|Fondue on the Menu|
Mystery author Tracee de Hahn is preparing to sail to Europe this fall with her two Jack Russells…where her husband promises to be waiting with new dog toys! Before she leaves, she’s stopping by to talk about food in her books. Learn more about Tracee and her books at her website.
Food is important to daily life but I don’t consciously think about it when I begin writing. Or at least I didn’t think I did. Looking back, food….. and beverage if we’re being honest – seep in. In my series set in Switzerland, Agnes Lüthi meets her difficult mother-in-law halfway over food. In A Well-Timed Murder, a baking frenzy is an indication of trouble ahead, while at the same time sharing one of the warm loaves strike an accord between the two women. A peanut allergy is also at the heart of A Well-Time Murder, which on reflection may say more about my interest in food than I’d admitted to myself!
My husband is Swiss and we lived there for several years, so I am familiar with the classic dishes of the country. Rösti, spaetzli, and tarts prepared with leeks or rhubarb feature prominently. And, of course, fondue. Food can say a great deal about a culture and fondue is no exception. This classic melted cheese dish is a collective endeavor with family and friends sitting around a shared pot. It speaks volumes about the agrarian history of the Swiss, and the lives of small communities or those living in high mountain pastures where cooking over an open fire, and dipping into a shared pot, were a necessity (Switzerland also has a strong history of soups).
The Swiss cow is famous worldwide and it’s no wonder that fondue is, in essence, melted cheese. My favorite is a half and half mix of two cheeses: Gruyeres and Vacherin. This classic Moitié-Moitié (half and half) is rich and flavorful. A clove of garlic is often wiped around the pot before melting the cheese and a dash of white wine, kirsch or dry sherry is incorporated at the end. You may either dip a cube of French bread into the pot or spoon the cheese over small boiled potatoes. Either way, add a dash of pepper for a final touch. (Even my Swiss husband agrees that American grocery stores now sell very good pre-packaged fondue mixes in their dairy department. An easy way to sample without having to do more than melt and serve.)
The typical accompaniment to fondue includes dried meats and salami, cornichons, and pickles. You may serve white wine, soft drinks or hot tea alongside the hot cheese, but never water, as the water doesn’t mix well with fondue in the stomach. Save the water for an hour afterwards! If you have room for dessert, try vanilla ice cream topped with vin cuit (wine cooked down until it is a thick syrup and available in specialty stores) and a crisp meringue.
Many American households have fondue pots, particularly after the concentrated effort made by the Swiss to market the product worldwide in the 1970s (all because of the Cheese Mafia….. truly).
Currently I’m working on a mystery set in Kentucky, where I grew up. A scan through my draft mentions the Hot Brown (open faced sandwich with ham and turkey, topped by a sliced tomato, cheese sauce and slices of bacon) and Kentucky Bourbon. I’ve taken my interest in food to a new level, giving my heroine a distillery as part of her inheritance!
Food and beverage not only clue a reader (and writer) into location, but they illuminate the lives of the characters. Are they silver and china or a leg of fried chicken wrapped in a napkin, people? Do they drink hot chocolate topped by three inches of real cream (and likely live in either Venice or Austria) or do they eye a bottle of bourbon when the sun goes down?
Despite the heat of summer, I think that later this week when we have a guest for dinner, he will find fondue on the menu. I’ll call it a tribute to my Swiss husband, but really it’s because now I think that would taste good!
Swiss-American police officer Agnes Lüthi is on leave in Lausanne, Switzerland, recovering from injuries she sustained in her last case, when an old colleague invites her to the world’s premier watch and jewelry trade show at the grand Messe Basel Exhibition Hall. Little does Agnes know, another friend of hers, Julien Vallotton, is at the same trade show, and he’s looking for Agnes. Julien Vallotton was friends with Guy Chavanon, a master of one of Switzerland’s oldest arts: watchmaking. Chavanon died a week ago, and his daughter doesn’t believe his death was accidental. Shortly before he died, Chavanon boasted that he’d discovered a new technique that would revolutionize the watchmaking industry, and she believes he may have been killed for it. Reluctantly, Agnes agrees to investigate his death. But the world of Swiss watchmaking is guarded and secretive, and before she realizes it, Agnes may be walking straight into the path of a killer.