Pecan Pie

Memorial day is almost upon us. Being a Yankee holiday from the late unpleasantness between the states, it wasn’t celebrated down here until recently. Here’s a good Southern recipe.


  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 1/2 tsp salt
  3. (optional but good with a sweet filling) 1 tsp sugar
  4. 1 stick margarine (about 1/4 lb)

Mix these together until well homogenized.  An electric mixer works great as does a pastry knife, but a fork will do the job as well.  (I’m faster with a pastry knife than a mixer, but a mixer is easier on the arms).  When done it will be about the consistency of corn meal.  Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes (or longer – it will freeze well at this stage) to chill and harden the margarine.  (prepare the filling during this time).
The simple way to prepare the crust is then to add cold water in small increments, followed by mixing to form a ball that holds all of the mixture together and is not sticky (you can add a little flour to dry it out if need be).  Do the mixing by hand with a fork or a spoon as it is important to be gentle with pie crusts.  Then roll it out on  a floured board and put in the pie pan.
To make a flaky pastry,  reserve about 1/3 of the mixture and add water to the rest.  This time you want the wetted mixture to be slightly sticky.  Roll the mixture out and place some of the dry mix on it (use about a tablespoon of the dry mix).  Fold over twice (once lengthwise then once across).  Repeat rolling out, adding mixture and folding until all of the dry mix is used up.  Then roll out all the way needed for the pie and put it in the pan.  (this is a bit more complicated than the first way, and the first way works fine if you’ve never made a pie crust before).
To make the filling (for a 9 inch deep dish pie crust):

  1. 3 eggs
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 1 cup corn syrup (I used “golden eagle” brand which is mixture of corn syrup, molasses and honey )
  4. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 tsp salt
  6. 2 tbs margarine (melt if you’re doing this by hand otherwise just blend it in)
  7. 1 cup (or slightly more) Pecans

Beat the eggs, sugar & margarine.  Add the vanilla, syrup and salt.  Beat some more.  It should be slightly opaque and foamy.   Put the pecans in the prepared (unbaked)  pie crust and pour the mixture over it.  Bake in a preheated 325 F oven for about 50-55 minutes.  Remove and cool.

Simon doesn’t want to let go.

I’d been planning to work on another book set in the American revolution, and probably still will. I’ve heard authors say that their characters come to life and to a certain extent dictate what you do. Never really believed it. My mistake.

Simon and Katherine don’t want me to take a break. As I try to work out the plot line for the new book, they sneak in, unbidden and demand attention. Without really trying I’m further on a plot line for a third book with them, than I am on the new one.

It would start after the first and cover their wedding and posting to Vienna.

  1. Wedding in St. Osyth. They’ve been convinced to post the banns rather than use the special license Wolfe brought. This means that their family has a chance to gather. This allows a few discussions and family secrets to emerge.
  2. Back to London. While getting ready to be posted there are things to do. They might connect with Freddy (the banker who is worried about cloth sales to ‘Denmark’) and Katherine can get into some sort of trouble. Maybe do something with her friends that is subject to misinterpretation.
  3. Cambridge. Simon has to learn how to use codes, ciphers, secret inks and various 18th-19th century tradecraft. Sounds like I’m channeling LeCarre here, doesn’t it? They did use surprisingly sophisticated techniques so he’d need to learn them. Gives me a chance to catch up with a couple of loose ends.
  4. On Clarke’s ship. He’s posted to the Mediterranean fleet. I’ll have to do some research for this. The little bit the navy appears in Katherine’s choice didn’t require much because it wasn’t very long.  (I did have to research the shipyards, though).
  5. ???

They have to pick up a romantic interest somewhere. In the French Orphan it was originally going to be Sally and Wilcox, but that didn’t work out. O’Reilly sort of grew on me, and her. I wonder who it will be this time?

Preliminary draft of chapter 1 for the next book, “The Doctor’s wife”

No I don’t mean Dr. Who.
This is set in the American revolution and is a fictional back-story for a woman, known only as “the Doctor’s wife” who was a revolutionary agent in Trenton when the Hessians occupied it. She took a few pot shots from her window from behind their lines on Christmas morning 1776, and (probably) shot one Hessian officer. 

