Saturday, October 27, 2012

Last Farmers Market – Sort of

This morning I went to the last summer farmers market to stock up on winter goodies. There was a feeling of finality – fewer booths and fewer vegetables on offer. However, this is always the best time to pick up winter squash and pumpkins at a discount, and I had to make two trips back to the car.

My haul included a loaf of red onion-dill bread, a pound of crimini mushrooms, two white onions and two red ones, a big bunch of carrots, half a dozen crisp Granny Smith apples, two spaghetti squash, two butternut squash, a couple heads of garlic, a pound of fingerling potatoes, and seven assorted pumpkin-type squash.

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These last were not of the Jack-o-lantern variety – those are a particular kind of squash that grow large and are great for carving, but not so great for eating. So don’t even try cooking those homogenous big guys found in the bins outside your local megamart – the resulting puree will be dull and watery at best.

For eating you want sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins. They are smaller and sweeter, with a denser flesh. I bought three of those and three reddish “Rough vif D’Entampes”, also known as Cinderella pumpkin (because the resemble the pumpkin her fairy godmother turned into coach). This is also the variety that the pilgrims are said to have served at the first Thanksgiving, and they’re suitable for pies or any other winter squash recipe. Often you see them much larger than the ones above, which are only about ten inches in diameter. Of course I only paid 50 cents apiece.

Lastly, I got a small Kakai pumpkin. Isn’t it pretty, all orange with those dark green ribs? The man who grew these varieties (and more) told me the flesh of the Kakai isn’t great, and they are hard to peel since the shell is so hard. But get this: the seeds are hull-less! So once we’re done appreciating its beauty, I’ll crack it open, take out the seeds, soak them in brine and then roast them to salty, crunchy goodness.


Tonight we’ll have butternut squash soup made with leeks from the garden, bacon from our pork side, cream that was delivered to the front door, and homemade chicken stock. With that I’ll serve slabs of red onion-dill bread slathered with homemade butter and a simple salad of lettuce from the aquaponics place down the road along with arugula, tomatoes and carrots from the garden.

Yep, still managing to eat a few fresh things from the garden, despite snow yesterday. But soon that will be a thing of the past.

However, today was only the final summer farmers market, and in two weeks the winter market begins with many of the same vendors and a slew of new ones. Last year’s winter markets were so packed and so popular that they’ve added several more to the calendar. Yet another way to feel lucky and rich.

If you’re interested in more information about all those funky looking squash on offer this time of year, check out this site.

Now back to writing for me. The deadline for the third in the Magical Bakery Mysteries I write as Bailey Cates approaches, and beyond that another deadline for a book I’ll tell you more about in another post.

Hint: It’s not for either of my existing series…

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Invisible Women by Kathleen Ernst

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Please welcome Kathleen Ernst to Hearth Cricket! Kathleen is a fellow Midnight Ink author who writes the Historic Sites Mystery Series (as well as several American Girl books). Like me, she has a fascination with history and colonial skills. Unlike me, she has actually worked at an outdoor living history museum. The third mystery in her series, The Light Keeper’s Legacy,  just released this month in both trade paperback and ebook formats. I’ve already downloaded my Kindle copy and can’t wait to start it. And now:


Invisible Women
by Kathleen Ernst

Anonymous was a woman, they say.  Anyone who loves history—or who has waded into the murky waters of genealogical research—knows that it can be much more difficult to learn about historical women than men.  Men are noted by full name on legal papers and in local histories.   The string of male surnames on a family tree are easier to track than the women of different birth names grafted onto the records by marriage.

During the decade I spent working as a curator at a large historic site, I worked hard to keep women’s stories an equal part of the research and interpretation.  It’s important that our children understand that all women, not just a prominent few, led interesting lives.

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my Historic Sites mystery series, is also drawn to stories of unrecognized, even unknown women from the past.  In the third installment,  The Light Keeper’s Legacy, Chloe is charged with researching and writing a furnishings plan for Pottawatomie Lighthouse.  This magnificent (and real) structure dates back to 1858, and sits within Wisconsin’s Rock Island State Park in Lake Michigan.

When Chloe arrives, she meets Herb Whitby, a volunteer who had taken a lead role in restoring the lighthouse.  It’s immediately apparent that the two are approaching the project quite differently:

“With any luck we’ll find primary source material from some of the women and children who lived here,” Chloe added. “Sometimes the best clues about furnishings turn up in diaries and letters written by the people who had to clean the pieces.”

