M. S. Spencer has published ten romantic suspense and murder mystery novels. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter and divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine. Learn more about her and her books at her blog.
My new release, Whirlwind Romance, features a heroine who makes jellies and jams from wild fruits she gathers in Florida.
Up until my thirties, I traveled a great deal, living in many countries with amenities that many would consider below standard. So it wasn't until I married and settled down in an old farmhouse with an acre of land that I could indulge my fantasy growing my own food. We planted apple, plum, peach, fig, hazelnut, and cherry trees; gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; all kinds of vegetables, including an ill-fated attempt to grow artichokes; and finally, lots and lots of herbs. I built a formal herb garden and planted thyme, lovage, rosemary, chives, tarragon, sage, and lemon balm. The one thing I couldn't get to grow was mint. Yes, the gardeners among you will scoff, but it took me years to get a plot to flourish. When it did, I had to do something or it would take over the entire acre.
So I called upon my sister-in-law, to whom Whirlwind Romance is dedicated. She directed me to an old recipe for mint jelly. Once the mint invasion was under control and I'd mastered the technique, I spent whole summers working up recipes for herb jellies. It was great fun. Despite the fact that I'm not really fond of jelly, they made excellent Christmas gifts.
As I started Whirlwind Romance, I thought about what my heroine, Lacey Delahaye, would do for a living. She lives alone in Florida, her one son grown. What could she do? I thought of the innumerable ecosystems in Florida, from pine uplands, to coastal plains, to palm hammocks—all of which are host to many wild fruits, most of which can be made into jelly. Ah hah! She'd be a jelly maker.
For fun, I added the recipes to each chapter. I hope you enjoy them as much as you do Lacey and Armand's love story.
For your cooking pleasure, here is one of her recipes:
Sea Grape Jelly
Sea grapes are tall, multi-trunked trees with round leaves that grow along Florida's coastal areas. The clusters of grapes ripen in the summer and should be picked when fully purple.
Makes 4-6 pints
8 cups ripe sea grapes
4 cups water
5 cups white sugar
1 box powdered pectin
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon butter
Wash grapes. Place in large pot with the water and cook over medium heat until the skins are soft. Press the pulp through a sieve. Place the pulp in a jelly strainer or two layers of cheesecloth and let drip. Add water to the clear juice to make 5 cups.
In a large pot, bring the juice, lime juice, pectin and butter to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and bring again to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil exactly one minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, and ladle into hot, sterilized jelly jars to within 1/4-inch of the top. Wipe rims and place the two-piece canning lids on the jars but do not tighten completely. Turn the jars over and leave upside down for five minutes on a padded rack. Turn upright and tighten the lids completely.
Alternate method: Process filled, tightly closed jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool.
Pirates, Puritans, propaganda, and princes—pieces of the puzzle in the whirlwind romance between a beautiful jelly maker and a mysterious castaway.
In the aftermath of a hurricane, Lacey Delahaye finds herself marooned on an island on the Gulf coast of Florida with a mysterious man. They are immediately drawn to each other, but before Armand can confess his identity, they are kidnapped and taken to a tiny island in the western Caribbean. With the help of her son Crispin and a cadre of loyal followers, she and Armand must face down pirates, power-mad ideologues, and palace intrigue, if they are to restore the once idyllic tropical island to its former glory.