Chapter 1. Call to Arms

The sun was just rising on the morning of July 6th1776, its rays illuminating the bedroom on fifth street where Elizabeth and John Graydon were sleeping. Elizabeth stirred as the light awakened her. She kissed her husband awake. The last few days had been exciting, with the Continental Congress, now the Congress of the United States, declaring independence from Great Britain. There had been fireworks, speeches, and toasting.
Today was different, sad. The Philadelphia Associators were set to march to New York today. To join General Washington and the rest of the continental army in defending the biggest city in the nation, for it was now a nation or at least was becoming one, against the, now foreign, British and German aggressors. The Regular army under General William Howe with their Hessian mercenaries had been camped on Staten Island for the last few weeks, and it was only a matter of time before the attacked the city. They had to attack before Admiral Richard Howe, the general’s brother sailed for shelter in the fall.
“John,” she asked, “do you have to go?”
He stirred, they’d only been married three months, and sleeping next to a beautiful woman, waking to her touch, was still a novel and wonderful experience. They’d married as soon as John had finished with his course in medicine at the Pennsylvania College. They would have married earlier, but the college rules prohibited married students. They’d had three months of the joys of marriage, though Elizabeth had not yet been sized by its fruits.
“Liz,” he mummered in her ear, “I’m their doctor. Their surgeon. I cannot stay home. You know that.”
It was true. His friends had all signed up, like their fathers before in the Seven Years war, to defend their nation. He could not decline, not without a deep and personal feeling of shame.
Awake, John continued, “in any case, Dr. Reed is too old and the Associators are the cream of society. I’ll be in good company.” He reached over and held her tight. “We don’t muster until mid-morning. There’s time to say goodbye.”
The Associators mustered in the green to the south outside the Philadelphia State House. Their commander, the chairman of the committee on public safety and defense, John Dickinson, addressed them. He stressed that it was everyone’s responsibility to defend themselves, and even though he had absented himself from Congress – abstaining rather than voting against the declaration of independence, he was cheered. It wasn’t that long ago since the former colonists rose up to defend their rights as Englishmen.
Then they marched off with a new flag flying along with their regimental banners, one still had the thirteen stripes of the old one, but a blue field with stars instead of the union jack. The drums beat the time and fifes piped to keep their spirits high as the marched north toward Easton, to catch the ferry to Trenton on the morrow and begin marching on the main road to New York.
Elizabeth and her maid Molly waved and cheered as the Associators left. It helped to keep them from crying over the absence of their loves. Sadly turning to trudge back to the, now too, quiet house on fifth street they ran into her uncle Cadwalader.
“Fine troops. You should be proud of John.”
“Uncle, what are you doing here? I thought you were with Smallwoods’ regiment in New York.”
“I came down from New York on the flying machine Thursday. I had to tell General Dickinson where to report.”
“Where’s John going?”
“The associators will join General Washington’s flying column, outside of Elizabethtown. The British are on Staten Island. The flying column will make sure they stay there.”
“Ma’am?” Molly requested, the caution clear in her voice, “what are we going to do?”
“About what?”
“in the fall?’
“I thought we’d move in with John’s parents in Lancaster.”
“Lancaster?” Uncle Cadwalader exclaimed, “That’s an awful town. No you mustn’t stay there. Why don’t you stay with my wife in Trenton?”
“It’s near Philadelphia and she would appreciate the company.”
“Molly, what do you think?”
“Ma’am, I’m from New Jersey. I like Trenton.”
“Uncle, can you write to my aunt? I would be very happy to join her in Trenton.”
“I will. Now were you wanting lunch?”
“Yes I would, but we haven’t prepared anything at home.”
Molly spoke up, “Ma’am if you will walk with Mr. Cadwalader, I’ll prepare a meal.”
“That would be good, Molly.”
As Molly left, Uncle Cadwalader spoke, “That’s a good girl, your Molly. Is she married? You’re not going to lose her are you?”
“No she won’t leave me, at least not until after my John returns. Her husband was his man and is now with the artillery.”
Elizabeth recognized someone as they strolled along Market street. “There’s Mr. Peale, I’m sorry Captain Peale.”
As a wedding present for John, Elizabeth had been sitting with Charles Peale. In the small world of Philadelphia, Charles, John and her were friends. Despite their friendship, it was still expensive, but worth every shilling. It wasn’t done, and might never be. Peale’s brother James had already left for New York with Smallwood’s brigade and was posted to Long Island. Charles himself was an officer in the Philadelphia Associators and could only paint when off duty. So her painting was started, but waiting on the rare times that Captain Peale could be Mr. Peale the artist.
“Captain Peale! When would you have time for a sitting?”
“Mrs. Graydon, I’m sorry but with the Regulars landing in Staten Island, I’ve had to put my brushes away.”
Uncle Cadwalader, waited quietly. “Oh,” Elizabeth blushed, “I’m sorry. Captain Peale this my uncle General John Cadwalader from Smallwood’s regiment. We were heading to my house for a repast, would you be interested in accompanying us?”

The French Orphan is out

Or almost so.
I’ve checked and approved the proofs for the hard copy and the kindle version. It’s not quite out on the amazon site right now, but is ‘publishing’.

The kindle version is actually a more or less native kindle version with page numbers removed and a clickable table of contents.

Now on to the next one.

Almost ready for release

My latest book, The French Orphan, is almost ready for release. I’ve spent the last couple of days writing time going through it, again and again, trying to catch the typo’s, odd homonym and occasional grammatical error.

