“Well, aren’t you a sight in your pretty little apron,” Taylor Brenner says to Samuel Craddock in The Last Death of Jack Harbin when she stops in for a surprise visit. He’s making plum jelly. It may seem strange for an ex-chief of police to be making jelly, but as Samuel explains it, “Jeanne (his wife, who died of cancer) was the cook…but somewhere along the line, I became the maker of jams and jellies, and I’m pretty proud of what I come up with.”
When I grew up in Texas, although women were primarily the cooks in my family, men had no problem dabbling in the cooking arts. One uncle was in charge of cooking fish, oysters and frog legs at cook-outs. Another was the barbecue genius. And another made “tuna” (fruit of the cactus plant) and jalapeno jelly. So Samuel comes by this honestly.
Food is mentioned often in my series, and you can judge a person by the food he or she cooks and eats. Jenny Sandstone doesn’t cook. Period. She can hardly put together a plate of cheese and crackers. By contrast Loretta bakes non-stop: cinnamon rolls, sweet rolls, and coffee cake.
In A Killing at Cotton Hill, Loretta brings cinnamon rolls to the grandson of the murder victim. When a neighbor drops in and is given a roll, she “picks off a little corner of it…and mashes it around in her mouth…She’s so skinny that you just know she and food are not on good terms.” You can look for such a character not to be someone you can cozy up to.
Samuel admires Loretta for being an adventuresome eater. In the third book he plans to take her to a new restaurant. She comments that one of her friends ate there and didn’t like it, but that’s because she only likes the same things all the time. Samuel privately thinks to himself that he agrees—give him steak and potatoes with a vegetable and he’s happy.
And then you have “funeral reception” fare, provided by the “church ladies who like to do good.” Samuel loads his plate with “…pimiento cheese and bologna sandwich triangles, potato salad, and cole slaw. I’m partial to lime Jell-O salad and put a little of that on my plate, too.” Think I’m exaggerating? This is a verbatim list of food at my grandmother’s funeral. A few readers were outraged that Samuel owns a Diebenkorn painting and also likes lime Jell-o salad.
As for eating out, there isn’t a lot of variety in the café food available in a small town in Texas. Tex-Mex, barbecue, steak, fried chicken, and chili about covers it. No Asian foods, no Indian, Greek or French. For adventure, you have to go to Bobtail, where you can get Italian (spaghetti) or German food. And the one, lone French restaurant, of which Mrs. Summerfield, Samuel’s next-door neighbor, remarks, “The French food with all them snails. I don’t believe I could eat that.”
In book three, out next fall, fans will find Samuel confronted with a new wrinkle in the food department. Watch for it.