Welcome to my weekly feature where authors share about the hobbies, careers, or passions of their characters.
I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest, M.S. Spencer…
The Mint Invasion: Out Of Chaos Comes Jelly…And Romance
Up until my thirties, I traveled a great deal, living in many countries with amenities that many would consider below standard. So it wasn’t until I married and settled down in an old farmhouse with an acre of land that I could indulge my fantasy of growing my own food. We planted apple, plum, peach, fig, hazelnut, and cherry trees; gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; all kinds of vegetables, including an ill-fated attempt to grow artichokes; and finally, lots and lots of herbs. I built a formal herb garden and planted thyme, lovage, rosemary, chives, tarragon, sage, and lemon balm. The one thing I couldn’t get to grow was mint. Yes, the gardeners among you will scoff, but it took me years to get a plot to flourish. Be careful what you wish for. When it finally got going, I had to do something before it took over the entire acre.
So I called upon my sister-in-law, to whom Whirlwind Romance is dedicated. She directed me to an old recipe for mint jelly. Once I’d mastered it, I went on to work up jelly recipes for all my herbs. Good thing we had a basement.
In Whirlwind Romance, my heroine, Lacey Delahaye, moves to an island in Florida and wants to reestablish the herb store she’d owned up North. Florida boasts innumerable ecosystems, from pine uplands, to coastal plains, to palm hammocks—all of which are host to many wild fruits, most of which can be made into jelly. Whirlwind Romance opens as she returns from a foraging trip, unaware that a hurricane had swept through, leaving an unexpected visitor in her mangrove swamp.
Woven throughout the story are descriptions of the wild fruits of Florida and the western Caribbean. For fun, I added recipes to each chapter. Here’s one for a common tropical wild fruit:
The cocoplum is native to South Florida and occurs naturally in cypress hammocks and wetland areas. Evergreen, it forms a dense, clumping bush. Fruit is a dark purple drupe one to two inches in diameter, and ripens May through August. The nut is also edible.
200 cocoplums to make 2 cups juice
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cups brown sugar
1 box (1.75 oz.) powdered pectin
Place peeled plums and cinnamon sticks in water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 ½ hours, or until liquid is dark purple. Remove from heat and strain, reserving the nuts. Add water if necessary to make 2 cups of liquid.
Shell the nuts and chop. In a jelly pan add the juice, nuts, and pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Pour in sugar all at once and bring back to a rolling boil. Boil exactly one minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, and ladle into hot, sterilized jelly jars to within ¼ inch of the top. Wipe rims and place the two-piece canning lids on the jars but do not tighten completely. Turn the jars over and leave upside down for five minutes on a padded rack. Turn upright and tighten the lids completely.
Alternative method: Process filled, tightly closed jars in boiling water for 15 minutes.
Makes about 4 pints.
I give other jelly recipes in the book for Sea grapes, Kei apples, Beautyberries, Passionfruit, Roselle, and Shining Sumac.
Pirates, Puritans, propaganda, and princes—pieces of the puzzle in the whirlwind romance between a beautiful jelly maker and a mysterious castaway:
Whirlwind Romance by M. S. Spencer
In the aftermath of a hurricane, jelly-maker Lacey Delahaye discovers a man washed ashore in her mangrove swamp, and tumbles into a sea of troubles. Kidnapped along with her shipwrecked sailor, she is taken to a tiny island in the western Caribbean. There, the two must escape from pirates, defeat a power-made ideologue, deflect a jealous ex-husband, and prove her companion’s birthright.
Excerpt (PG): Slipping Briskly
As she turned to leave, he touched her arm. “Stay a minute?”
How could she admit she had to get out of there quickly or she wouldn’t be able to go at all? His handsome face—the strong chin covered with stubble, the pearly teeth contrasting with his tan skin, not to mention the long, graceful fingers he held out to her—all conspired to lure her closer. Her heart led the way, propelling her to his side. She sat down. “What is it?”
Her body tensed as desire fought to get out, and she fought just as hard to keep it in. I have to go. I have to…go. “What?”
His words came out in a rush. “Lacey, the other day—the first night—when you rescued me. When we…we…”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Christ.
“I…uh…want you to know I don’t do that on a regular basis.”
His air of shy ambivalence gave her courage. “I see. You don’t have sex on a regular basis?”
“No, no, it’s not that.” He stopped, flustered. “Er, I mean… I don’t sleep with women indiscriminately.”
Should she let him off the hook? Nah. “But you do sleep with a lot of women?”
“No! Lacey, you’re being difficult on purpose. I meant, that I didn’t mean to…you know. It just happened. Forgive me?”
Armand interrupted her. “Not that it wasn’t enjoyable.” He seemed distracted, running a finger down her arm. “Wonderful. Fantastic. Too short.” He peered at her. “Lacey, you must know how beautiful you are. You have the most perfect cheekbones I’ve ever seen.”
“Cheekbones?” What the hell is he talking about?
“I’m an amateur photographer. Those cheekbones could belong to a supermodel. Perfectly sculpted. And your nose…” He tapped the tip. “A little pixie nose. It even turns up slightly. Your long, fine hair is the russet-gold of burnished copper pots I once saw piled high in a shop on Martinique. Your eyes…” He closed his. “Your eyes are the blue-green of a freshly mowed cricket field, of the emeralds that grow deep in the mountains, of the lagoon near my home on a blustery day.” He touched her hand. “Then there’s your body—as I remember it—a soft, comfortable, pillowy—”
“Hey!” Lacey shook her head to break the spell. “I think you’ve said enough. Get some sleep.”
She tried to rise, but he slipped his arms around her and drew her close. She wanted to struggle. She tried to struggle. It was no use. The long kiss filled her with a warmth that matched a fire on a cold night, a cup of cocoa, or a hot bath. When he lay back, the warmth turned to blazing passion. The power of it frightened her. I’ve got to go. She ran out of the room before he could stop her.
Wild Rose Press (2016)
Contemporary romance/Action Adventure
Rating: Hot (R)
About the Author
Librarian, anthropologist, Congressional aide, speechwriter—M. S. Spencer has traveled the globe. She holds a BA from Vassar College, a diploma in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo, and Masters in Anthropology and in Library Science from the University of Chicago. All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.
Ms. Spencer has published thirteen romantic suspense or murder mystery novels, with two more on the way. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.
Linked in: www.linkedin.com/in/msspencerauthor
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/M.S.-Spencer/e/B002ZOEUC8/