I think I’ve found most of them. It’s funny how your can think one word and your fingers type another.

Kilts and Jane Austin

What does a kilt-wearing Scotsman and Jane Austin have in common?

It’s what they wear or wore underneath their outer clothes. Nada, zip, nothing. Well, technically Jane probably wore a chemise and a slip in addition to an outer cover, but below that not much else.

This lead to certain behavioral consequences that a writer of regency based books has to be aware of.

  • Sidesaddles. Nearly everyone rides a horse astride today. Mounting a horse astride while wearing regency muslins would reveal a great deal more of your flesh than your shapely ankles or “gasp” calves. Mounting a sidesaddle without exposing yourself is much easier.
  • The saddles themselves were different and much less suitable for hard riding. Modern sidesaddles have a “horn” at the top which supports a leg and gives the rider something to grab onto. Without that jumping the horse and, more importantly, staying on the horse when she landed would be very difficult.
  • Athletics. Cartwheels, need I say more? Seriously though, muslins that were secure from the wind would have to be relatively long and restrictive. Tree climbing in mixed company would have unfortunate consequences.
  • Hot bricks. Winter carriage rides would be more than a bit grueling. Without something akin to ‘long johns’ or ‘polypros’ to keep the legs warm, it would a rather cold experience. Putting a hot brick between the feet would warm your whole body and make the experience much more comfortable.

On the other hand, dressing like this could have advantages when it came to using the chamberpot. Unlike the gentlemen, we’d just have to put the pot in the right place and make sure our skirts were out of the way.

The cartoon below (from the wikipedia article about sidesaddles) gets the point across rather clearly.

Shrimp and Cheese Grits

I was wondering what people ate during the regency and not having much luck at finding recipe’s. I have a great book of medieval food recipes, and another for roman/greek, but nothing for 1800’s Britain.

So here’s a recipe that isn’t regency, but is southern and good.

Shrimp and Cheese grits.

The first step is a bit of heresy.

Mix together a 4:1 ratio of water:grits That’s one cup of water with 1/4 cup grits, not the other way around. At least not if you don’t like them very crunchy.
Use cold water and bring the mix to a boil.  This way the grits are suspended in the water and don’t get clumpy.  You should probably add a bit of salt and some Tabasco or similar hot sauce.

It will need to be stirred, but you won’t need to stir it all the time.

If you’re making shrimp grits you can add the shrimp (I like raw with the shells on) once the mixture starts to thicken, but well before it’s done. For 2 cups of water use about 1/4 pound of shrimp. You can also add cheese. Use a similar amount of cheddar cheese cut into chunks or shredded.

Stir occasionally cooking on low until it’s done.

Instead of shrimp/cheese you can use cooked bacon/cheese or country ham.


Proofreading is my bette noir. It’s much harder than righting writing the text in the first place.

I like to work in the createspace template just because I can see the pages add up as the words fly by. With most word processors you can display a couple of pages at once which helps with continuity and making sure there aren’t plot holes at a local scale.  You know, avoiding things like:

p10  George entered the room and found Sally undressing. …
p11 George entered the room and found Sally dressing.

Either he entered the room under potentially exciting conditions or he entered it after she was done waiting for him. It has to be one or the other. Well, I suppose we could have a “Schrodinger’s plot”, but that’s usually a sign of lazy writing.

The trouble with a multi-page view is that the print is small and it’s easy to miss typo’s and homonyms (to,too and heel,heal).

What I’ve found helps is to zoom the page to where only a few lines are visible. It improves focus. It’s still tedious, but at least it’s harder to miss stupid mistakes.

Getting the Emotional Connection

Darn cats. One of the older ones has decided that the house wasn’t smelling enough of him. So I’ve been a bit busy.

How do you write expressive emotions? The emotional link between the characters in the book and its audience is essential for a successful novel.

This is a real quandary for me. I mean writing something like:

Lord Asquith felt confused and angry. Lady Susan’s refusal to dance the waltz with him left his emotions, such as they were in a tizzy.

is a bit dull. Yes, it tells you how Lord Asquith feels, but it feels flat. On the other hand, it is easy to write.

Much better is something like:

Lady Susan looked down her long patrician nose at him. “I wouldn’t dance the waltz with you, even if it were a dance that wasn’t risqué.”
“There’s no harm in it Lady Susan, and it would give me a chance to tell you how I feel about you.”
She blurted “I don’t care how you feel me.” Then turning on her heel, she strode off to find another partner.
Lord Asquith’s emotions were in a tizzy from this impolite rejection. It was all because he’d said hello to the petite blonde at the door. She was a pretty enough young lady, but he couldn’t even remember her name. “I wonder if she has a partner?”

Sorry, I got carried away. The emotions, their intensity, and the reason for the intensity are now clear.