Hello Susana. Thank you for inviting me into your parlour today.
I’d like to talk about my Victorian Adventure series, which features the children of the Marquess of Penworth. They travel to exciting places and encounter dangerous villains, but there’s an aspect of their stories that you may not have noticed.
You see, in a previous life, before I discovered the joys of writing historical romance, I used to work on a newspaper. The part of the job I liked best was writing a weekly cooking column. That meant that I spent a lot of time thinking about food—not exactly a hardship for me!
As a result, I like to make sure my characters are well fed. You just know they must work up an appetite when they’re escaping from the thieves and kidnappers and other miscreants who pop up in their stories.
There are elaborate dinners, of course. We are, after all, talking about aristocrats! But sometimes they just have a snack.
In the first book of the series, Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, the family travels to Italy to explore Etruscan ruins. Elinor has some more romantic plans as well. She and Harry have been riding through the hills where a number of Etruscan tombs are located. It’s a hot day, and they stop to rest in a bit of shade:
She heaved a sigh. It wasn’t Harry’s fault that she couldn’t win his interest. It was her own fault. She had mistaken his feelings. Although she was in love with him, his feelings were only brotherly. No passion. She had no right to complain. She wasn’t just being unreasonable. She was acting like a spoiled brat. Knowing it did not make her feel any better.
She turned and put up her hands just in time to catch the object Harry had sent flying in her direction.
It almost splattered in her hands. “An orange. Lovely.” She smiled in delight and started peeling it immediately.
Harry had tossed aside his coat and neck cloth too, and unbuttoned his waistcoat. He plopped down on the ground beside her and grinned. “There’s another orange for you and some rolls. I remember how cranky you get when you haven’t been fed for a while.”
She slipped the first of the orange segments into her mouth, holding a hand under her chin to catch the drips. She held the morsel against the roof of her mouth with her tongue, letting the juices wash away the feeling of dust while the sweet-sharp scent of it cleaned the air she breathed. She swallowed and turned to him with a dreamy smile. “I forgive you.”
“Forgive me?” The grin disappeared and he looked startled. “What did I do?”
“Well, if you don’t know…” She turned away and shrugged.
There was a brief silence, and then they both began to laugh.
“Idiot!” she said affectionately.
“Ninny!” he replied.
By the time they had demolished the crusty rolls and licked up the last drop of juice from the oranges, Elinor’s mood had improved mightily. She stood up and stretched before looking around. Harry was lying back and seemed to have fallen asleep. She picked up his jacket and began checking the pockets to see if he had anything else to eat. Preferably something sweet.
Part of the adventure when you’re far from home is the food, which can be very unlike your usual diet, especially when your travels take you to Mesopotamia and the ruins of ancient Nineveh. In Lady Emily’s Exotic Adventure, food seems especially important to Emily the morning after her family’s arrival in Mosul. She had slept through dinner, so she wakes up very early and very hungry, She gets herself dressed and then sets out to find something to eat:
Some time later, when Lady Penworth entered the courtyard, her daughter was sitting on the side of the fountain in the dappled shade of an overhanging tree.
“Good morning, Mama.” Emily waved at a tree. “The one in the corner over there is a lemon tree but this one and the others are all orange trees. And this is Shatha. She is the cook and makes the most delicious soft, flat bread.” She smiled at the small woman dressed in multicolored garments who was bent over a brazier on which something sizzled with an appetizing meaty smell.
Lady Penworth smiled at the cook and nodded her head in greeting. “As-salaam alaikum,” she said, pronouncing the Arabic greeting carefully.
Shatha beamed back and bowed. “Wa alaikum assalaam,” she said. What followed was a spate of Arabic that sounded like questions. When the only response was blank looks, Shatha popped up and directed Lady Penworth to sit on a bench in the shade of the loggia that surrounded three sides of the courtyard. She placed a folding table beside her, which was in no time filled with bowls of yogurt and dried fruit, boiled eggs, and a plate of steaming bread.
“Have some bread and honey,” Emily said. “The honey is incredibly delicious.” She was trying to be her usual cheerful self, but given the peculiar look her mother was giving her, perhaps she was not entirely successful.
Lady Penworth did not make any comment. She did, however, beam with pleasure when Shatha produced a steaming pot of tea and some cups. “Would you care for some?” she asked, as she filled a cup.
My next book, A Scandalous Adventure, will be available on August 2. It sends the third daughter, Lady Susannah, on an adventure in a small German principality in the Swabia region, where a princess has been kidnapped and villains are planning to seize the throne. In this scene, Susanna and Max von Staufen are riding through the forest with a few of his men, on their way to recuse the kidnapped princess. But they cannot manage without something to eat!
Eventually—to her relief—they stopped beside a small stream to rest the horses and themselves. She sat down on a log. It was no softer than the saddle, but at least it did not move. Breakfast appeared from Josef’s saddlebags—bread, a hard yellow cheese, and garlicky sausages that he cut into chunks with his hunting knife. To wash it down, there was icy water from the stream. Like the others, she ate with her fingers and drank from a shared tin cup.
It was a meal unlike any she had ever eaten, but somehow one of the finest. Max sat beside her, close enough for her to feel the warmth of him. It was enough to make her feel safe. He always made her feel safe.
“Do you see them smile?” He smiled too. “They are yours now.”
She blinked in confusion.
“My men,” he said, tipping his head toward Josef and the two other men—they had been introduced to her as Hans and Gustav—who had ridden out with them. “You sit here and eat with them, and do not scorn their food. You ride with them and do not complain. They would have protected you in any case because you are my wife. But now, now they will follow you because you have won their respect.”
“Because I ate a sausage?” She choked down a surprised laugh. “They are easily won over.”
He continued to smile at her, and there was pride in that smile. “Not easily. Josef will have told them that you rode with him to my rescue, that you never flinched on the journey, that you never complained. And now they see for themselves that you are prepared to ride with them, to face hardship, to do what must be done. My warrior countess.”
“Goodness. All that from a sausage?” She flushed, embarrassed by the thought. She was about to protest that she was really a very conventional person, a proper English lady, but then a smile began to spread. Was she a warrior? Was that who she really was? A warrior countess. She liked that image of herself. It was certainly better than Susannah, the dutiful daughter, who always knew the proper thing to do and never caused anyone a moment’s worry. That Susannah who had somehow become very boring.
What about you? Do you like to read about food in historical romances? Or are there other things about life in the past that you want to read about? Leave a comment telling me what you think and I’ll send a copy of Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey to a random commenter.
And just for fun, I’m adding on a recipe for Hussar Rounds, a cookie that Lady Susannah might have enjoyed with her coffee while she was in Swabia.
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
3 egg yolks
3 – 3 ¼ cups flour
1 egg white
3 tablespoon chopped almonds
In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Beat in the yolks alternately with flour until firm and smooth. Shape into slightly flattened 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet. With a finger make an indentation in the middle of each cookie. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with nuts. Bake at 350° for 20 – 25 minutes. Before serving, place a dab of jam in the center of each cookie. (If you use several different colors of jam, it increases the jewel-like look of the platter.)
Note: If you are going to store them (they keep well), wait with the jam until just before serving.
Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventure
Lady Emily’s Exotic Adventure
A Scandalous Adventure (pre-order)
About the Author
Lillian Marek was born and raised in New York City. At one time or another she has had most of the interesting but underpaid jobs available to English majors, including too many years in journalism. She greatly prefers writing fiction, where the good guys always win and the villains are properly punished.
The first book in her Victorian Adventure series, Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, won first prize in both the Launching A Star and the Windy City Four Seasons contests. She was also a first prize winner in the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest.