Victorian Food: The Delectable Sausage Roll

This post is a reboot of one published on October 1.  The original disappeared after a website snafu, but thanks to my RSS feed on Goodreads, the sausage roll recipe is not gone forever, and I have received a helpful reminder to back up my blog posts…

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As the weather turns cooler, my poodles race around like maniacs and I start to bake. Yesterday was no exception. After a week of 80-plus degree heat, the temps finally sank to a respectable 63 degrees and I went digging for my cake pans. I made sausage rolls along with mashed potatoes and onion gravy, steamed English peas, and a Victoria sandwich for dessert. Comfort food at its best.

I’ve already posted about the Victoria sandwich here so today we’ll talk about the sausage roll. Although stuffing sausage in a bread-like cover has been a practice for centuries, no recipe for sausage rolls appeared prior to 1842 (at least that I can find). Since that one is reprinted in a 20-year old English cookbook I can’t get my hands on without paying overseas postage, I have no idea where the recipe came from. My beloved Mrs. Beeton, however, published a recipe for sausage rolls in her 1861 Book of Household Management, which looks very much like the recipes in use today:

MEAT OR SAUSAGE ROLLS. 
1373. INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of puff-paste No. 1206, sausage-meat No. 837, the yolk of 1 egg.
Mode.—Make 1 lb. of puff-paste by recipe No. 1206; roll it out to the thickness of about 1/2 inch, or rather less, and divide it into 8, 10, or 12 squares, according to the size the rolls are intended to be. Place some sausage-meat on one-half of each square, wet the edges of the paste, and fold it over the meat; slightly press the edges together, and trim them neatly with a knife. Brush the rolls over with the yolk of an egg, and bake them in a well-heated oven for about 1/2 hour, or longer should they be very large. The remains of cold chicken and ham, minced and seasoned, as also cold veal or beef, make very good rolls.
Time.—1/2 hour, or longer if the rolls are large.
Average cost, 1s. 6d.
Sufficient.—1 lb. of paste for 10 or 12 rolls.
Seasonable, with sausage-meat, from September to March or April.

Mrs. B’s sausage recipe is also similar to the one I used. Sausage recipes vary immensely from region to region, and Mrs. B points out this one is from Oxford:

TO MAKE SAUSAGES. 
(Author’s Oxford Recipe.)
837. INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of pork, fat and lean, without skin or gristle; 1 lb. of lean veal, 1 lb. of beef suet, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 small nutmeg, 6 sage-leaves, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of savory, 1/2 teaspoonful of marjoram.
Mode.—Chop the pork, veal, and suet finely together, add the bread crumbs, lemon-peel (which should be well minced), and a small nutmeg grated. Wash and chop the sage-leaves very finely; add these with the remaining ingredients to the sausage-meat, and when thoroughly mixed, either put the meat into skins, or, when wanted for table, form it into little cakes, which should be floured and fried.
Average cost, for this quantity, 2s. 6d.
Sufficient for about 30 moderate-sized sausages.
Seasonable from October to March.

I cheated and used frozen puff pastry (because my fall baking energy only goes so far), but if you want Mrs. B’s puff-paste recipe, there are two versions here, along with a handy tip for how to make butter in summer, should you be so inclined (and have a cow nearby):

VERY GOOD PUFF-PASTE. 
1205. INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of flour allow 1 lb. of butter, and not quite 1/2 pint of water.
Mode.—Carefully weigh the flour and butter, and have the exact proportion; squeeze the butter well, to extract the water from it, and afterwards wring it in a clean cloth, that no moisture may remain. Sift the flour; see that it is perfectly dry, and proceed in the following manner to make the paste, using a very clean paste-board and rolling-pin:—Supposing the quantity to be 1 lb. of flour, work the whole into a smooth paste, with not quite 1/2 pint of water, using a knife to mix it with: the proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the discretion of the cook; if too much be added, the paste, when baked, will be tough. Roll it out until it is of an equal thickness of about an inch; break 4 oz. of the butter into small pieces; place these on the paste, sift over it a little flour, fold it over, roll out again, and put another 4 oz. of butter. Repeat the rolling and buttering until the paste has been rolled out 4 times, or equal quantities of flour and butter have been used. Do not omit, every time the paste is rolled out, to dredge a little flour over that and the rolling-pin, to prevent both from sticking. Handle the paste as lightly as possible, and do not press heavily upon it with the rolling-pin. The next thing to be considered is the oven, as the baking of pastry requires particular attention. Do not put it into the oven until it is sufficiently hot to raise the paste; for the best-prepared paste, if not properly baked, will be good for nothing. Brushing the paste as often as rolled out, and the pieces of butter placed thereon, with the white of an egg, assists it to rise in leaves or flakes. As this is the great beauty of puff-paste, it is as well to try this method.
Average cost, 1s. 4d. per lb.

