Sunday, April 21, 2024

Pick Your Poison by Barbara Ross

 Jenn McKinlay: I'm delighted to be hosting one of Jungle Red Writers' favorite guests, the brilliant Barbara Ross, here to tell us all about her latest release. Take it away, Barb! 


Barbara Ross: Torn Asunder, the twelfth book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, releases on Tuesday. I am so happy to be there with the Reds to celebrate! The Reds supported me for the release of my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, and for Clammed Up, the first book in this series. It’s kind of amazing that we are still all here together.

To celebrate the release, I’m giving away signed copies of Torn Asunder to two lucky commenters below.

Readers often ask me if I outline or “just write.” The answer I always give is, “A bit of both. I have to send a synopsis to my editor for approval before I begin writing so I have a general idea of where the book will go. But in truth, the synopsis is a hand wave. Once I’m actually drafting there are still so many decisions to be made, each one affecting the other.”

For example, a six-to-eight-page, single-spaced synopsis might refer to a character called, “the son-in-law.” But what is his name? What does he look like? How long have he and the daughter character been married, which will surely affect his relationships with her and the other relatives? Most of all, what kind of person is he? I know generally how he will move through the story, but not how he will react to the situations unfolding around him.

Another example is a synopsis that says, “So-and-so drinks a glass of brandy that has been poisoned.” You see the issues. What poison? How did it get in the brandy? Who had access to the glass and when? It’s a mystery so multiple characters must have been able to do the deed. And, always a tricky one, how did the poisoner make sure the target drank the poison instead of some other person? You get the picture.

I haven’t used poison much as a weapon in my cozy, culinary mysteries. There’s a cliché about poison being a woman’s weapon and a cliché about it being a cozy murder weapon. Those twin beliefs have kept me away from it, in a sort of reactive, rejection mode. Up until Torn Asunder, I had only used poison once, and that was in non-fatal way.

I don’t know exactly why I decided on poison as my murder weapon in Torn Asunder. It may have been because in the first eleven books I had never had someone die from a massive allergic reaction to shellfish, something someone who runs a clambake like my protagonist, Julia Snowden, would worry about all the time. But this was a murder, so I needed a poison that would look like an allergic reaction but would not be one and would not respond to treatment for one.

As I wrote, other conditions emerged. How would the poison be administered? How long would it take for symptoms to show? How long to die? As the portrait of the killer emerged, I had to figure out how a person in those circumstances would have gotten ahold of the poison.

Audio Edition

Luckily for me, I had a resource at hand, Luci Zahray, renowned in the mystery community as the Poison Lady. In a series of emails, I described the circumstances of my murder. Luci made suggestions. Through the first draft and revisions, more detailed questions emerged. I wrote more emails and go more answers. Luci was a fan of my series which made it fun for me and I hope fun for her. Others have sung Luci’s praises here. Truly, she is a wonderful resource. It takes a village to write a cozy mystery.

I’m sure I still got things wrong. If you have murder in mind, please don’t follow the directions in Torn Asunder. Your results will certainly vary. But gaining an understanding of my poison gave me confidence. And confidence is what makes good writing possible.

Readers: How do you feel about poison as a weapon? Over-done or not-nearly-done enough? Do you want the descriptions and uses of poison in a work of fiction to be accurate or is near enough, good enough to suspend disbelief? Answer the question below or just say hi to be entered to win the giveaway.

Barbara Ross is the author of twelve Maine Clambake Mystery novels and six novellas. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at 

About the book:
A short boat ride from Busman’s Harbor, Maine, Morrow Island is a perfect spot for a wedding—and a Snowden Family Clambake. Julia Snowden is busy organizing both—until a mysterious wedding crasher drops dead amid the festivities . . .

Julia’s best friend and business partner, Zoey, is about to marry her policeman boyfriend. Of course, a gorgeous white wedding dress shouldn’t be within fifty yards of a plate of buttery lobster—so that treat is reserved for the rehearsal dinner. Julia is a little worried about the timing, though, as she works around a predicted storm.

