More Food Passions

12 Aug

Virginia RichYesterday was the first day of fasting month here in Malaysia, and it was so so so hot. Last night I made scrummy cinnamon cookies, but I didnt cook at all today, and all I felt like doing was lying in bed, in my cool room, and reading. Lazy, yes? But very pleasurable, and I am all about pleasure 😉 Unfortunately, because of an incident with a cat tower and jumping, I ended up up-ending my entire household and moving furniture about. By the end of  it all, I took a look at my bookshelf and did exactly what I wanted to do in the beginning… curl up with a good book.

And suddenly, I realised something. I love a good murder mystery – always have. Its my “relaxation” reading. I love the puzzle of it, and the characters, and the whole wonderful feel of mysteries. Long ago I realised that I really only like (and now read exclusively when I read mysteries) mysteries written by women. P.D.James, Margery Allingham, Elizabeth George, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, Martha Grimes, Lilian Jackson Braun, Patricia Cornwall… the list just goes on and on. As a young woman growing up, I searched for strong female characters, for heroes, for a woman’s “voice”. I found all that, and more in mysteries written by women.

But within this very particular genre, there is another one. And as I gazed at my bookshelf, I realised that as I have been enjoying my newly empowered space as a gourmet, gourmand, cook, food lover, I have also been enjoying more murder mysteries written by women all about food! There is a name for this sub genre – culinary mysteries – and it is totally completely delicious! These mysteries are not hard-boiled scary stories. Instead, they are cozy, funny, engaging puzzles, with a little bit of murder, and a whole lot of cooking!

I thought it would be fun to share my favourite women culinary mystery authors with you. These are the books I reach for when I dont want anything too “serious” or too depressing. When I want mystery and puzzles and to have my mind engaged, but also when I want to read about someone else’s passion for food and cooking. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

  • If the genre interests you, I would certainly suggest trying an anthology first. My favourite is Death Dines at 8:30 edited by Claudia Bishop and Nick DiChario. This is a wonderful anthology featuring mainly women, with a sprinkle of men as well! Published in 2001, this is a compendium of fabulously tasty short stories, and delicious sounding recipes … I am particularly intrigued by Diane Mott Davidson’s Tennessee Chess Pie 😉
  • Speaking of whom,  Diane Mott Davidson is the current grande dame of culinary mysteries. Her heroine, Goldy (Bear) Shulz, is a caterer who solves murders on the side. The series is entertaining and fun, and Goldy is a great and sympathetic character – a real woman, trying to support her family after a divorce, who is smart and  resourceful, and a great cook too! There are 15 books in this series – my favourite being Dying for Chocolate (I can relate!) – and the Scout’s Brownies recipe on page 98 😉
  • The pioneer of the culinary mystery genre was Virginia Rich. She wrote three books, The Cooking School Murders, The Baked Bean Supper Murders, and The Nantucket Diet Murders. Her hero, Eugenia Potter, was created in the late 1970’s, and reflected a power shift in gender roles. She is your favourite Aunt, the feisty woman who lives next door. She is inspiring and smart, and she doesnt take shit. I love her – and I love the recipes. Mmmm… Gussie’s Sour Cream Apple Pancakes (in The Nantucket Diet Murders) Yummmmm. After Rich’s death, her family asked Nancy Pickard to finish three books based on her notes. These books are good, but not as wonderful as the first three.
  • And last, but definitely not least, Claudia Bishop writes the Hemlock Falls Mystery series, with Sarah Quilliam and her widowed chef sister, Meg, who are the proprietors of the Hemlock Falls Inn. There are 15 books in this series, with wonderful names like Just Desserts and Toast Mortem … these stories are quirky, funny and a wonderful easy read. The recipes are lovely … Poached Pears a la Quilliam stuffs red wine poached pears with cream cheese, walnuts and orange liqueur. Beautiful.

There are many other women who write in the culinary mystery genre, but these three are my favourites. Enjoy! And do as I do, make a point of baking or cooking at least one recipe from each book. You will be happy you have done so 🙂

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