Our guest cook today is romance author Kaye Spencer, who is also published as A.L. Debran. Kaye is drawn to cowboys and the Old West. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
Spectral Legends, Western Romance, and Doughnuts
Halloween — my favorite day of the year. To help us get into the spirit (pun intended) of the holiday, here's a trivia question. What do these legends have in common?
· Wild Huntsman
· Herne the Hunter and his pack of white hounds with blood-red ears
· Gabriel Hounds or Hellhounds
· Odin astride his eight-legged stallion and followed by the Souls of the Dead
· Orkney Islands' trows galloping about on midnight rides and driving a stolen cow ahead of them
Regardless of the country of origin, they are all a form of the Wild Hunt or Raging Host. Each legend has a phantasmagorical leader accompanied by a horde of hounds or horses as they race across the night sky amid howls, pounding hooves, and raging winds that stir tumultuous, roiling storm clouds in their wake. To see the Wild Hunt in any of its forms is a bad omen that heralds strife and/or death. They are spectral, supernatural forces traveling the land and sky at night, bringing evil with them, or they are sometimes hunting evil-doers to make them atone for their nasty ways.
So what does any of this have to do with western romance?
Well, America has its own Wild Hunt legend about spirits of damned cowboys doomed to chase a herd of phantom cattle for all eternity as punishment for their evil ways during their lives. Stan Jones wrote a song about it in 1948.
I took that basic idea and turned it into a western romance called Gunslingers & Ghostriders, (written under my A.L. Debran pen name.) The hero, Matt Caddock, has to face the violence he wrought in his past when the Ghostriders come to claim his soul.
Okay, so how do doughnuts fit in?
In Gunslingers & Ghostriders, the heroine, Brenna Stirling, has gained a widespread reputation with the doughnuts she makes each week to give to travelers passing by her ranch house. Here's the scene.
…On Wednesdays, Brenna made doughnuts and she’d gained wide popularity for having them hot and ready all day long. Because of those doughnuts, word had already spread throughout the area that Matt Caddock, the Cimarron Gunfighter, was breaking horses at the Stirling Compound.
Matt saw the riders coming at the same time the dogs began barking. He grabbed his plaid shirt from the fence and put it on as he walked into the yard from the corral. He also slipped the thongs off the hammers of his Colts, freeing them for quick use. He watched Brenna meet the riders in the yard. She cradled her shotgun easily in the crook of her elbow, giving the unmistakable impression that she knew how to use the business end, while still presenting watchful hospitality.
The cowboys tipped their hats and kept their hands on the pommels of their saddles, in plain sight. Matt saw them glance cautiously in his direction as they surveyed the yard. He came up to them as she spoke, staying off to the side.
“What can I do for you gentlemen? If you’re hungry, you’re welcome to a meal and all the water you need. Get down and cool yourselves in the shade. We never turn a hungry man away.” While her words were genuinely welcoming, the shotgun spoke volumes of its own.
The cowboys swung down and walked toward her, leading their horses. “Thank you, ma’am, that would be mighty good. I expect you’re Mrs. Gérard.”
“Yes, I am.”
The cowboy doing all the talking put his hand inside his vest and came out with paper in his hand, extending it to her. “We just come through Trinidad headed to Laramie and the postmaster asked if we’d bring these letters to you.”
She stepped quickly to the cowboy. “Thank you. That was very thoughtful. I know it was out of your way.”
“Our pleasure, ma’am. It wasn’t much more than thirty miles. To be honest, we could have been here yesterday, but we’d heard tell that you make a plate of doughnuts on Wednesdays and we sort of waited.” A good‐natured, embarrassed grin covered the cowboys’ faces and she laughed.
Matt nodded in greeting to the cowboys. “Akins. Myerson.”
The cowboys turned to him. “Caddock? Is that you?..."
And here's the doughnut recipe, which is a hand-me-down recipe from my husband's family. Enjoy!
Doughnuts c. 1860
A recipe from Gunslingers & Ghostriders by Kaye Spencer writing as A.L. Debran
1 tsp vanilla or lemon
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder***
2 tblsp oil**
1 cup milk
4 cups flour
1 qt oil** for frying
In a small bowl, beat the eggs until silky smooth. Add vanilla, salt, sugar, baking powder, and oil. Stir well. Add milk. Stir well.
In a large bowl, add flour, then stir in the small bowl mixture. It will be thick and sticky and follow the spoon around the bowl. Turn out on floured surface and knead just a little flour in until not so sticky. Roll out no more than 1/2” thick. Cut doughnuts. Fry until lightly browned, turning once to brown both sides evenly. Drain on absorbent cloth. Roll in sugar and cinnamon or dip tops into a thin icing glaze.
--Prep time, 1 hour, start to finish
--Cut all the doughnuts & prepare the absorbent cloth prior to frying
--Heat oil in a pan that is deep and wide enough so the doughnuts and the holes can expand and float as they fry
--Best served (and eaten) warm
--Wrap leftover doughnuts in a tea towel
--Makes 2 to 2-1/2 dozen doughnuts & holes
--Can be fried as dropped doughnuts – just drop heaping tablespoons of batter into oil
Confectioner's Sugar Icing
In sauce pan melt 1 cube butter/margarine, then remove from heat. Add a splash of vanilla, 1/4 cup milk (more or less), and stir. Add confectioner's sugar a cup at a time until consistency is smooth and thick but spreadable. Add more milk and sugar as needed to maintain desired consistency. Reheat if icing hardens before you finish.
***Original recipe calls for saleratus, which served as baking powder, & lemon juice or vinegar instead of vanilla in order to activate the saleratus.
**Original recipe calls for melted fat/lard.
Gunslingers & Ghostriders