When a guest falls to the floor dead, it turns out that no one seems to know who he is, despite the fact that he’s been actively mingling and handing out business cards. And when an injection mark is spotted on his neck, it’s clear this wasn’t caused by a shellfish allergy. Now, as the weather deteriorates and a small group is stranded on the island with the body—and the killer—Julia starts interrogating staff, family members, and Zoey’s artist friends to find out who turned the clambake into a crime scene . . . 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Live Music and Rock Concerts by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN McKINLAY: Hub and I love going to concerts. He's a musician so it makes sense. Also, we're children of the 70's and 80's when concerts were events! Going to the show, getting the shirt, and wearing it to school the next day was a big freaking deal. Thus, my need to buy Springsteen's T-shirt a few weeks ago when we were lucky enough to catch him on his latest tour.

What do I love about concerts? The performance, for sure, but it's more than that. As Hub and I sat in our cheap two-kids-in college-seats, I chatted it up with the people around us--as you do. There were people in attendance who had seen the Boss over thirty times and they were now there with their grown children, making it a generational experience. I get the generational thing. My mom is a serious live music lover and concert goer and has seen everyone. I will likely never catch up to her.

There were also people from other states and even far away countries (Australia) who were following Springsteen on tour so after they caught him in Phoenix, they were following him to San Diego. No two shows are ever exactly the same, so I get it. 

Jenn and Hub (waving to our friend Paige Shelton who took this pic from the floor)

Steve Van Zant and Bruce Springsteen

One of the best concerts I ever attended was U2's Joshua Tree tour in the Hartford Coliseum with all of my college roommates. The crowd left the arena singing "And I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" all together and it was so powerful it made the hair on my arms stand up straight. 

Recently, Hub and I have seen Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) and the Gin Blossoms (Hub is in another band - Honeygirl - with one of them) and we had tickets to see Jimmie Vaughn but he had to postpone. This is mostly why we've been filling our empty nest days with concerts. It occurred to us that we're getting up there and our musical icons are, too. If we don't see them now, we might not get the chance.

We were lucky enough to see the Rolling Stones before Charlie Watts passed away, and it meant a lot to us to bring the Hooligans to that show as well as many others over the years -- such as ZZ Top at the Arizona State Fair (their first rock concert), Dead & Co (several times) and Guns N' Roses for H2's birthday when the band reunited. Also, I was delighted when they recently went to see Post Malone and had to buy the T-shirt. 

Full disclosure: I'm writing this on Wednesday, but on the day this posts, I will have just seen Phish in the Sphere in Las Vegas, assuming all goes well :) I'll be sure to report back in! 

So, what about you, Reds and Readers, are you a concert goer? What show made a lasting impression upon you? If you could see any rock band or musical artist (living or dead) in concert, who would it be? 

P.S. Okay, it's Friday and the Phish concert is tonight. This is the view of the Sphere from our room! Wild, huh?

Friday, April 19, 2024

The Shanghai Connection By Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby Fischer Hellman: Hi, Reds. Wonderful to be back with you! Thanks for including me.

MAX’s WAR: The Story of a Ritchie Boy is my just-released historical thriller about a true but little known story from World War Two: the Ritchie Boys. They were a group of 2300 German Jews who escaped Hitler’s Germany, emigrated to the US, and joined the Army to fight the Nazis. 

As you can probably surmise, I did intense research on the time period. While doing so, I discovered even more stories that haven’t been widely told. One of those stories, which I included in the novel, follows. 

You know that during the Holocaust the Nazis tightened restrictions on Jews. Many Jewish families were desperate to flee Germany and the Occupied countries. But as restrictions for them at home mounted, so did restrictions in the countries willing to accept them. Quotas limited the number of immigrants Europe and America would accept. America was especially stingy. In 1938-1939, over 400,000 Jews applied to emigrate to America. Only 27,000 received visas. 

In MAX'S WAR Max’s German girlfriend, Renée, and her family were lucky. They capitalized on one of the only paths open to Jews—if they were prepared for a dramatic change. They emigrated to Shanghai, China.

Shanghai 1920's

Why escape to the other side of the world? The exodus was in large part made possible by a heroic Chinese diplomat in Austria, Feng-Shan Ho. Often called the “Chinese Schindler,” he risked his job by issuing thousands of visas to German and Austrian Jews.

The other stroke of luck for Jews was Shanghai’s reputation as an "open city." Much of it was controlled not by the Chinese but by foreign powers – including France, Britain, and the United States. Customs officials were “tolerant” of Europeans who flocked to the city, and often “neglected” to check passengers’ papers carefully. Altogether about 20,000 Jews fled to Shanghai, and most of them survived the war. 

Shanghai in the 1930s was the most sophisticated city in China, but life in the Far East was still a shock, as Renée “reports” in a letter to Max.

There are tall skyscrapers everywhere, and the harbor lies directly in front of them. But once you get ashore, there are hordes of people packed into small spaces. Rickshaws operated by young men pull people all over town. You can see the veins on their legs popping out. There is also a glut of bicycles but only a few autos. 

From a distance it looks very Western, with electric signs and buildings and trolley cars. But up close, I noticed that the streets are not well maintained, and the odor is insufferable. I gather there is little indoor plumbing unless one lives in an affluent neighborhood. There are a proliferation of stalls selling food and drink, but we wouldn’t think of eating anything off the street. 

Even so, they tell me Shanghai is truly an international city, the largest in China. It is responsible for over half the country’s imports and exports, and everyone here is in the business of making money. They call Shanghai the “Paris of the East, the New York of the West” because aside from legitimate trading, Shanghai is notorious as the center of criminal activity in China. Opium is a huge export, and some of the wealthiest Europeans here run those businesses.

While most Jews recognize the difference between Ashkenazi (Western European Jews) and Sephardic Jews (from the Middle East, Spain & Portugal), Renée discovers a branch of Sephardic Jews in Shanghai who were new to her.

A few weeks ago we were invited to Shabbos dinner by the Sassoons, who are probably the most prominent Jewish family here. They are Bagdadi Jews, a branch of Judaism I confess is new to me. They come mostly from Iraq, Basra, and Aleppo, and other Arabic-speaking parts of the Middle East. They’ve been in Shanghai for decades, and are extremely wealthy. The family does most of their trading with Britain, and they all speak English. They are so central to Shanghai’s wealth that no one would dare to impose any antisemitic decrees. So different than Germany. 

Renée’s father was a successful jeweler, and her parents found a home in the upscale neighborhood of Jefferson Park. They assimilated into Jewish life—Shanghai had its own synagogue, Ohel Mosheh. Later there was a school and an active life for young Jews. Renée found the Chinese people generally friendly and supportive.

Jewish Refugee Museum

However, there was an existential threat to immigrant Jews: the Japanese. Again Renée “writes” to Max:

Did you know the Japanese bombed Shanghai in 1932? They occupied Manchuria but Chinese students protested (as they should), so the Japanese broke up the protests with bombs. They are so aggressive they almost make the Nazis look pacifist.

In 1937 the Japanese captured Shanghai. For the most part, they left the Jews alone. But after the Americans entered the war in 1941, things changed. They were, after all, allies with Nazi Germany.

They forced us to move into the ghetto in Hongkou, which is a horrid slum. They also treated the Chinese—well—as badly as the Nazis treated Jews. They had big plans. They thought they would conquer the world. 

Girls of the Shanghai Ghetto

Over 10,000 Jews were crammed into space for half that number. There was no indoor plumbing, heat, stoves, or garbage collection. The conditions were barely tolerable. Illness swept through the ghetto, and many died. Still, there was no incarceration or torture of Jews by the Japanese. The Japanese treatment of the Chinese was a different matter. 

After the war, not many Jews returned to Europe. Many went to Israel and the US. What about Renée and her family? Did they move back? Did she and Max ever see each other again? 

The answers are in MAX'S WAR.

Reds and Readers, did you know about the exodus of Austrian and German Jews to Shanghai? 