Herb straightened his shoulders.  “I assure you, the light keepers themselves did a great deal of upkeep on a regular basis.”  He sounded peeved.

And later:

“I know this structure was built in 1858,” Chloe said, as they climbed the stairs to the second story.  “There were some fishing families on the island at that time, right?  I wonder if we could find some written description of the lighthouse from someone in the fishing village.  A letter, maybe.”

“Observations from some barely-literate fisherman would hardly be relevant to this project,” Herb said.  He pointed to a narrow room, facing north.  “This was the assistant keeper’s bedroom.”
OK, Herb, I get it, Chloe thought.  No more references to women, children, or fisherfolk.  The Native Americans who fished these waters were presumably off-limit in his mind, too.

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Chloe, of course, continues to delve into the lives of the women who’d once lived on Rock Island.  She becomes particularly fascinated with Emily Betts, who once served as Assistant Keeper at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, and Ragna Anderson, a Danish immigrant who had lived in the fishing village.  She soon discovers that an old tragedy involving the two women might have ramifications in a contemporary murder investigation.

Emily Betts was a real woman who served as Assistant Keeper and was much admired in the community.  I have not yet found any written records, photographs, or artifacts from women who lived in the fishing village, so I created the fictional Ragna Anderson to represent them.

I sometimes miss my old curator days.  But as an author, I now have the fun of featuring real historic sites and museums in the Chloe Ellefson books.  Each mystery reflects and celebrates the contributions of women both real and imagined.  And each, I hope, shines a little candlelight on everyday, invisible women who paved the way for their daughters and granddaughters. 

I’m grateful to Cricket for allowing me to be a guest on her blog.  And I’m grateful to readers!  I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you.  Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a drawing; the winner may choose any of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy.  For more information see my website,, or my blog,

KAE in tower CU The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen Ernst’s twenty-fourth published book.  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott.  Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.  Kathleen and her husband Scott volunteer as live-in docents for a week each summer at Pottawatomie Lighthouse.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Harvest Moon

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Last Saturday hosted the harvest moon, or the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. Since farmers traditionally harvested the last of their crops by the light of the harvest moon it seemed like a good idea to emulate them by bringing in all I could yesterday afternoon.

This year spring came early and winter doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. Sometimes by now I’m cleaning up the blackened dregs of all but the hardiest vegetable plants. Yet there’s been no frost in the forecast, and while the nights get chilly enough for a fire on the grate, we still sleep with the windows wide open.

But the vegetable gardens are weary. I can tell. Yellowing tomato leaves, drooping bush beans, a smattering of powdery mildew on the single zucchini plant all broadcast an air of approaching senescence that mirrors the fruit-heavy serviceberries and cottonwood leaves fading from green to amber above.

There were two red cabbages severely threatened by aphids so I grabbed them and ditched the plants – along with one of the broccoli plants also affected. The other broccoli stalks are happy with the cool and continue to offer ancillary florets, so I let them be. The big bean pole is decorated with lots of fat purple and rattlesnake pods lumpy with ripening seeds. They’re heirlooms, so I’m set for bean seeds for next year. I pulled up the spent yellow wax bean bushes, though, along with the edamame and now-tough, three-foot basil.

Though there were plenty of tomatoes on the six plants in the kitchen potager, none had turned red since we got back from the river trip two weeks ago. (Ah – the river trip. Have been gathering my thoughts about how to blog about that.) So I picked all the fruit and dug up the plants.

There were a lot of green tomatoes.

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A lot. I bet we’ll still be eating them in December.

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Red tomatoes there in the big white bowl below – more green ones beneath them – two fresh quarts of honey from our friends Sherri and Tim’s hives, two tiers of peppers, eggplants, cabbage, garlic, spaghetti squash, and a few rogue apples from the neighbor’s tree, a puppy-pile of zucchini (the largest is two feet long, I kid you not) and jars of dried sage, rosemary and parsley. More parsley hangs, drying, above.

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Remaining in the gardens are beets, chard, parsnips, a sprinkling of carrots, broccoli, arugula, and a small plot of underdeveloped bunching onions and leeks. Though I haven’t canned much this year, the big freezer is chock full of garden produce, chicken and pork.

The larder is stocked, and I feel rich.