MEDIUM PUFF-PASTE. 
1206. INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, 4 oz. of lard, not quite 1/2 pint of water.
Mode.—This paste may be made by the directions in the preceding recipe, only using less butter and substituting lard for a portion of it. Mix the flour to a smooth paste with not quite 1/2 pint of water; then roll it out 3 times, the first time covering the paste with butter, the second with lard, and the third with butter. Keep the rolling-pin and paste slightly dredged with flour, to prevent them from sticking, and it will be ready for use.
Average cost, 1s. per lb.
BUTTER IN HASTE.—In his “History of Food,” Soyer says that to obtain butter instantly, it is only necessary, in summer, to put new milk into a bottle, some hours after it has been taken from the cow, and shake it briskly. The clots which are thus formed should be thrown into a sieve, washed and pressed together, and they constitute the finest and most delicate butter that can possibly be made.

And should you find Mrs. Beeton entirely too much work, try this recipe from the BBC, which I tweaked a bit:

SAUSAGE ROLLS 

Makes about 14 4(ish)-inch rolls

1 lb frozen puff pastry, thawed
3 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used Italian herbs since that’s what I had on hand)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs ground pork
1-1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 oz breadcrumbs
egg wash (1 large egg, lightly beaten)

Preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Combine the dried herbs, salt and pepper, pork, Worcestershire sauce, sage and thyme. Stir, then add breadcrumbs. Mix well with your hands and set aside.

Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 20 inches long and 12 inches wide (I didn’t measure, so I have no idea if this is right–just make a big rectangle). Cut in half length-wise with a knife or pizza cutter.

Roll the meat into a long, thin sausage, approximately the same length as the pastry. (Don’t make it too thick or the sausage will not cook.)

Place the sausage on the edge of one of your rectangles and roll it up in the pastry. Brush some egg wash on to seal the edge of the pastry. If you want it to look neat, trim any excess pastry from the end and discard.

Cut the sausage roll into four (relatively) equal parts, or more if you want appetizer sized rolls. Brush the top of each roll with egg wash.

Repeat with remaining sausage and pastry. You will have extra sausage meat when you’re done (if you don’t, you made your sausages too thick), so save that for breakfast patties another day, or freeze to use in more sausage rolls later.

Place the rolls on the lined baking tray. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden-brown.

The original BBC recipe, which includes homemade puff, is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/homemade_puff_pastry_72461.

Sausage rolls may be eaten hot or cold, although I prefer them hot, with a bit of mustard. They freeze well, but reheat them in the oven, wrapped in foil, not the microwave.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am rather hungry.

 

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Published on October 01, 2017 07:01

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Deep Edits and Black Bean Soup

Cleveland Immersion Class, 2017

For the last several months, I’ve been looking forward to the first week in September. I hosted an immersion master class with the incomparable Margie Lawson and eight of my NEORWA friends. We followed the immersion with Margie presenting at NEORWA’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference. I learned how to use power words, have memorized rhetorical devices, and can deep edit like a boss.

Now that it’s over, I’m feeling energized and ready to take on the literary world by storm. Okay, maybe not–I’m still too tired and Margie would give me a frowny face for the cliche–but I certainly now have more tools to polish my manuscript.