Jenn: I didn't. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Libby. I am looking forward to reading Max's War!


Thursday, April 18, 2024

Cover Reveal: The Rose Arbor by Rhys Bowen

 Okay, Readers, we have a treat for you today. The cover reveal for our Rhys's spectacular new novel THE ROSE ARBOR is here...

Pre-Order NOW

More about the novel: 

An investigation into a girl’s disappearance uncovers a mystery dating back to World War II in a haunting novel of suspense by the bestselling author of The Venice Sketchbook and The Paris Assignment.

London: 1968. Liz Houghton is languishing as an obituary writer at a London newspaper when a young girl’s disappearance captivates the city. If Liz can break the story, it’s her way into the newsroom. She already has a scoop: her best friend, Marisa, is a police officer assigned to the case.

Liz follows Marisa to Dorset, where they make another disturbing discovery. Over two decades earlier, three girls disappeared while evacuating from London. One was found murdered in the woods near a train line. The other two were never seen again.

As Liz digs deeper, she finds herself drawn to the village of Tydeham, which was requisitioned by the military during the war and left in ruins. After all these years, what could possibly link the missing girls to this abandoned village? And why does a place Liz has never seen before seem so strangely familiar?

Isn't it just fabulous? A perfect summer read. 

What do you think about cover reveals, Readers? Do they help you get excited for an upcoming release? 

Even more thrilling for me, I received my ARC just in time for a trip to Nevada! Yay! Thank you, Rhys. And, naturally, I had to take a picture of it against my rose bush. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

One Banana, Two Bananas... by Jenn McKinlay

Happy National Banana Day!!! I've been on a banana bender because my legs have been cramping (see Monday's post for reasons why) so I thought it was appropriate that today celebrates this glorious healthy berry...yes, I said berry. Explanation below.

Random Banana Fun Facts:

Bananas are slightly radioactive. (Hmm, this seems potentially problematic).

A bunch of bananas is called a "hand" while a single banana is called a "finger". (Yeah, I'm not sure how I feel about this either, but I am grateful the Hooligans didn't know this and turn it into a "give the finger" joke for the duration of their adolescence).

Bananas contain seratonin, which gives people joy. (This is some news I can get behind).

Bananas float. (Didn't know that!)

Bananas are actually classified as berries (for real!) because the seeds are found inside the flesh. 

Bananas were depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics. (I wonder if they were used as the original eggplant emoji? Sorry! I likely should have kept that to myself. LOL).

The oil inside the banana skin reduces the itching and inflammation from bug bites. (Take that, itch spray!).

There are over 1,000 different varieties of bananas. (I think I've only seen three, maybe four, in my lifetime).

The Latin name for banana is "musa sapientum" which means fruit of the wise men. (I'm going to go ahead and assume this includes women).

So, Reds and Readers, how many of these facts did you know and are you a banana fan or no?


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Abdication Inspiration by Paige Shelton

 JENN McKINLAY: I'm thrilled to have Paige Shelton, one of my plot group pals and a Book Talk member, here with us today! Paige writes two of my very favorite series--the Mary Higgins Clark Award nominated Alaska Wild series and the Scottish Bookshop Mysteries. You can't go wrong with either one of these as you'll see in her post below, Paige loves her research and she's very good at it!


PAIGE SHELTON: The Poison Pen, the ninth book in my Scottish Bookshop Mystery Series, published last week. The story begins with the main character, Delaney, mourning the death of the queen. Shortly thereafter, she is thrown into the middle of a murder whose suspects just might have ties to the royal family. 

Though it’s a murder mystery series and those are, of course, all about finding killers, writing these books has not only allowed me to fictionally do away with some bad guys, but it has also given me a surprising and enjoyable education in Scottish and English history. This time I dug into some of the drama around King Edward VIII’s abdication.

