In this day and age, it’s hard to separate even the most innocent of entertainment from current affairs and politics. So, coming across the 4th book of the Georgia Peach Mystery series—as gently subversive and possibly prescient as it is—was a quiet reminder that cozy mysteries that incorporate divisive issues can acknowledge the realities of everyday social struggles while still serving as mental comfort food (and providing recipes for the physical kind, too!). Though I’m guessing that many of Susan Furlong’s readers might not even notice—so light is her touch—while reading her entertaining latest novel, War and Peach.
Set in the small town of Cays Mill, Georgia (and hello, a map of the town is included in the front—an artistic detail that always makes my nerdy heart go pitter-pat), War and Peach stars Nola Mae Harper—former wild child turned humanitarian aid worker—who came home to help with her family peach farm several books ago. Now she’s running Peachy Keen, a specialty store featuring the by-products of her family farm, and trying not to get too involved in the upcoming mayoral election.
While Nola would much rather Mayor Wade Marshall continue in the position, Wade has other plans. So the mayoralty is being contested by Clem Rogers, local peach farmer and life-long resident, and Margie Price, owner of the Sunny Side Up bread-and-breakfast and a transplant from the North, with all its attendant and perceived (carpet)baggage.
Nola feels she has to keep quiet about her support for Margie, even when Clem starts claiming to have news that will force Margie out of the race—news that he’s planning to deliver at the upcoming debate. But when Clem’s barn goes up in flames with him in it, Nola is compelled to step in, not only to help clear Margie’s name, but soon also to deflect attention from her own family. The local sheriff has held a grudge against the Harper family for years, and nothing would give her more pleasure than to find one of them guilty of murder.
Well-written mystery aside, I did very much admire how Ms. Furlong captured the essence of small-town life: the close-knit relationships, the gossip, the economic and social realities. And that ending! The unmasking of the killer, the consequences of the election, and the Harper family’s plans for the future were all excellently written, and I’m looking forward to visiting Cays Mill again in coming books.
And, of course, there are recipes! I skipped over the cake and the hot sauce (though both sounded tempting) to try these cookies instead:
Mrs. Purvis’s Peach Drop Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup peach preserves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Sift together salt, baking powder and flour and slowly add to butter and sugar mixture until a stiff dough forms. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Use thumb or the tip of a spoon to make a small indent in the center of each ball. Using a spoon, drop a dollop of peach preserves in each indent. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes or until they are slightly brown around the edges.
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.
I’ve never made thumbprint cookies before, so this was a wonderful introduction! I used peach preserves from the grocery store, and while I’m sure farm-fresh would have been better, store-bought still made for a delicious treat. The cookies came out like tartlets, and I actually worried that I’d burned some on one sheet, as the edges and bottoms came out browner than on the other. I found that I actually preferred the browner ones, as the sugar had caramelized better, and the slightly crunchier texture was a perfect contrast to the fruit filling.
I also found that these were definitely best straight out of the oven. They didn’t taste quite as good, for some reason, over the next few days, and I don’t think I stored them any differently than other cookies I’ve made in the past. Don’t get me wrong—they were still tasty, just not quite as scrumptious. Perhaps I shall have to try again and see.
Also, I wound up getting forty cookies out of this recipe, which was a bonus in my book since I always feel like my cookies come out far larger than they’re supposed to.
Next week, we head for the Midwest, revisiting the small town of Silver Lake, Ohio, in the continuation of one of the first series debuts I covered for this column! I’m so excited to see what sweet treats this author has in store for us this time: do join me!
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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.