Cooking the Books: Apple Cider Slaying by Julie Anne Lindsey
This first book in the Cider Shop Mystery series is an absolute delight! Set in the fictional small town of Blossom Valley, West Virginia, it features plucky heroine Winnie Mae Montgomery. As the novel opens, Winnie is worrying about the best way to save her family’s beloved apple orchard. She and her Granny Smythe live on the 25-acre property and are brainstorming ways to drum up more business for the flagging enterprise. In addition to keeping the orchard open year-round to host winter festivities, Winnie has high hopes of opening a cider shop that could serve as a tourist draw as well as a multipurpose gathering place for the town’s residents.
Her plans take a lethal blow, however, when Granny’s neighbor and nemesis, Nadine Cooper, is found dead in their apple press. The town’s new sheriff, Colton Wise, immediately suspects Granny—to Winnie’s chagrin. Determined to not only clear Granny’s name but also to repair the Smythe Orchards reputation so she can finally get a business loan to open the cider shop of her dreams, Winnie charges into investigating the murder. Unfortunately, a killer is waiting in the shadows to put a fatal end to her questioning should she get too close to the truth.
Apple Cider Slaying packs a lot of story into its 300-odd pages! Aside from the mystery, there’s a promising romance, though the return of Winnie’s former fiancé threatens to throw a wrench into the works. The way the kittens come into Winnie’s life is also sweetly endearing. And it’s just such a thoroughly inhabited, well-written story! The characters are multi-dimensional, and the attention to detail makes it feel like I’m reading about real people and events. Winnie, especially, is easy to relate to. Julie Ann Lindsey’s love for West Virginia also shines through, making for a transporting and totally engrossing read.
There were three recipes included for dishes mentioned in the novel, and while I was very tempted to try making apple cider, I ultimately opted for this one:
Hunk of Heaven Tater Salad
6 large or 8 medium-size potatoes
4-6 hardboiled eggs
1 ½ cups real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup onion, chopped
Paprika as garnish
Peel and boil potatoes. Cool. Dice.
Peel and chop eggs.
In a medium bowl, blend mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic powder until smooth.
Add potatoes and coat well.
Mix in onions and eggs.
Dash with paprika for pizzazz.
I was very gratified by Ms. Lindsey’s note that tater salad is personal and that each cook should work on refining the recipe until they find their perfect mix. The instructions above do make for a terrific start, though I thought it was smarter to dice the potatoes before boiling them, as it takes far less time to cook them that way than the other way round (plus, you don’t have to wait even longer to cool the boiled potatoes before cutting them). I placed my diced potatoes in cold water over high heat until the water reached full boil. I then allowed the potatoes to boil for five minutes before turning the heat down to simmer and letting them cook for another 10. They came out perfectly for potato salad that way.
Going back to the original recipe, though, I really enjoyed the crunch of onions in this salad and thought the inclusion of cider vinegar was quite clever given the theme of this book. I would, however, add more salt myself. This was a terrific companion for sandwiches but does make quite a generous amount, so it would be ideal for bringing to large gatherings.
Next week, we travel a state over to try a delightful title dessert while solving a murder. Do join me!