Edward VIII - Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (seriously, that was his name) abdicated the throne in early December 1936, after having been king for just under a year. It’s widely thought that he “gave up the throne for love,” but my research uncovered things that made me think there was a little more to the story (isn’t there always?). I suspect some people just aren’t cut out for the royal life. We’ve seen some of that recently, of course. I don’t think Edward liked the job. He wasn’t about the traditions and protocols that might have been expected of him. Maybe it was love, but maybe love was just a convenient way out. I’m simplifying, of course, but I really don’t think he enjoyed being king. 

I wondered what might have happened to the royal succession if he hadn’t abdicated. If Edward had remained on the throne and never fathered any “legitimate” (I’m using that word on purpose because it hints at a twist in the The Poison Pen) children, Elizabeth II would have been queen anyway. Her father became king when Edward abdicated, but he died before Edward, making Elizabeth II the next one in line. But if Edward had remained on the throne and had fathered children, everything would be different. It’s hard to imagine. 

Though it seems the family was close, once Edward left his royal life, he lived in virtual exile in France. It is said that Queen Elizabeth II did visit him when he was on his deathbed. He is buried in royal ground, which would not have happened if the queen had objected. Again, as we’ve seen recently, even royal families have their share of dysfunction. 

Abdication isn’t all that uncommon in other monarchies. For example, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark abdicated after back surgery complications; Emperor Akihito of Japan, for health reasons; and King Juan Carlos of Spain for “personal reasons.” Those sorts of abdications aren’t usually followed by exile though. Abdication has been going on for a long time, back as far as 318 BC from what I discovered. 

I don’t use most of the research I do for my books – there’s not enough room or it doesn’t fit. There was one thing I tried hard to include in The Poison Pen, but I couldn’t make it work. On July 10, 1296, King of Scots, John Balliol abdicated. Nicknamed Toom Tabard by his subjects, which means “empty coat,” he was not well-liked and thought to be ineffective. Additionally, Robert the Bruce disliked him so much (they were rivals for the throne, so there is that) that Bruce joined the English forces to fight against the Scottish king. The defeat meant that abdication was probably the only choice for King John. Oh, the drama that must have stirred up. 

Thanks to Jenn McKinlay and all the Jungle Reds for inviting me to post today. And thanks to all the readers. We couldn’t do what we do without you. 

So, what do you think about the abdication, Reds and Readers? Do you ever wonder how things would have turned out if Edward hadn't declined the throne? 

Paige Shelton is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Farmers' Market, Country Cooking School, Dangerous Type, and Scottish Bookshop, and Alaska Wild mysteries. She's lived lots of places but currently resides in Arizona. Find out more at

Monday, April 15, 2024

Competitive Much?

JENN McKINLAY: Hub and I are playing league volleyball again - it’s been a few years. We play with three other couples, who are all dear friends, but the one thing we learned from prior years was that marrieds need to be separated on the court – as in Hub and I can’t play side by side nor can the other marrieds. 

Why? Because one spouse is usually more competitive than the other and things can get tetchy when a ball lands between us and we either collide to hit it or it dies in the dirt between us because no one called it (that’d be me, I’m commitmentphobic on my best day so calling the ball is a struggle for me).

Geriatric Volleyball Team - LOL

In our partnership, Hub is the more competitive one but he’s nowhere near what I would call aggressive. I’m not competitive at all and tend to laugh when things go awry as they invariably do on a team of people all in their fifties. Unsurprisingly, I spend a lot of time picking myself up out of the sand. 

Now I am competitive when it comes to my profession. I know the competition is me against myself and whatever book I wrote last, but still I feel it all the way to my bones. Each book has to be better than the last in a given series and I try really hard to make it so. That’s about the only time I feel that locked in, single-minded, aggressive, I-must-crush-this-book feeling all the way to my core, which feels appropriate since it’s my job. But in all other aspects of my life…meh.

How about you, Reds? Are you competitive? 

HALLIE EPHRON: What a loaded question!!

I married the one man who was able to beat me at jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and ping pong. I refused to play Scrabble with him because he SO good he left me in the dust after the first move. Though I was better at bridge. 

And I love playing on a team. Volleyball here, too! I’m best at receiving a serve and setting it up so another player can spike it over the net (I cannot jump worth a damn)... and I play to win and get pissy when I don’t.

