Terry Shames has abiding affection for the small Texas town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek in her Samuel Craddock mysteries. Her second Samuel Craddock novel, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, will be out in January 2014. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website.
In my second Samuel Craddock mystery, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, coming January 7, I have an old friend come to visit Samuel while he’s making plum jelly. Here’s the excerpt:
“Come on into the kitchen, I’m making jelly,” I say. “I got some plums the other day and they were yelling to be put up or thrown out.”
“Well aren’t you a sight in your pretty little apron.” She hugs me tight.
She steps around me to the stove, where the jelly is bubbling. Opening a drawer, she takes out a spoon and sticks it into the brew, then waves it around to cool it. She tastes the jam and smacks her lips in approval. My late wife, Jeanne, was the cook in our household, but somewhere along the line I became the maker of jams and jellies, and I’m pretty proud of what I come up with.
“We’re going to have to talk here in the kitchen,” I tell her. “If I leave it too long, it’ll set up too hard.”
“Samuel, I may not be the world’s best cook, but even I know you have to be careful with jelly. My mamma drilled that into me every year when she canned.” She grins and a ghost of her outgrown, mischievous self flits across her face. “And every year she’d leave me to watch a batch and the phone would ring or somebody would come by, and next thing you know I’d forget all about it and I’d be in big trouble.”
There’s a story behind why I chose plum jelly for this scene. My mother tried to make plum jelly, and it always turned out to be either too tart, too sugary, or, in the worst case I can remember, so stiff you couldn’t stir it with a knife. And here’s the funny part. I love making chutneys, jams, and jellies, and they always turn out great—except plum. Failing at plum jelly is in my genes! So I decided my character, Samuel Craddock would be able to make terrific plum jelly.
Here’s a recipe from The New Settlement Cookbook. Try it. Maybe you’ll have more success than I did.
Use under-ripe tart plums. Wash the fruit and remove the stems. Cover fruit with water. Simmer until the plums are very soft. Strain the juice. Use 1 cup sugar to 1 cup juice. When juice boils, add sugar and cook until it jells. Pour into hot, sterilized glasses and seal.
I’m adding a recipe for Ginger Apples from the same book, because I know this recipe works—and it’s apple season:
1 quart tart apples
2 cups water
2 cups brown sugar
6 pieces ginger root (1/2-3/4 inch pieces)
Pare, and cut the apples into small squares. Grate the rind of the lemon. Boil water, sugar and lemon juice five minutes or until clear. Add apples and ginger and cook slowly two or more hours until thick and brown. Pour into jars and seal.
A Killing at Cotton Hill: A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Samuel Craddock has a reputation as the best lawman the town of Jarrett Creek ever had. The current chief of police is incompetent, so when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.