If you’ve never done an immersion class or attended one of Margie’s workshops or online classes, I do hope you will. And in the meantime, here’s my recipe for vegan black bean soup (we ate a lot of soup), modified from Jonathan Waxman’s original meatier version (which is divine and which you can find in his book, A Great American Cook, on page 62):

Immersion Black Bean Soup
Serves about 8 hungry writers, or 10 less hungry ones

3 cups dried black beans
1 red onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 to 2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (remove seeds from chile if you prefer less heat)
3/4 cup fresh cilantro (including stems), chopped, reserving a couple tablespoons of the chopped leaves for garnish
8 cups vegetable broth
freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
Tortilla chips
Creme fraiche or sour cream, Greek yogurt, or coconut milk yogurt

Rinse beans and soak overnight in a large pot of cold water. (You can also use the quick soak method–boil beans in a large pot of water for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool for an hour.) Drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until onions are golden. Stir in the soaked beans, chipotle, cilantro, pepper (don’t add the salt yet!), and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until beans are very tender. If soup is too thin, simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes. If soup is too thick, add more broth or water.

Discard the bay leaf and add salt to taste. Use an immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you should get one, but in the meantime, you can puree the soup in small batches in a regular blender, then return to the pot). Reheat.

Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or creme and the reserved cilantro. (Unless you’re me, and you forget the cilantro.) Serve with a lime wedge and tortilla chips.

 

 

 

 

 

Strokes

Very often, writing is a thankless task. Hours slogging away at words that people may or may not like, that sometimes don’t even make any sense.  Once you’ve made all the edits you can stand to make, you submit your words to the gatekeepers of the publishing world–editors and agents who judge you, your writing style, your ‘voice,’ your marketability. Sometimes they like your words enough to request more of them. Sometimes–far more often than not–they say, “thanks but no thanks.” Every once in awhile, though, you get that ‘yes,’ or at least that ‘maybe,’ that gives you the boost you need to write more words.

In the romance world–and I do think this is more true in romance than in other genres–writers enter contests. Contests are easy, and fairly painless, ways to put your work in front of readers. You can test the waters for a new manuscript, try out new subgenres, take a chance on getting your book in front of the wonderful editors and agents who serve as final judges. Worst case scenario, you receive mediocre (or downright awful) scores, hopefully accompanied by constructive feedback and thoughts on what isn’t working in your manuscript and how to fix it.  Best case scenario, you final, and your words are read, and maybe even bought, by those final judges.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been working on words I absolutely adore. I’ve been submitting them to agents and editors, and have received mixed but overall encouraging feedback. I took some of the feedback to heart, made some significant revisions (namely lopping off the first three chapters–ouch), and submitted the book to a contest to see what people thought.  And just when I was beginning to think it was all a waste of time, this week I received the email telling me I was a finalist. I was literally dancing and fist-pumping around the kitchen while my husband looked at me as if I were a lunatic.

Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for the folks who put on and judge contests–it is an INSANE amount of work, and even less (more?) thankless than writing–the contest itself is not really the point. What finaling in a contest represents is validation: I don’t suck as a writer, and people like my stories, enjoy the tales I have to tell. And all of us–writers and non-writers alike–need to know that what we feel passionate about matters.

 

So all of that is my weird way of announcing that I am so pleased and proud to be named a finalist in the historical category of the 2017 Pages from the Heart Contest for my manuscript, Buying Max.

Those of you who are new writers, and even those of you who’ve been weaving words for awhile, consider entering a contest. You might just get the validation you crave–YOU are fabulous, and so is your story–just when you need it the most.

 

 

Guest Post: Time Travel Romance and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cj Fosdick

Today I’m delighted to welcome Wild Rose sister Cj Fosdick to the blog.  Here she is to talk a bit about her heroine in her Accidental series, the first of which is  on sale now for 99 cents, and to share her favorite Victorian era recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Take it away, Cj!

Cookies as Poker Chips?