And in writing, like Jenn, I’m competitive with myself. Very.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I think I need to be more competitive when it comes to my writing. Maybe that would get me producing more regularly!

I’m not competitive in games and sports, I enjoy them for the time spent with friends and family. I do confess to getting a little, uh, aggressive when driving. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break… but don’t cut me off and then start driving slower than I was before!!!

I wonder if birth order has something to do with competitiveness? My sister Barb, the middle child, is VERY competitive - a great thing for her clients (she’s a Realtor.) On the other hand, I am the oldest, and perhaps was a little too comfortable with being first in everything.

LUCY BURDETTE: Darn it! I can’t believe I didn’t answer this first! Just to say, yes I’m competitive. Definitely with myself and my work. I am deep into a long mystery series and I try very hard not to coast, ever, and so it thrills me to read a review line like this one: “Each book is better than the previous one which really seems impossible but is true.” Kathy A, Netgalley reviewer

I’m competitive about games and sports too. I love to win but I also really hate losing. When I used to play USTA tennis, this would tie my poor brain in knots. “We’re ahead, but can we hold onto the lead” and so on. I’m #2 of 4 in my family and I think Jula’s comment about birth order might hold some merit.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I’m more competitive than any of you. Ha.  I tried to get ALL of the Girl Scout badges, even trying to see if I could get “beekeeper” without dealing with bees. I am a terrible athlete, so stay on the sidelines, where you can’t lose. No volleyball for me. Yikes, I cannot even imagine. I am a complete and total klutz.

But early on with Jonathan, he asked if I wanted to play Scrabble, 

Oh, sure, I guess, I said, all innocent. Thinking: ha, buster, wait til you see what’s gonna happen now.

He KILLED me. So badly that in the middle of the game, I took hold of the board, shook it ,and said  “oh, It must be an earthquake.” End of Scrabble in this family.

But I will play any word game, any time.

In other parts of my life, I am probably unhealthily devoted to winning. It works, though, in writing where I am constantly constantly trying to get better. I love that, I relish it, I look forward to it–can I be better? I raise the bar every day.

(And oh, I’m the oldest.)

RHYS BOWEN: I too am the oldest, and super competitive. Like Hank I tried for every Girl Guide badge I could think of, including some I knew nothing about. I still recall swinging that enormous flag to try to pass my semaphore badge and nearly knocking over the judge! I have always played tennis, for my school, then college and then some league although i didn’t enjoy that (too serious). I had to give up when I got a collapsed disc between my shoulder blades, but I still play a mean game of ping pong.

And I’ve created an ultra competitive family: you should see card and board games at our house, and everyone plays all kinds of sports. All competitive swimmers. Two of my kids were division one athletes (Jane a two time All-American!) and now two granddaughters are division 1 athletes. And my other grandkids are black belt in karate. 

And in my work.. I keep pushing myself every moment. I could obviously retire gracefully and live a good life, but I can’t stop working. It’s just how I am. And checking to see who is above me in the Amazon bestseller lists! And worrying in case the next book doesn’t do as well as the last. Oh, and I play a mean game of Scrabble. I’ll take on Jonathan one day.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, am I last??? I guess that answers that, and I think the birth order nailed it as well. I am the baby. My brother was ten years older and an absolute genius at everything. Brilliant at math and engineering, great at the sports he liked, really, you name it, he could do it. There was no way I could ever compete. That said, I HATE losing at Scrabble, and I might have to kill over Trivial Pursuit or a pub quiz….

JENN: Like Debs, I'm the youngest. I wonder if that's why I'm not as competitive - everyone was always older than me and got to do everything first! Wah!!!

How about you, Readers? How competitive are you?


Sunday, April 14, 2024

Millionaire Pie and Apple Mint Chutney, or, Celia and Julia's Easter Treats

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: This remembrance and recipe by our own Celia Wakefield starts in the past - Thursday, April 4th, when most of our state was without power. I got mine back by Saturday, but poor Celia went for six days without exterior power (she and Victor sensibly have a wired-in generator) and a full week without internet! Which has nothing to do with the substance of today's post, other than to show she's a trooper.




