Cooking the Books: Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs

The 19th installment of the bestselling Tea Shop Mystery series plunges us straight into the action as our heroine, tea shop owner Theodosia Brown, and her trusty sidekick/tea sommelier, Drayton Conneley, are enjoying the air at the Charleston mansion of their old friend Timothy Neville. They’ve arrived too late to his Gaslights and Galleons Parade viewing party to be properly introduced to the other guests, but they’ve arrived just in time to see local banker Carson Lanier plummet from the third-story widow’s walk.

Theo quickly runs down to the railing on which Carson has fallen and determines that he is, indeed, dead. To her surprise, the main wound comes not from where the metal railing impaled him but from what appears to be a crossbow quarrel to his chest.

Thinking quickly, she notices that the bed and breakfast across the way not only provides a prime vantage point from which to aim a weapon at the widow’s walk but also has a suspiciously open window. She and Drayton rush towards the inn in search of a killer, and while they don’t find one that night, the events of the next few days have them in hot pursuit of a murderer all too ready to use every advantage and every dirty trick to not only escape justice but also harm Theo and her friends.

As with every Laura Childs novel, this is a non-stop ride from murder to attempted murder to action-packed denouement, with plenty of explosive (though not literally in this case) incidents in between. I’m always impressed by the amount of action present in her culinary cozy mysteries, but the main draw for me (besides the wonderful covers! Stephanie Henderson has truly outdone herself this time) is the wonderful devotion to tea time. I’m not as much of a tea snob as Drayton—like many who grew up in a commonwealth country, my default tea preference is black and strong—but I love the many different ideas these books come up with for my favorite meal!

Plum Tea Crazy features a delightful plum tea and blossom-themed repast, coinciding with the novel’s setting in an early Charleston springtime that sees the blooming of the city’s historic plum trees. It also offers pages of resources for both the tea enthusiast and for anybody interested in the history of Charleston—as well as 10 delicious-sounding recipes.

I wanted to try something savory after my run of sweets with Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series, and I was tempted to make the “Asparagus and Gruyere Cheese Tart.” The presence of chicken breast tenderloins in my freezer, however, helped push me towards choosing this recipe:

Apple-Yogurt Chicken Bake


4 unpeeled tart apples, chopped

1 cup plain yogurt

4 medium chicken breasts

2 oranges


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread chopped apples in the bottom of a lightly oiled casserole dish. Pour yogurt over the apples and stir lightly to combine. Place the chicken breasts over the apple-yogurt mixture. Cup unpeeled oranges into thin slices and place atop chicken for flavor and to keep it from drying out. Bake for 1 hour. Remove orange slices before serving. Yields 4 servings.

First off, this is a terrific dish for the health-conscious. Low-fat (especially if you’re using a fat-free yogurt) and with no added sodium, it’s perfect for anyone on a restricted diet. The chicken comes out cooked perfectly, and the orange slices impart a delicate flavor, hinting at both sweetness and spice (though the slices themselves lose something in the process; definitely throw those out before serving the dish). Personally, I like a little more salt and pepper in my food and would have added those to my apple-yogurt mix before baking. A little tarragon might not have gone amiss either.

Continuing with the diet theme, I served the chicken with a green salad—though I imagine it would also have been delicious with an orzo pasta or bread. This bake made for a lovely light meal and one I’m filing away for the next time I need to make a flavorful, health-conscious dish.

Next week, we stay in the South but abandon any pretense at dieting as I make a decadent cake with frosting. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Devil's Food Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke


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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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