Thursday, March 4, 2010


Thank you to the amazing and talented Cozy Chicks for allowing me to borrow space here for a day.
The third book in my Orchard Mystery series, Red Delicious Death, came out this week. I'm still boggled to find myself writing a series about an apple orchard, since I've never been a farmer and I have a brown thumb.
The series came about during a conversation with my then-agent (Jacky Sach, now retired). We were talking about one of my manuscripts that I had sent her, which included the characters and the setting I'm still using. She liked it, but she said that in order to pitch it to Berkley I needed a hook. We were kicking ideas around, and I was thinking about what would be appropriate for the setting (which is based on a real house in a real town). First I thought, organic foods, and then a light-bulb went on in my head, and I said, "apples." Jacky agreed immediately, so I planted an orchard on the property (I can prove there was once one there, but alas, it's gone–save
for one graft that I managed to salvage last year). And thus was a series born.
Apples are at the heart (I thought about saying "core," but...) of our national history. The first orchard was planted in this country only a couple of years after the Pilgrims landed. In the 18th century every household had to have apple trees–for cider (hard or otherwise) in those days, because it was considered healthier than the water–and for pies and for eating over the long winter.
My first real exposure to apples happened when my family moved into a house that had been built in the 1920s, in what had been farm country until then. The front yard was filled with towering apple trees that hadn't been pruned for decades–they were taller than the house. That first year they produced an amazing crop: we were hauling apples out to the back of the property in wheelbarrows, and the discard pile was three feet high. The trees never produced as well again, at least in the few years we lived there.

I remember vividly the first apple I picked directly from a tree and ate–it's still the standard I use for every apple I eat. Of course I'd eaten plenty of apples before, but this was the perfect apple, crisp and sweet and full of flavor. I have no idea what kind it was, but I'll never forget it.
So now I scout out abandoned orchards and heirloom varieties. I make apple pie, apple cake, apple slaw; applesauce and apple butter; pork roast with apples, duck with apples. You name it, I've probably tried it. I can tell you where to find apple wine and apple brandy, even apple vodka (that's something you can make with the ones that are too damaged to sell for eating). I've learned how hard it is to grow perfect shiny apples–and to do that you usually have to blast them with chemicals. I've learned about the scientists at Cornell University who are saving the apple genome, so we don't lose the wonderful diversity of varieties that have survived this long. I've planted two apple trees in my front yard, and I've just ordered two more–all heirloom varieties. And I write about apples (with the occasional murder now and then).
I love apples.