This may be THE bright spot of Thursday, April 4, writing to you, my dear JRW community, as we are being blanketed with snow and the power lines, internet etc have all surrendered. My bright spot is that I still have a working generator and my computer is fired up. 
First my thanks to Julia’s graciousness in inviting me. Any comments? Please address them to Julia, ha, ha. But we are snowbound, power denied and WiFi too. Oh we so rely on our link in the ether to the world. But for those of you writers with no power, I hope you are writing as the authors of old with pen/pencil and paper to give you that nostalgic view point.

I had big plans for what I could bring to Julia’s Easter luncheon, which would also give me a great recipe for the Sunday blog. But alas the rhubarb was covered by feet of snow etc. so that will have to wait until another time. However, Julia decided to make her favorite dessert. 
As many of you may know, Julia and Ross gave great parties. This was confirmed by a dear friend at Ross’s funeral who spoke eloquently saying that Ross and Julia would be counted on to be late for most things but never for a party. Aren’t those words to live? Though I was injected with the punctuality vaccine when born, and I do wonder sometimes, was punctuality a gift? Or a curse? 

However back to the Hugo-Vidal party train. This year Julia was hosting her annual Easter Luncheon which had been on a part-time hiatus over the past several years. She was kind enough to invite us and as I have access to locally raised lamb, I brought the lamb. There was a ham, scalloped potatoes, southern style sweet potatoes but without marshmallows in them, plus more asparagus than I have seen outside the supermarket and a HUGE salad made by another guest. I am sorry I didn’t take photos. 

I made apple and mint chutney to accompany the roast lamb, which I had covered with a fresh breadcrumb, garlic, herb and butter paste. I spread this mix over the large lamb leg, weighing five and a half pounds, and roasted it on 325F to an interior reading of 145 degrees in the thickest part. 
But the piece de resistance was Julia’s dessert. She made her southern grandmother’s recipe for Millionaire's Pie. She actually made it here in my kitchen and for once I was videographer which was fun. Julia’s grandmother would sing old Baptist hymns while mixing and Julia treated us to a few lines which she may or mayn’t share. I hope she does. (ed. note: she does.)

Now I was very interested in the Millionaire’s Pie as this is a truly American dessert and I can’t think of anything like it when I grew up. But there was one ingredient that was very popular in my family - condensed milk. Yes that small can or tin, if I’m talking, full of a creamy sugary sticky confection just asking, begging in fact, for you to grab a spoon and tuck in. At least that’s what I believed as a child  monitoring my mothers strange addiction to condensed milk. 
My mother was enamored, or perhaps in undying love with condensed milk. Sugar was rationed in the U.K. during the Second World War and for several years after. Coupons for sugar were guarded jealously and spent with careful consideration. So my mum and her best friend, my godmother, Auntie Winifred, would hoard their coupons and when they had enough to splurge, would buy a tin of condensed milk and sit with a spoon each taking turn and turn about until satiated. 

My mum's favorite afternoon snack throughout her life, was to keep a tin of condensed milk in the fridge handy for a small snack, think Winnie the Pooh size. Woe beware any of us who helped ourselves too liberally from her tin. I think that Julia’s pie would have been most popular with my mum. In fact, I wonder whether she ever tasted it when she visited the United States in the thirties. Her hostess, a close friend of my grandmother, was southern and I know they spent time in the South. I am sure she would have loved the pie as did all of us.

Now I can’t hand over for Julia to add the millionaires recipe without adding my recipe for easy Apple and Mint Chutney which is at the end of Julia’s delicious dessert. 

JULIA: Surprise! It's me with a recipe! As with all my faves, this is fast, easy and made with pantry (and freezer) basics. My grandmother Spencer used to make this pie when I was a kid, and it's replete with '60s no-bake goodness. You'll notice all the ingredients are straight from the Space Age kitchen; all convenience, very little nature. I think this may be the first time in her life Celia's had Cool Whip. 
Whether you call it Million Dollar Pie, Millionaire Pie or Millionaire's Pie, this classic southern icebox dessert will take you back to Sunday dinner at Maw Maw and Paw Paw's house - with the bonus that it still stays cool while Paw Paw goes on and on with the blessing.