Authors often share a brain with their heroines.  My favorite heroine, Jessica Brewster, is taller and slimmer than me, but we both have the same red hair, brown eyes, penchant for drama and taste for cookies. When Jessica participates in a living history tea party at Old Ft. Laramie with her late grandmother’s mysterious teacup, she never imagined she would actually become living history—in the shoes of her look-alike great great grandmother.

Fending off her ancestor’s charismatic first husband and raising her nine year old great grandmother are only two of the challenges she faces in 1886 while learning to cook, launder, and survive the bias and dangers of homestead life in Wyoming.  Her charade in The Accidental Wife grows complicated when the transformative power of love takes hold, and her ancestor’s wayward brother shows up with dark secrets of his own. In a cabin poker game, Jessica offers her famous chocolate chip cookies as poker chips.  (Since chocolate chips were not invented until 1937, she finds a way to improvise.)

Baking anything in a cast iron woodstove is a challenge to a well-educated single woman of the 21st century who often relied on take-out or the convenience of popping frozen meals into a microwave. Woodstoves couldn’t regulate baking temperatures well enough to produce cookies, but creativity is also the mother of pre-invention in a time slip. Jessica’s version of our most famous cookie uses a pocket watch and broken bits of chocolate bars bought at the Ft. Laramie trading post. In the end, Jessica’s ingenuity wins love and legacy in the poker game of life.

 

Jessica’s 1886 Chocolate Chippers

Since chocolate chips were not invented until 1937, time-traveler Jessica Brewster in “The Accidental Wife”
improvises this recipe found in her ancestor’s 1886 cookbook!

1 c. butter                               
1 ½ c. sugar
3 eggs
½ t. baking soda dissolved in a little warm water
2 ½ c. flour                             
Few drops of vanilla
Pinch of salt, nutmeg
3 or more chocolate bars  (raisins optional )

Add ingredients in order,  creaming first two.
Break up chocolate bars into about half the size of a fingernail & fold in. Refrigerate  dough.   
Bake about 10 min. @350 on baking sheets lined with parchment paper until edges brown.

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The Accidental Wife began life as an award-winning short story. The Accidental Stranger is the sequel to Jessica’s timeless journey with “…a fanciful twist on its genre,” according to Kirkus Reviews. Until August 31, the eBook of The Accidental Wife will be on sale for the first time at $0.99 at most online bookstores.

Amazon
Wild Rose Press
Website   
Facebook 
Connect with Cj in her monthly Newsletter  for other recipes & special offers!

 

 

 

Cooking Up a Book

I’ve been slacking on the blog lately, as all my words have been going into a prequel novella I’m writing, featuring the parents of the hero in Stirring Up the Viscount. I’ve also been trying not to be a total slacker in my critique group, which is a bit easier said than done. And since Top Chef and Chopped are now on Hulu, I’ve been binge watching (and cooking) like a madwoman.

This weekend my in-laws are in town and we had friends over for dinner last night. I made an insanely good cherry pie bar thingy that I will probably never be able to duplicate because I veered so far from the original recipe (although I’m working on writing down the recipe so I can come close). I’d show you a picture, but I didn’t think to take one, and since the entire 9″x 13″ pan was consumed last night, there’s nothing left to photograph.

As I sit here reflecting on what to make for breakfast (this cinnamon scone bread is a distinct possibility), it occurs to me that cooking is a bit like writing. Some cooks use recipes, others do not, just as some writers plot and others fly by the seat of their pants. Even if you start with a recipe, sometimes, as with my cherry pie thingy, your imagination (or a desire not to use a full pound of butter) takes you on another course and you end up with a different product. Sometimes it’s better than the original, and sometimes not.

 

Things can go anywhere from slightly wrong (my baked beans last night were slightly undercooked because there wasn’t enough liquid in the pot) to disastrous (I made gluten free English muffins once–my son refers to them as “those hockey pucks Mom made”), like stories that veer off course. There are times when you can fix them, but other times you need to admit defeat and chuck the entire steaming mess into the trash.

Cooking involves tweaks along the way–a little more salt here, a splash of liquid there–just as a book does–a few lines of description here, tightening up language there. And the finished product, even if it looks luscious and is the most amazing thing you’ve ever created, won’t be loved by everyone.

