. Sheila doesn’t like her tea sweetened. (In the South, when you ask for iced tea, unless you specify otherwise, you’ll likely be served a glass of strongly sweetened tea, called Sweet Tea. It’s even mentioned by this name on many restaurant menus.)

Food Midst Mystery

Sheila leaves her aunt’s home in Atlanta to investigate mysterious happenings at the home of her aunt’s childhood friends in Charleston. Much of the character introduction and interaction takes place at the dinner table that evening.

The author describes the hostess’s son-in-law carving the ham to a “delicate thinness.” Sheila takes a serving of green beans “simmered for hours with bits of pork”, so common in Southern cooking.

After dinner, they move to the living room for coffee and more conversation. Then Nell, the housekeeper, appears with a tray of strawberry shortcakes. One of the ladies, Francine, makes a pot of herbal tea. (Her desire for herbal tea eventually plays a role in the murder.)

Various Foods Served

Next day, a leisurely lunch on the upstairs porch consists of chicken salad, fresh strawberries, rolls, and sweet tea. Nell provids unsweetened tea for Sheila. They dip the strawberries in powdered sugar.

Potato puffs and broiled shrimp is another dinner menu. For breakfast one morning Nell serves eggs, bacon, grits, and hot biscuits, along with coffee, and herbal tea.

When Sheila dines at Buddy’s restaurant, she has the house specialty…roast oysters

These are only a few of the foods mentioned throughout the novel. This doesn’t detract from the story; instead it lends authenticity to the setting and characters.

Leftover Pie Dough Treat

Sheila often spends time with Nell in the kitchen as she obtains information and discusses family incidents and history. One of the interesting dishes, described more in detail, that Sheila observes Nell making is created from pie dough, left from a pie covered by crisscrossing paper-thin strips of dough.

Nell rolls the leftover dough flat. Then she sprinkles it with sugar and dots with butter before rolling into a long roll. This she cuts into “pinwheels” and puts in a baking dish. Nell next pours milk over the sweetened dough and sets it in the oven beside the pie to bake.

We don’t learn the exact amounts of ingredients (as typical of many old recipes), but could easily recreate the interesting recipe if one wanted to make it. I’d want to add a bit of cinnamon to the sugar.


(Mary Emma Allen researches and writes about food and recipes from her multigenerational home and during her travels. Visit her web site:; e-mail: )

Monday, January 09, 2006

Create a Youngster's Heritage Recipe Book

“Why don’t you write down our favorite recipes in a book for me?” our granddaughter asked her mom.

So creating a heritage recipe book for a Christmas gift resulted. The family favorites have been written down, with space for the young cook to add more. I’ll go through some of those that date back to her great, great grandmother and see if she wants to add those, along with the stories behind them.

Favorite recipes can tell one aspect of a family’s story. When were they served? Who traditionally prepared them? Were they handed down through the generations or a new recipe you discovered and recently began serving?

Various Methods of Compiling Recipes

You’ll find various methods of compiling these recipes. Try something mentioned below, combine one or two of them, or seek out something of your own.

*Recipe Cards – These are one of the easiest ways to collect recipes. You can put them in a recipe box, or slide them into compartments in a photo album

*Books made especially for recipe collecting – My daughter found a three-ring recipe binder, made especially for jotting down recipes on the included pages. You also can add sketches.

*Photo albums of various sizes where you can include photos – These have pages for inserting recipe cards and for larger pages with recipes written on them. There is room, too, for photos of family gatherings, youngsters cooking, and foods they’ve made.

*Albums that incorporate scrapbooking techniques – With scrapbook albums, you can paste or attach recipes on cards or scrapbooking papers. Then adorn with photos and various decorative touches.

*Computer programs that save recipes and stories – There are a number of computer programs that enable you to compile a cookbook. You can save these on CD or print off and make into book format.

Brainstorming Recipes

Try brainstorming some of the recipes your family enjoys and the stories associated with them. Think of recipes, simple and fancy, that your family enjoys…recipes you and your children want to remember over the years.

*Green Bean Casserole – My daughter makes this for holiday occasions. Her grandmother always made it and Beth especially liked it. Now her daughter does. This is one of the recipes added to the cookbook.

*Pancakes – My husband has perfected a recipe for pancakes and waffles the family likes. So the story associated with it and the recipe is another to be included.

*Party Chicken – My son-in-law’s mother makes this, which has become a favorite in their family.

© 2005

(Mary Emma Allen researches family food history from her multigenerational home in Plymouth, NH. She also writes stories for children and is working on a book based around her family during the Civil War era. E—mail:

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Memories of Grandma's Quilt

As I shopped for groceries during a trip to Sioux Falls, SD recently, I noticed a display of paintings – actually prints from paintings. One caught my eye titled, “Grandma’s Quilt.”

A quilt was draped over a chair with sewing basket beside it. The intricate detail and warm colors reminded me of sewing quilts with my grandmother. This would be a delightful picture to hang in one’s sewing room.

I also thought of the sketch I did for my book, The Magic of Patchwork. It depicts a young girl sewing with her grandmother, reminiscent of my quilting with Nanny. It’s in black and white. However, I could enlarge it, add color (or leave in black and white) and reproduce it in larger size to frame or print as postcards and notepaper.

Quilting inWinter

These colder days of winter with snowbound hours or long evenings of darkness often seem an ideal time for quilting and handiwork. The pioneer homemakers engaged in much of their sewing and quiltmaking during this time of year.

Nanny and I, when I was about eight years old, sat beside the kitchen woodstove, cut and stitched patches into quilts for us four children. I was so pleased when, years later, my mom found that old quilt. Though well worn, it remained in salvageable condition.

Recipes for Quilting Days

While you’re working on your quilting and patchwork, you may want to have meal cooking or made beforehand so you don’t have to take time away from your tasks. You also could put a one pan dish into the oven to bake, using baking bags which save on cleaning tasks as well.

If you’re quilting with other ladies, you can have a potluck lunch, with everyone bringing something to share. This can be sandwiches, casseroles, salads, fruit, desserts, cheese and crackers.


Tear one head of lettuce and arrange in a 9 x 13-inch pan. Layer the following ingredients in this order:
*1 cup chopped celery
*1 sliced green pepper
*1 cup sliced onion
*1 cup grated carrots
*10-oz. package peas, slightly cooked
*1/2 package bacon, cooked and crumbled

Spread 2 cups mayonnaise over salad. (Use light mayonnaise or salad dressing, if desired. You also can use less if you want.)
Top with 4 ounces grated Cheddar cheese. (This can be the low fat variety.) Refrigerate overnight, or 8-10 hours before serving.

Serve with a cup of soup and hot bread or rolls.


(If you have quilting memories you'd like to share, e-mail me: Type "Country Kitchen blog" in the subject line.)