1 graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade. Celia and I made ours, but you probably already have a recipe for this three-ingredient crust, so I'm not adding it here. If you make your own, chill for 15 minutes before adding the pie filling.

1 15.5oz can crushed pineapple, VERY well drained. If you're not a Baptist,         use the juice for a Pina Colada later.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sweet flaked coconut
1 cup Maraschino cherries, chopped, plus some for garnish
1/2 cup chopped pecans
5 T lemon juice - very important to help firm the pie up 
1 1/2 cup Cool Whip - this is half the usual size container
optional - 1 T cherry juice, if you want a more pink pie

In a large bowl, combine well the drained pineapple (as dry as you can get it,) the condensed milk, the coconut, chopped cherries and chopped pecans. Add the lemon juice (Maw Maw used the little plastic lemon for hers) and, if you prefer the color, the cherry juice. Gently fold in the Cool Whip.

Pile it in the graham cracker crust and slide it into the fridge for at least an hour. It can be made up to a day ahead. Garnish with halved pecans, and/or Maraschino cherries, or, it the pastor's coming to dinner, pipe on whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

CELIA: Apple and Mint Chutney

Chutney is usually thought of as an accompaniment to Indian foods. But in the UK it was also a way to preserve damaged or bruised fruit which was not good enough for jam or for the table. It was eaten with cold meats or in sandwiches. I love a cheese and chutney sandwich on good bread. My Constance Spry Book says “The prescription is fruit or vegetables, sugar, vinegar and flavoring ingredients . . .”, Spry also recommends using a wooden spoon to stir.  So your chutney might have garlic or ginger, and mustard seed, chilies are another favorite. The seasoning is your choice and this recipe is my choice.

Recipe makes approximately 4 Cups 

3-4# Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped 
2 large onions (I like sweet onions), peeled and chopped small
4 Cups good vinegar (I used apple cider and Braggs mixed)
1# approx brown sugar 
1Tbsp ginger
1tsp cloves
Use other spices such as nutmeg or even cardamom if preferred
1/4 Cup chopped fresh mint

  • Choose a large heavy pan (not cast iron as that may react with the vinegar). I used a stainless Dutch oven with a heavy base which helps the long slow cook process. No lid needed, it’s all about the slow evaporation of the fruits and veggies
  • Add the chopped onions with 2 cups of the vinegar, stir intermittently, and cook over a low heat.
  • Once the vinegar is heated, add the apples with the spices (not the mint) and an additional 1 cup vinegar if needed. Cook on low, stirring often so that nothing sticks on the bottom. 
  • Measure the 3/4 of the sugar into a bowl and pour 1 cup vinegar over to help melting.
  • After the sugar has cooked in, taste to see if it is sweet enough. 
  • Once the apples are softened add the sugar, stirring well to mix all ingredients and keeping the heat low.
  • It will cook for another 2 to 3 hours to reach a consistency of jam or good yogurt. Look for the liquid to be almost completely steamed away. 
  • But if you’re planning to keep the chutney for a period. (For example to give as holiday gifts). Leave the mixture with a little liquid as it does dry out over time and become more solid. 
  • Also follow good practices for bottling and keep it refrigerated once opened. 

This was so easy to make I am wondering why I haven’t done it more recently. I hope you enjoy it with some delicious cold meat or in a good veggie sandwich. Or my all time fav cheese and chutney sandwiches which is very popular pub fare and forms the basis for a ploughmans lunch.

Better late than never but sometimes a string of unfortunate events gets in our way. Which is to say is it really eight weeks since Julia’s last turn at the Blog? I’m happy to announce that Joan Emerson won the copy of Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums. Joan please would you email me your mailing address to wakefieldpro at gmail and I will be happy to send the book flying off to you and my apologies.