I used to get pissed when my family didn’t like something I slaved over in the kitchen–usually at myself, but occasionally at them when they were so obviously wrong. 🙂 A critique partner’s negative comment or a bad review can get under my skin. As I’ve gotten older, I’m learning to accept this. Not everyone will love what you do. Sometimes even you hate what you create. It doesn’t mean that it’s not good, or that it won’t provide nourishment for body or soul.

But enough philosophizing. Time to make breakfast!

 

 

Historical Book Blast Friday: Romance on the High Seas

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book blast, so I am pleased to get back in the game with the new boxed set featuring my friend and NEORWA sister, Chloe Flowers. Just released, Romance on the High Seas is a fabulous collection of pirate stories by best-selling authors. Chloe will also give a pirate bandana and signed book to a randomly selected commenter. You can also win a Regal gift card so you can keep the pirate spirit alive with the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, which releases May 26.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS

The Pirate’s Debt by National Best-selling Author Katherine Bone: An earl-turned pirate is ordered by his benefactor to find an adventurous young runaway and return her home.To do so, he must retrieve her without being discovered by the most ruthless pirate hunter on the seas: her brother.

Dead Man’s Kiss by Award Winning Author Jennifer Bray-Weber: Eight weeks. That’s all pirate captain Valeryn Barone has to escort a tempting naturalist untouched across the Caribbean or face the gallows. Can he resist the beauty who’s fallen for him? Does a dead man walking even have a chance?

The Black Morass by USA Today Bestselling Author Barbara Devlin: In exchange for a chance at redemption and pardons for his crew, Jean Marc Cavalier accepts a pact that could result in liberty or death, if only he can survive the terms, but at least he will be free.

Pirate Heiress by Award Winning Author Chloe Flowers: Captain Conal O’Brien has already lost control of his ship to the most unlikely band of pirates sailing the seas. If he’s not careful, he’s going to lose his heart to a notorious lady pirate determined to destroy both.

My Lady Pirate by NY Times Bestselling Author Danelle Harmon: The sea delivers a handsome castaway to Pirate Queen Maeve Merrick’s island. But her handsome prisoner harbors secrets dark enough to change the fates of nations and threatens their new found love.

Captivated by the Captain by USA Today Bestselling Author Amanda Mariel: What happens when an American shipping company heiress crosses paths with a pirate? Can two people whose life paths are at odds find common ground?

Carried Away by Kamery Solomon: After falling through time and being forced to join a pirate crew, Mark Bell falls in love with his fellow time traveler, Samantha. She’s a woman he can’t have, though. Will their presence in the past alter the future they know and love?

To learn more about any of the authors and their stories, click on their names above or check out the High Seas Facebook page. And to buy Romance on the High Seas, visit these retailers:

Amazon * B&N * iBooks Kobo 

Although I’d love to post excerpts from all of them, this post would get crazy long. Since I know Chloe the best, I’ll post this delicious excerpt from Pirate Heiress:

Stevie swallowed and gripped the pistol handle more firmly. Her arm was beginning to tire from holding it for so long, but she didn’t dare lower it. The mountain of a man in the tub looked as if he could crush her head like a grape with one hand, and her young cousin’s with the other one. More often than not, she could look an average man straight in the eye. However, with this one, she doubted her head would reach his nose.

The man in the tub cocked his brows, then his eyes narrowed before sliding down to her soft doeskin boots and back up again. She should have stayed more in the shadows; she might have appeared a bit more intimidating that way.

“Relinquish your freedom and possessions,” she said, barely able to keep the tremor from her voice. Her gaze paused at the gold ring on the man’s finger. If they were going to become pirates, she might as well start acting like one. She took a deep breath and drew her shoulders back a little.

“Beginning with your ring,” she said, holding out her hand. The man’s jaw clenched and the knuckles gripping the tub’s edge whitened. What thoughts were flying around in his head? He was contemplating his chances of overpowering her and taking her pistol; she could see that in the way his gaze shifted back and forth between her and her cousin, Remi. If he had a weapon, and if it had been a one-on-one situation instead of one against two (with guns), he likely wouldn’t have paused to contemplate it this long. He would have defended himself by attacking them. And he’d have won. Even now, she sensed he was still calculating his odds.

She eased a step back, careful to keep her pistol well within a lethal range. “Please don’ t try it,” she said. “I’ d prefer to save my shot.” She was far from her cozy little room off the kitchens of her brother’s gaming house. Uncle Bernard had given her a brief lesson on managing a pistol, but it still terrified her to hold it.

His eyes widened and his brows raised in surprise. She’ d been right in her assumptions, then. She usually was. Her intuition annoyed her brothers no small amount, and they always avoided her when they wished their thoughts to remain…theirs. Only one of them could hide from her, but he was a gambler and so it was expected, otherwise he wouldn’t be a very good gambler, would he?

The man twisted the ring from his finger and tossed it to her. She caught it and placed it on the only finger it would fit—her thumb. “Get dressed,” she said, with as much authority as she could muster.

He slowly stood with the oily movement of a cat as he reached for a linen rag. Stevie felt her eyes widen. She was wrong. Very wrong. The top of her head would barely reach his chin, let alone his nose. Wide, thick shoulders took up most of the space in the galley. The muscles across his shoulders rippled as he moved. A long scar trailed from the top of his shoulder to the middle of his rib cage. A fighting man. A very strong, very muscular, very handsome, very naked, fighting man.

 

Trying New Things

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been querying literary agents for my new series. Although I’ve had some interest, I’ve racked up quite a few rejections. The most recent one, a kick in the teeth disguised as a pleasant form rejection, arrived Friday night. Although some writers prefer personalized rejections, I actually prefer the form ones. With them, you can preserve the illusion that they liked the book but it just isn’t right for them, instead of knowing for a fact that they hated it. I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, but I admit my enthusiasm for completing the second and third books in the series is waning the longer the process goes on. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to focus on other things to get the creative juices flowing again.

Ever since I was in England last fall, a new series has been percolating in my brain. It’s not a romance, although it will have romantic elements. It’s a cozy mystery set near Keswick in the northern Lake District, right about here:

When you write historicals, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding the time period. Victorian era is a given, but it did last a very long time. I like the middle of the era–1860s/70s. It still has vestiges of the Regency, when people dressed for dinner and wore elaborate gowns, but it’s also hurtling toward the 20th century. Railways are popping up–trains arrived in Keswick in 1865–and society is changing. 1869 saw the opening of the first residential women’s college in England, in 1870 married women gained the right to own property and elementary education was established, in 1871 trade unions were legalized.

I decided to set my series in 1870. The lakes are a popular tourist destination, and the new railway makes it easier to get there. Endless opportunities for new characters, which is essential for a cozy. I’ve uncovered maps and contemporary guidebooks (you may recall Mr. Black from my recent post about Skye, who also wrote a “Picturesque Guide” to the English Lakes in 1870) to get a feel for the area during the time period.

The next step, at least for me, is characters. I usually start with either a look, a name, or an occupation. My new heroine is Cassandra, and she closely resembles actress Emily Blunt. She’s a longtime widow with a teenage son, and runs a farm and a tea shop at the foot of Walla Crag. (It’s inspired by an actual place that offered salvation–in the form of tea, cake, and a bathroom, not necessarily in that order–after a long day of hiking. Should you ever be in the vicinity, do stop in!)

Anyway, her love interest is the local constable whose name I have yet to determine–feel free to offer suggestions–but he looks a bit like David Boreanz. Cassandra’s childhood friend, he’s back in Keswick after a stint as a policeman in Manchester, nursing the broken heart caused by the recent death of his wife.

Cozies have a reasonably large supporting cast of characters, so I am working on those. I also have the resident pet AND the dead body lined up, but you’ll have to wait for the book to meet them. 🙂

I’m going to get to work–I have quite a few characters to develop, after all, not to mention the plot–so I will leave you with a few questions I’m curious about:

Writers, how do you start a new book (or series of books)? Do you start with setting and move from there, or with characters? Or do you focus on plot first? How do you decide when and where to set your books?

Readers, do you like small town settings or cities? What kinds of characters do you like to see? Do you picture them in your head as you read, as I do when I write them, or is their appearance unimportant to you?

 

Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

A day on which I’m too lazy to write two blog posts

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today I’m over at Heart-Shaped Glasses, where I’m blogging about how I come up with settings for my novels.

Kendal Castle, Cumbria

I’ll be giving away an ecopy of one of my books to a randomly selected commenter, so stop by and say hey!

 

Would you like arsenic with that?

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m back, finally, with a historical post.

The book I’m working on now is more mystery than romance–my penchant for killing people off in my books suggested I ought to go in the mystery direction, although so far I’ve killed off fewer people in this book than in all the others. Go figure.

Arsenic makes an appearance in the book, largely because it was hands down the most prevalent poison in the Victorian era. Believe it or not, many of the deaths from arsenic poisoning were actually unintentional. Arsenic was a component of many commonly used products, including cosmetics and soaps, fabric, and wall paper. 

Arsenic cleared the complexion of blemishes and produced the pale skin popular at the time. (Of course, they used lead too, which is another issue entirely.)

 

Arsenic was also the main component of lovely green pigments and other colors that adorned Victorian walls–wallpaper was very trendy (between 1834 and 1874, the number of wallpaper rolls produced in Britain rose by 2,615%), and the same colors were used on toys, clothing, even artificial flowers women wore in their hair.
Although doctors began sounding the alarm of the dangers of arsenic exposure in these materials in the early 1850s, they were dismissed as hysterical. It wasn’t until the demands of the market changed in the 1870s (and after Queen Victoria had all the green wallpaper removed from Buckingham Palace in 1879) that British manufacturers began to change their practices. It has even been hypothesized that Napoleon was murdered by wallpaper.

 

There was plenty of deliberate arsenic poisoning in the Victorian era as well. In 1851, Parliament passed the Sale of Arsenic Regulation Act, which required those who sold arsenic to maintain a written and signed record of sales (as we do in the U.S. now with pseudoephedrine), and it demanded that no one could sell arsenic to someone unless they knew the purchaser. It also required arsenic, with some exceptions, to be colored with soot or indigo before sale.

When I first started researching this, I discovered the 1851 act as originally written only restricted children from purchasing arsenic, but I also found several articles which noted an amendment to the law, added at the last minute, restricted women as well.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any proof of this, which is making it somewhat more challenging to write the book. I may actually have to darken the doors of my law school library. Update: Some days I’m unable to stop researching, so I found this snippet about the provision barring sales to women, which in the end was NOT included in the final legislation: “…sales would be restricted to those of full age though not, as Carlisle, the PMSA, and the Pharmaceutical Society would have preferred, to men only, the decision to discriminate against women being dropped ‘owing to the indignant remonstrances of ladies’.” Thank goodness for indignant remonstrances of ladies. 🙂  And now excuse me as I head off to rewrite three or four chapters…

James Marsh

Arsenic poisoning was so prevalent that it was one of the first compounds for which a toxicology test was created. Although a test to detect the presence of arsenic had been developed in 1775, in 1832, British Chemist James Marsh was asked to analyze a cup of coffee that had allegedly been used to poison a man. Marsh did so, but by the time of trial, the substance had deteriorated. The man, John Bodle, was acquitted. When Bodle later admitted he had actually committed the crime, Marsh was determined to develop a more stable test that could be successfully used in court. By 1836, he had done so, and the Marsh test was first used in France to convict Madame Marie LaFarge of killing her husband.

And now, just for fun, I will leave you with this clip from Arsenic and Old Lace

Sources:
http://www.historyinanhour.com/2012/09/08/the-dawn-of-forensics/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/12/most-dangerous-beauty-through-the-ages.html
http://hyperallergic.com/329747/death-by-wallpaper-alluring-arsenic-colors-poisoned-the-victorian-age/
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/contents/enacted
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/pdfs/ukpga_18510013_en.pdf
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsh_test

 

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